Leonardo: The Man Who Saved Science

(Secrets of the Dead). 55 min. PBS. 2017. $24.99. ISBN 9781531701765.
Gr 9 Up—This thoughtful look at Leonardo da Vinci's scientific endeavors asks and answers the question of whether he was "truly an original." It follows him from his early life through his most productive years, accompanied by a combination of narration, reenactment, and commentary from historians. Scientists examine evidence that Leonardo was not a "prophet of the future" but rather a brilliant man with humanist principles who drew on the era's explosion of printed materials from classical Greek and Rome, the Islamic Golden Age, and the work of his contemporaries as the basis for his groundbreaking scientific projects and experiments. The episode explains why the result wasn't plagiaristic but transformative and that his visionary ability to improve on the thoughts and efforts of others through careful measurements and experimentation essentially "generated" the scientific method—the foundation of all modern science and technology. It concludes that he was the "perfect man" for his time, one who "saved" science by preserving and improving his predecessors' work and introducing rationality to scientific processes. Technical aspects are outstanding, including effective acting, location footage, and high production values. Many concepts discussed are complex, and students will need at least some background in science and the Renaissance to fully understand them, making the program most useful in upper-level classes about the history of science and the era.
VERDICT A strong additional purchase for high school collections.

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