The Bay Area and the world lost a renowned visionary thinker and educator when Leonard Shlain, best-selling author and San Francisco surgeon, died Monday, May 11, 2009 at his home in Mill Valley after a battle with brain cancer. He was 71 years old.

Admired among artists, scientists, philosophers, anthropologists and educators, Leonard Shlain authored three best-selling books: Art & Physics, Alphabet vs. The Goddess and Sex, Time, and Power. He delivered multimedia presentations based upon his books in venues around the world including Harvard, The New York Museum of Modern Art, CERN, Los Alamos, The Florence Academy of Art and the European Council of Ministers. His fans include Al Gore, Norman Lear and singer Bjork who credited Shlain ‘s Alphabet vs. The Goddess with inspiring her recent album “Wanderlust”. His fourth book Leonardo’s Brain about Leonardo Da Vinci will be published next spring by Viking. Dr. Shlain was a surgeon for 38 years at California Pacific Medical Center where he headed the Laparascopic Surgery Department and an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF.

Leonard Shlain was a loving and generous man with a larger-than-life intellect and a prodigious curiosity. He was a widely respected surgeon and attentive father and husband. He had an encyclopedic knowledge which he wove with highly creative insights in his books and presentations. A voracious reader, he took pride in finding the perfect metaphor and delighted in making connections between everything from art, physics, to human evolution and sexuality. Dinner conversations spanned from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to politics, literature to a hilarious joke. When his children were young, he brought a human brain in a bucket of formaldehyde during the school show and tell. When he came home after a hard day’s work as a young surgeon, he would excitedly diagram his operation of the day on a napkin. Later, his diagrams became more adventuresome and expanded to thought experiments that included what it would be like to sit astride a beam of light and how that corresponded with Picasso’s rose period, blue period. This eventually led him to write his first book, Art and Physics.

captshlainLeonard Michael Shlain was born on August 28th, 1937 in Detroit Michigan. He graduated Central High School at the age of fifteen, attended University of Michigan and then graduated Wayne State University Medical School at twenty three (AOA), where he was recently honored as the alumnus of the year. After serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army stationed in France, he interned at Mt. Zion in San Francisco, began his surgical residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York and then completed it at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco where he set up his general surgical practice in 1969. In 1973, he volunteered and served as a trauma surgeon in Isreal during the Yom Kippur War. An early pioneer of gallbladder and hernia laparascopic surgery in 1990, he was flown around the world to train doctors in the new techniques, patented several surgical instruments and specialized in gallbladder and hernia operations.

dadheadshotLeonard Shlain is survived by his wife Judge Ina Gyemant, Ret., and his children, artist Kimberly Brooks, filmmaker and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain and doctor/entrepeneur Jordan Shlain. He was also father in-law to filmmaker Albert Brooks, scientist/artist Ken Goldberg, Ph.D. and Caroline Eggli Shlain, Ph.D., respectively. He had two step-children, attorney Anne Gyemant Paris and writer Roberto Gyemant, Jr. His son-in-law Michael Paris is a medical engineer. He is pre-deceased by his sister Shirley Wollock and survived by siblings Marvin Shlain and Sylvia Goldstick, as well as grandchildren Shawn, Jacob, Claire, Odessa, Amber, Sophia, Elena, Daphne, Arthur and a new grandchild due May 28th.

A Celebration of Leonard’s life will be held on, Friday, May 15th at 1:00 PM at Sherith Israel Synagogue, 2266 California Street at Webster, San Francisco, CA 94115.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Leonard Shlain Scholarship Fund at The Saybrook Graduate School and mailed as follows:

Att: Ed Patuto, Shlain Scholarship Fund
Saybrook Graduate and Research Center
747 Front Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
415.394.5675

Any notes of condolences or wishes to the family should be sent to Judge Ina Levin Gyemant, 3701 Sacramento Street #333, San Francisco, CA 94118

To download a high resolution image of Leonard Shlain click here>
photo by Tim Porter

Statement from Al Gore:”Leonard Shlain was a personal inspiration to me and so many others. His ability to synthesize not only information but also genuine wisdom across multiple and disparate disciplines was extraordinary. His talent for communicating to the rest of us what he had discovered was a rare gift. His death is a loss to us all.”

