Studying such people led me to Leonardo da Vinci, who I believe is history’s greatest creative genius. Da Vinci’s illustrations-of rhombicuboctahedrons and dozens of other multifaceted geometric shapes-brought it to life, which was ultimately more important. Like Einstein, da Vinci had a problem with authority. Like Einstein, da Vinci’s most inspiring trait was his curiosity. Da Vinci’s grand and noble ambition was to know everything there was to know about everything that could possibly be known-including our cosmos, and how we fit in. Da Vinci’s brilliance spanned multiple disciplines.
Isaacson, a former managing editor of TIME, is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci, from which parts of this piece are adapted.