Becoming Leonardo

An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci

In a book unlike anything ever written about the Renaissance genius, Mike Lankford explodes every cliché about Leonardo da Vinci and then reconstructs him based on a rich trove of available evidence — bringing to life for the modern reader the man who has been studied by scholars for centuries, yet has remained as mysterious as ever.

Seeking to envision da Vinci without the obscuring residue of historical varnish, the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of Renaissance Italy—usually missing in other biographies—are all here, transporting readers back to a world of war and plague and court intrigue, of viciously competitive famous artists, of murderous tyrants with exquisite tastes in art…

Lankford brilliantly captures da Vinci’s life as the compelling and dangerous adventure it seems to have actually been—fleeing from one sanctuary to the next, somehow surviving in war zones beside his friend Machiavelli, struggling to make art his way or no way at all… and often paying dearly for those decisions.

It is a thrilling and absorbing journey into the life of a ferociously dedicated loner, whose artwork in one way or another represents his noble rebellion, providing inspiration that is timeless.

MIKE LANKFORD is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and the author of Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer, a memoir about his years as a white drummer in a black R&B band. The book was an Amazon editor’s pick, and was selected by eight major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Austin Chronicle, as the best music book of the year.

Wall Street Journal best book of 2017
Spectator 2017 Book of the Year
Currently a finalist for the Oregon Book Award


“[A] genial and sassy biography… [with] none of the stuffiness of that exhausting genre…. Lankford’s passionate, intelligent speculations bring the shadow to life.” —The Spectator

“A strange, passionate, impressionistic biographical meditation…Lankford has produced a reading experience far more similar to Sebastian de Grazia’s surreal life of Machiavelli, Machiavelli in Hell—and every bit as rewarding.” —Open Letters Monthly

“Many books have been written on the life of Leonardo da Vinci…But no one has probed his soul and speculated so profoundly about his actions quite the way Mike Lankford does…Strips away the polish and shows the man with all his peculiarities.” — Shelf Awareness

“Fun and enlightening…Lankford’s unconventional approach provides for a deeper appreciation of a genius.” — Publishers Weekly

“Lankford, while steeped in historical resources, dates, and places, doesn’t get bogged down in dry recitations of facts; he’s always trying to get at da Vinci the man..What comes through…are da Vinci’s humanity, foibles, and imperfections alongside his gifts.”—Santa Barbara Independent

“Mike Lankford is… ambitious. He shows us how to feel about Leonardo and his extraordinary world.” The Hindu

“Like a jazz musician taking a theme and improvising upon it, [Lankford] evokes aspects of da Vinci’s personal and professional life and imagines (and reimagines) them. His slightly irreverent, totally accessible style only increases our appreciation of this great artist and complex human being.” — Booklist/American Library Association

“An unconventional biography of the legendary artist, scientist and inventor…Lankford immerses readers in the lifestyle, customs and events that helped shape da Vinci’s viewpoints and interests.” — Bend Bulletin

“A creative biography of the great Renaissance artist and inventor, taking the bare factual outline we have of da Vinci’s life and and filling it in with 15th-century Italy’s society, culture and history; the people and personalities who surrounded da Vinci; and the constancies of human nature.”  Oregonian

“With scholarly flair and the talent of a fine portrait painter, Mike Lankford presents a thought-provoking, unconventional biography of one of the most significant creators in human history.” —The Missourian

“All those things you think you know about Leonardo Da Vinci? You may want to put them aside after you’ve read Becoming Leonardo…Peeks into the life and quirks of the master as it takes you back several centuries to Renaissance Italy.” — Idaho Press-Tribune

“With scholarly research and a novelist’s ability to zoom in and paint a truly intimate portrait of one of the greatest creators in human history, Becoming Leonardo does what historians long to do, and novelists often struggle to achieve. A book that has the pace, elegance, and authorial omnipresence of a novel, but which will enlighten, rather than annoy, the astute historian.” — Noah Charney, best-selling author of The Art of Forgery