Book Review: The Last Leonardo by Ben Lewis

“Nothing in the known universe, no item, object, or quantity of material, has ever appreciated in value as fast as the Salvator Mundi attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. It was sold in May 2005 to Simon and Parish for $1,175—a sum considerably less than the figure of “around $10,000” the pair later quoted to the media. In 2013 they sold it for $80 million, then four years later, in 2017—a mere twelve years and six months after it was sold for not much more than $1,000—it was auctioned by Christie’s New York for $450 million.”

Ben Lewis, The Last Leonardo

Title: The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting
Author: Ben Lewis
Genres: Non-fiction, Art, History
Length: 12 hrs, 34 mins (Audiobook)
Published: June 25th, 2019

My Rating: ★★
Read: 5/2/2022 – 5/5/2022


I was so ready to love this book. I went on a binge of Salvator Mundi videos a couple of years ago and seeing this book renewed my interest. While it was interesting to hear about the supposed history of the painting’s journey up until the point of the Christie’s auction in 2017 as well as speculation of who might have really painted it, the thoughts were scattered. The timeline wasn’t quite linear which made it difficult to follow (especially where there is so much mystery surrounding this painting to begin with).

What made this book a bust for me was how political it became by the end. It became less and less about the painting and Leonardo Da Vinci and more about how its price tag has tainted the art industry and all those supposedly involved (and who are the faces of the demise on a global scale). It left a poor taste in my mouth which will now be my immediate recall of the book rather than the information about the painting. It started to feel like more of a conspiracy theory than a factual dissertation. Otherwise, it was well-researched.


It irritates me that almost every non-fiction book I’ve read published after 2018 can’t resist the urge to bring in outside politics. I intentionally don’t read books about current events because it stresses me out. On the rare occasion that I do, I’m prepared and in a better headspace. I don’t want a lecture on them when I’m reading about a completely unrelated subject. It’s disappointing. I can overlook a mention here and there, but in the case of The Last Leonardo, it became the focus of the last chapter. It could have and should have been a separate book.

(I noticed while gathering the links below that there is an alternate subtitle: A Masterpiece, a Mystery and the Dirty World of Art. This better captures the negative tone in the last third of the book than the title listed on Audible (The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting).)

Where to buy the book:

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