Statement from Norman Lear: “Leonard Shlain was an extraordinary spirit and his was an extraordinary mind. He will be sorely missed. ”

LA Times - May 19, 2009
Dr. Leonard Shlain Dies at 71; Best-Selling Author and Pioneer of Laparoscopic Surgery
Dr. 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….As a surgeon, colleagues say he was ‘remarkably innovative.’ As an author, he presented provocative theories about the relations between science and art and the role of sexuality in human evolution. Read Whole Article >

San Francisco Chronicle, May 13, 2009
Dr. Leonard Shlain – Surgeon and Author, Counted Gore, Bjork as Fans
Surgeon, inventor, author, artist, student and teacher, Dr. Shlain defied easy categorization. He discouraged confined thinking, and studied, wrote and lectured about topics ranging from anthropology to linguistics to religion….Dr. Leonard Shlain, a Renaissance man whose final book is about the original Renaissance man, died Monday at his home in Mill Valley. He was 71…. Born in Detroit, Dr. Shlain graduated high school at 16 and medical school at 23. After two years as a captain in the U.S. Army in France, he hopped a military flight to San Francisco. “I … had my mind blown by all the opportunities that were in California in the ’60s and ’70s,” [Dr. Shlain said in an Interiew with UC Berkeley’s Conversation with History project]. “In Detroit everything was Freud. … Out here everything was Jung.” Read Whole Article >

Contra Cost Times, May 14 Leonard Shlain, Author and Surgeon Dies of Cancer
The author of three books, he had fans in fields as divergent as politics and pop music. Al Gore said in the New Yorker that one of Dr. Shlain’s books was at the top of his reading list, and the pop diva Bjork cited his “The Alphabet vs. The Goddess” as the inspiration for one of her albums….”His books are controversial, interesting, and they challenge us to rethink some things we thought we already knew,” Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage, said in a 2003 Independent Journal profile of Dr. Shlain. “I’m wondering what he thinks about when he does surgery. Instead of a Renaissance man, he’s a Marin man.” Read Whole Article >

Usual Suspects, May 13, 2009
This One’s Really Hard to Write
In our lives, we meet lots of people. Some of them make an extraordinary impact on a person or three – and others on tens of thousands. Dr. Leonard Shlain strode the earth like a colossus, with his outsize personality, zest for living, unquenchable curiosity, absurd energy and drive, and formidable intellect. With the Bay Area serving as his home base, he lived as a citizen of the world, challenging assumptions and moving policy, writing deep books in which he deftly wove together disparate topics, raising a staggeringly talented family of artists and doctors and caring people, and Leaving An Imprint On Every Single Person He Met…. Read Whole Article >

Huffington Post -May 10
A Vigil For My Father, Leonard Shlain by Kimberly Brooks
I asked him the other day while I was helping him add quotes to his newest book: “Are you afraid to die?” “No” he said.” I’m not afraid to die. I just want to live.” Read Whole Article >

Marin Magazine – September 18, 2008
Renaissance Man
With one best seller (Sex, Time and Power: How Women’s Sensuality Shaped Human Evolution) behind him, Dr. Leonard Shlain is eager to talk about what he’s writing now. “The title is Leonardo’s Brain: The Left and Right Roots of Creativity,” he says. “It deals with where we are going as a species, and Leonardo da Vinci is a fascinating character to use as a template because the more I read about him, the more I’m utterly amazed at how much he accomplished.” Shlain’s achievements are also impressive. Read Whole Article >

SFObit

Dr. Leonard Shlain, a Renaissance man whose final book is about the original Renaissance man, died Monday at his home in Mill Valley. He was 71.

Family members said the cause was brain cancer.

Surgeon, inventor, author, artist, student and teacher, Dr. Shlain defied easy categorization. He discouraged confined thinking, and studied, wrote and lectured about topics ranging from anthropology to linguistics to religion.

Along the way, he pioneered surgical techniques, designed houses and surgical tools and wrote books that won him fans as varied as former Vice President Al Gore and Icelandic singer Björk.

“I’m a synthesizer,” Dr. Shlain said in a 2008 interview with UC Berkeley’s Conversations With History project. “We need to synthesize more the relationships between artists and scientists, and men and women.”

