Author Archives: kimberly Brooks

Author’s Note, Preface to Leonardo’s Brain


Dear Reader,

In the months before September 6th, 2008, I noticed that I was having trouble buttoning my sleeves with my right hand more than my left, even though I am right-handed. When I came down for breakfast that morning, I could barely speak. My alarmed wife, Ina, called my son, Jordan, a doctor, who scheduled an emergency MRI. I emerged to find my friend Brian Anderson, a neurosurgeon, at my bedside who told me in a serious voice that I would need emergency brain surgery in two hours.

The brain tumor was large and malignant. Even though I knew that the tremendous difficulty I was having speaking and moving my right side was as a result of brain swelling secondary to the surgery, at the time I was not so sure I would recover! Thankfully, I did.

The reason I am telling you, dear reader, of this development is to let you know that I am determined to finish this book. Tiffany Shlain, my youngest daughter, who lives near me, has assured me that she will be there for any help I need. Most of it is written and the last few chapters are in my head. I had planned to make this book as accurate as possible and meticulously go over every fact and date to ensure that there are no errors. Alas, there is not enough time left for me to guarantee that. So I ask your tolerance if the book slips on a detail or a footnote is missing.

I have poured myself into this book by reading and synthesizing an enormous amount of background information about Leonardo and the evolutionary development of the brain. In this book I aim to present original theories that weave together the different aspects of Leonardo’s life and brain that have not yet been considered by previous scholars from psychology, art history, and science.

In doing so, I hope to stimulate new thinking about Leonardo and humankind alike.

Leonard Shlain
Mill Valley, CA
March 2009



On September 6, 2008, our father entered emergency surgery and was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer and given 9 months to live. The prospect of losing our father, a simultaneously larger than life and loving and fully present figure, took our breath away. Up until that fateful day, he had been diligently finishing this book he had worked on for seven years, Leonardo’s Brain.

His days were spent eating meals together, searching for silver brain-cancer bullets, shuttling between radiation and daily blood transfusions and writing this book. So whether we were reading or talking about his book or the tumor we were trying to shrink in his head, we were always talking about Leonardo’s Brain in one form or another. These days were especially high definition. He reached out to people who he hadn’t seen in years and they would pick him up at home, they would have a fabulous lunch with a glass of wine and reconnect and then would sit in the blood transfusion chair at the hospital and then go home and get back to writing. He was trying to download all his ideas and knowledge before it was too late. He finished the book on Monday May 3, 2009. It was akin to watching a long distance runner cross the finish line. Even on Thursday, May 6th we spent the evening selecting quotes from a large list of favorites he kept in a document and placing three atop every chapter, like putting dew drops on the leaves of a Japanese tea ceremony orchid.

On Friday, May 7, Ina, his wife and our stepmother, called all three siblings and his two best friends to his bedside. She said he had something he wanted to tell all of us. We gathered around him but this time he couldn’t speak. Still we could see the thoughts dancing in his eyes. He looked frustrated at not being able to find words, but then he started to look amazed. He kept saying “Wow.” Then he started to slip away. He died Monday, May 11th at 5:40 am. Leonardo’s Brain is not only one of his grand intellectual journeys akin to his books Art & Physics, The Alphabet vs The Goddess and Sex, Time and Power, but it also kept him alive. He loved more than anything to share. As his children, we are honored to share this book with you.

– Kimberly Brooks (Shlain), Jordan Shlain & Tiffany Shlain

Connected, A Film by Tiffany Shlain

Connected is a feature length documentary that premiered at Sundance Film Festival directed by his daughter Tiffany Shlain. The film explores Leonard Shlain’s ideas and writing of his last book, Leonardo’s Brain. It had a theatrical release, won 17 awards, and was an official selection by The US State Department for their American Film Showcase.



LA TIMES – Dr. Leonard Shlain dies at 71; best-selling author and pioneer of laparoscopic surgery


by Thomas H. Maugh, II

Leonard Shlain, the San Francisco surgeon who was a pioneer in the use of laparoscopic surgery and later wrote three best-selling books combining anthropology, science and art, died May 11 in San Francisco. He was 71 and had been battling brain cancer for two years.

Shlain was “a remarkably innovative surgeon . . . who led the way in pioneering new and innovative surgical therapies,” said Dr. Damian Augustyn, chief of staff at California Pacific Medical Center, where Shlain spent most of his career.

Shlain was among the first to apply laparoscopic techniques — in which surgery is performed through three tiny incisions in the stomach wall, using a tiny video camera and remotely operated instruments — to the removal of gallbladders and the repair of hernias.

He patented several instruments for use in the surgeries and flew around the world to teach his techniques to fellow surgeons.

But he is probably better known for his three books, which are routinely used in college courses: “Art & Physics,” “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” and “Sex, Time and Power.” His fourth book, “Leonardo’s Brain” about Leonardo Da Vinci, will be published next spring.

“Art & Physics” draws parallels between the development of realistic paintings and the scientific revolution of the last few centuries. “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” espoused his controversial theory that the development of writing led to the dominance of men over women. Singer Bjork credited this book as the inspiration for her recent album, “Wanderlust.”

The third book, “Sex, Time and Power” speculated that prehistoric women’s growing recognition of the dangers of child birth played a crucial role in the development of language. Shlain argued that women began to withhold sex because of the risk, but were unable to refrain completely because they had developed a culture in which sex was traded to men for meat, which replaced the iron they lost through menstruation. As women became more selective in choosing mates, men developed and refined language, Shlain argued, in their efforts to convince women to go to bed with them.

In a 1991 interview, Shlain said he began collecting these ideas to fill the gaps in his education. “I had early acceptance to medical school and quickly went into residency. I arrived at the middle of my life feeling I had holes in my experience.

“I also found it strange that I couldn’t explain why works of art were great, even when I knew they were.”

He started out by giving lectures to doctors, art gallery patrons and others, using their interest or lack of it as a guide to assembling his own ideas about overlaps between various cultural totems.

“What I am trying to do is show that we should integrate our knowledge more,” he said.

His books were frequently criticized by reviewers and experts in the fields he wrote about. In a 2008 interview, he suggested that he didn’t really care about the critics, noting that all the books were bestsellers.

Leonard Michael Shlain was born in Detroit on Aug. 28, 1937. He graduated from high school at 15 and attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Medical School, receiving his medical degree at age 23.

After serving as a captain in the U.S. Army in France, he hopped a military jet to San Francisco, where he interned at Mount Zion Hospital, drawn by the mingling of scientific research and cultural variety. He began his surgical residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York, then completed it at California Pacific Medical Center, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was also on the faculty at UC San Francisco.

In 1973, he volunteered as a trauma surgeon in Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

Shlain is survived by his second wife, Ina Gyemant, a retired San Francisco Superior Court judge; a son, Jordan Shlain of Ross, Calif.; two daughters, Tiffany Shlain of Mill Valley and Kimberly Brooks of Los Angeles; two stepchildren, Anne Gyemant Paris of Brussels and Roberto Gyemant Jr. of Mill Valley; a brother, Marvin Shlain, of Michigan; a sister, Sylvia Goldstick of Florida; and nine grandchildren