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

Announcing a New Book by Leonard Shlain!


It is with great joy and gratitude that we announce the posthumous publishing of our father’s last book, Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius which he completed shortly before he passed five years ago. The book is available for pre-order now. We are hosting events in the following cities to celebrate the books release:

Oct 12 4:00-7 pm Sunday
The Long Now
Fort Mason
2 Marina Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94123

Oct 20 7 – 9 PM Monday
NY, NY 10003

Nov 2nd 3-5 PM Sunday
225 26th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90402

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 in many ways, represents a synthesis of so many of his ideas connecting neurology, history, philosophy, art, science, creativity and ourselves. He believed Da Vinci offered a glimpse of the future of our species.

Our father loved more than anything to share. As his children, we are honored to share this book with you. We hope to see you at one of the events in a city near you. If you have any thoughts or ideas on how we can get the word out, we would appreciate the support immensely.

Warmest Regards,

Tiffany Shlain
Jordan Shlain
Kimberly Brooks

Special Thanks to:

IndependentBookSellers copy

AND Jon Sternfeld at Lyon’s Press (Globe Pequot), Robert Stricker, his long time literary agent who introduced us to Andy Ross, the literary agent for Leonardo’s Brain, Editor Ann Patty, (The Life of Pi) , Independent booksellers Book Passages of Mill Valley, Diesel Books in Brentwood and The Strand Bookstore in NYC.


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.



Leonard Shlain, Best-Selling Author, San Francisco Surgeon Dies, May 11, 2009

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

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 – 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

Articles about Leonard Shlain

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 >

San Francisco Chronicle – Dr. Leonard Shlain – surgeon and author, counted Gore, Bjork as fans

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

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

Praise for Leonard Shlain’s Books

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.

Thank You, Platelet Donors

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,