Born in Detroit, Dr. Shlain graduated high school at 16 and medical school at 23. After two years as a captain in the U.S. Army in France, he hopped a military flight to San Francisco.

“I … had my mind blown by all the opportunities that were in California in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “In Detroit everything was Freud. … Out here everything was Jung.”

Dr. Shlain quickly added Eastern philosophies to his interests as he established his medical career, completing his residency at California Pacific Medical Center, before establishing a general surgery practice in 1969.

At 37, Dr. Shlain survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was asked to speak in Berkeley about his dual perspectives as patient and physician. His speech led to invitations to write about his experience, but Dr. Shlain was uncertain.

“I don’t want to be a victim all the time,” he said. “I had this other idea for writing a book about art and physics. I was told, ‘Well, you know, you’re not an art historian and you’re not a physicist.’ ”

But Dr. Shlain maintained his wide intellectual interests as he stretched medically, becoming a pioneer in laparoscopic surgery, a technique for which he invented several tools and trained doctors around the world.

Dr. Shlain became head of laparoscopic surgery at California Pacific Medical Center and an associate clinical professor of medicine at UCSF.

Dr. Shlain married Carole Lewis in 1964; they divorced in 1980. He married his second wife, Judge Ina Gyemant, in 1997.

“Surgeons are not technicians, they’re not mechanics. They’re artists,” he said. “I see patterns where not many other people see patterns. … I think that’s what made me a good surgeon, and now, that’s what’s making me a good writer.”

Dr. Shlain’s books reflected that perspective: “Art & Physics,” published in 1993, posited that artists such as Pablo Picasso foreshadowed in their work the ideas of modern physicists such as Albert Einstein; 1999′s “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess” suggested a link between the rise of writing and the decline in the status of women, with a corresponding link between the modern rise in women’s status and visual media; and 2004′s “Sex, Time and Power,” an exploration of links between human biology and reproduction and the development of human concepts of time, language and culture.

The books were sometimes criticized by reviewers who questioned his background and conclusions. Dr. Shlain seemed to care little, noting with a smile during his 2008 interview that the books were all best-sellers. Fans seemed to care more about his insights than his resume.

“It doesn’t have to be right,” Björk told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007 about her reading of “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.” “It’s just an interesting speculation.”

Gore called Dr. Shlain a “personal inspiration” in an e-mail to The Chronicle.

“His ability to synthesize not only information but also genuine wisdom across multiple and disparate disciplines was extraordinary,” Gore wrote. “His death is a loss to us all.”

Dr. Shlain recently completed his fourth book, “Leonardo’s Brain,” an exploration of Leonardo da Vinci that he said would unite the themes in his earlier books. The book will be published next spring, according to his family.

Dr. Shlain is survived by his wife; siblings Marvin Shlain of Michigan and Sylvia Goldstick of Florida; children Kimberly Brooks of Los Angeles, Tiffany Shlain of Mill Valley and Dr. Jordan Shlain of Ross; stepchildren Anne Gyemant Paris of Brussels and Roberto Gyemant Jr. of Mill Valley; and nine grandchildren – with one more on the way. He is predeceased by his sister, Shirley Wollock.

Dr. Shlain’s life will be celebrated at 1 p.m. Friday at Sherith Israel Synagogue, 2266 California St., San Francisco. Memorial contributions may be made addressed to Ed Patuto, Leonard Shlain Scholarship Fund, Saybrook Graduate and Research Center, 747 Front St., San Francisco, CA 94111. For more information, call (415) 394-5675.

E-mail Matthew B. Stannard at mstannard@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle

A Good Life from Tiffany Shlain on Vimeo.

Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space , Time and Light

Los Angeles Time – October 1, 1991
Visionary Uses His Art in Brilliant Battle with Skeptics
When a Marin County surgeon discourses on art and physics, especially after cheerfully admitting that he taught himself nearly all he knows about both subjects, the reader can be forgiven for some initial skepticism.
But Leonard Shlain’s “Art and Physics” is a tour de force. It is a brilliant, accessible and visionary look the most revolutionary artists and scientists from the golden Age of Greece to the present.


