Over at science e-book review Download the Universe, Carl Zimmer says he's found the greatest science e-book yet created — and he just may be right. The book is Leonardo da Vinci Anatomy, and it's an iPad app that explores a collection of Leonardo's anatomy drawings (many of which were hidden from the public until the twentieth century) and explains the magnitude of the artist's contribution to science. Though Leonardo sometimes misinterpreted what he discovered, he nevertheless produced some of the most accurate anatomical studies of human musculature and organs ever seen before in the West.
About the app, Zimmer writes:
Leonardo actually came close to publishing a textbook of anatomy while he was living in Milan, but battles in 1511 drove him from the city and he never quite managed to finish it before his death in 1519. Instead, his drawings remained hidden away until the twentieth century.
Today, the Royal Collection is unveiling the largest ever exhibition of Leonardo's anatomical drawings at The Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace. They also teamed up with Touch Press to create an app based on the show. All the members of the team brought their A game to this undertaking. Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy contains a richly informative narrative about the artist's hidden career as an anatomist, written by Martin Clayton, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection. It is illustrated elegantly with Leonardo's drawings, as well as interactive images of human anatomy as we know it now. You can see for yourself just how good his drawings of the heart or uterus were. You can turn arms to see how well Leonardo appreciated the body's biomechanics.
These components are copious but never intruding. And they always answer the question raised in the reader's mind by the text. Videos from historians and scientists end each chapter—usually I hate these features, but in Leonardo, the talking heads actually have something to say.
The app also contains Leonardo's notebooks themselves. The interface for this part is nothing short of brilliant. You can search through the pages by organ or system. Each page is presented in its original state, scanned to exquisite resolution. Tap the screen, and the app instantly translates the inscrutable notes Leonardo scribbled by his drawings. Each page is also annotated with useful explanations of what Leonardo was contemplating with each image.
Caveat: I'm a contributor to Download the Universe, where Zimmer's review appeared.