New York Times Book Review
“Provocative…passionate…Shlain points out uncanny parallels between the visual representations of artists and analytic representations…. He is an engaging story teller, skilled in the use of metaphor, analogy and even imaginary journeys that at times are poetic… Dr. Shlain’s discussion of artistic images and his demonstrations of how these images can be used to describe the impenetrable ideas of physics are important.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Bold and persuasive, solidly researched and gracefully presented…never before has such material been explore as deeply yet lucidly enough for non-specialists… a merry intellectual chase.”

The San Jose Mercury News
“Shlain uses his impressive ability to entertain in the services of a lofty purpose. An exuberant stylist, he vividly mingles lucid explanations with colorful anecdotes to provide memorable intellectual thrills.”

Publisher’s Weekly
“Shlain’s provocative discussion is rigorous enough to appeal to the skeptical scientists yet wholly accessible and engaging to the art lover or general reader.”

Praise for The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

San Jose Mercury News
“A fascinating chronicle of history destined to start verbal brawls and intellectual fistfights”

The Washington Post
“Bold and fascinating.”

London Observer (George Steiner)
“Provocative and Innovative.”

Hungry Mind Review
“Lucid, dynamic, inspired, and far-reaching…The Alphabet Versus The Goddess is so full of original interpretations and theories, and so charged with empathy for womankind, that reading it becomes an obsession and very nearly takes over your life. Shlain’s interpretations are dazzlingly perceptive, innovative, and utterly convincing…worth reading simply for the sheer beauty and frequent audacity of its spectacular riffs on myth, legend, history, and science.”
Praise for Sex, Time & Power: How Women’s Sexuality shaped Human Evolution

San Francisco Chronicle
Shlain fuses ideas and facts from a wide array of disciplines to create a coherent, convincing and captivating narrative.

Dear Friends and Family,
My family and I sincerely want to thank each and every one of you who have donated platelets for me. I cannot thank you individually because the Blood Bank, in compliance with HIPPA cannot tell us your names. However I know there are scores of you because my doctor told me the Blood Bank is requesting that some of the donations go back into the community reserve — I agreed since I have used many units from the community. Also some of you have told us that your appointments had to be booked out past a month.
I cannot truly express how gratified I am. I am feeling well right now, and will be continuing the platelet transfusions indefinitely — so hang in there…..I am!
With gratitude and sincere thanks,
Leonard

I have some great news! I had an MRI today and the tumor has shrunk by 2/3 to ¾! I am taking avastin but have only taken two doses! The head of radiooncology was amazed at my response. I want to thank those of you who sent prayers for me. I can still feel them. I am determined to live and I think that and the Avastin were the factors that shrank the tumor.

Dear Friends & Family,

Thank you for your outpouring of support on my website. I completed my book and have been spending time editing it, planning projects and enjoying a lot of time with family. I am being honored in the next several weeks both by my medical school for the distinguished alumni award and the Saybrook Institute will be giving me a special tribute.

The race between my brain tumor and my treatments continue. I feel well and am walking and talking so I judge how I am doing by those two things. I have embarked on Avastin that I am told fights the tumor so we will see. I would like to schedule another time where we all visualize healing, pray, light a candle, or do whatever you do to send good thoughts my way.
Friday, March 6th at 5 pm, PST

I truly prefer posts on my website rather than cards, calls or emails as those take a lot of energy, which I am trying to conserve at this time. Plus I would love to see the sentiments expressed on this website. As always, I love reading posts from you.

Those of you living in the Bay Area, I am getting frequent platelet transfusions to keep my level elevated. This is important because one of th eside effects of Avastin can be bleeding. If you would like to donate platelets (it doesn’t matter your blood type when donating platelets) you can call the Irwin Memorial Blood Center on 264 Bush St # 136 San Francisco; (415)567-6400 and say you would like to donate platelets to Leonard Shlain. They are setting up a schedule as platelets unlike regular blood transfusions must be fresh and used within 3 days of screening.

Thank you again for your amazing support…it keeps me going.
Warmest regards,
Leonard

Dad finished his book and wasn’t feeling well so he’s in the hospital. We’ll keep you posted.
Update: Jan 14 pm, Jordan rescued my dad from the hospital, they just called me from the car and they’re on their way home. Thank GOD. -Kimberly

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