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Leone Battista Alberti

Leone Battista Alberti was born on February 14, 1404, and died on the 25th of April 1472. Truly a man of many talents, he was an Italian painter, poet, linguist, philosopher, cryptographer, musician, architect, and general Renaissance polymath. His life was described in Giorgio Vasari’s Vite. In Italy, his first name is usually spelled Leon.

Alberti was born in Genoa as an illegitimate son of a family of Florentine merchants. He was educated in law at the University of Bologna. Alberti embarked on a tour of Europe in his mid-twenties. His career in law was curtailed by an illness that induced a partial loss of memory; Alberti then turned his abilities to science and art.

He died in Rome.

Alberti made a variety of contributions to several fields:

In art, He is best known for his treatise De pictura (On painting) (1435) which contained the first scientific study of perspective. An Italian translation of De pictura (Della pittura) was published the year following the Latin version and was dedicated to Filippo Brunelleschi. He also wrote works on sculpture, De Statua.

He was so skilled in Latin verse that a comedy he wrote in his twentieth year, entitled Philodoxius, would later deceive the younger Aldus Manutius, who edited and published it as the genuine work of Lepidus.

He has been credited with being the actual author of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a strange fantasy novel, whose typographic qualities and illustrations have made it legendary as one of the most beautiful books ever printed. There is a good deal of debate about this attribution, however.

In music, he was reputed as one of the first organists of the age. He held the appointment of canon in the metropolitan church of Florence, and thus had leisure to devote himself to his favorite art.

In architecture, he is generally regarded as one of the most devoted to restoring the formal language of classical architecture. At Rome, he was employed by Pope Nicholas V in the restoration of the papal palace and of the restoration of the Roman aqueduct of Acqua Vergine, which debouched into a simple basin designed by Alberti, which was swept away later by the Baroque Trevi Fountain. At Mantua, he designed the church of Sant’Andrea, and at Rimini the celebrated church of San Francesco. On a commission from the Rucellai family, he designed the principal facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, as well as the family palace in the Via Della Scala, now known as the Palazzo Strozzi. He wrote an influential work on architecture, De Re Aedificatoria, which had been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, and English by the 18th century. The most accurate English translation was by Giacomo Leoni in the early 18th century. In it he proposed new methods of fortification which became the standard defense for towns in the age of gunpowder and dominated siege planning for hundreds of years.

Apart from his treatises on the arts, Alberti also wrote: Philodoxus (Lover of Glory, 1424), De commodis litterarum atque incommodis (On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literary Studies, 1429), Intercoenales (Table Talk, ca. 1429), Della famiglia (On the Family, begun 1432) Vita S. Potiti (Life of St. Potitus, 1433), De iure (On Law, 1437), Theogenius (The Origin of the Gods, ca. 1440), Profugorium ab aerumna (Refuge from Mental Anguish, 1442-43), Momus (1450) and De Iciarchia (On the Prince, 1468).

Alberti was an accomplished cryptographer by the standard of his day and invented both polyalphabetic ciphers and machine-assisted encryption using his Cipher Disk. The polyalphabetic cipher was, at least in principle, for it was not properly used for several hundred years, the most significant advance in cryptography since before Julius Caesar’s time. Cryptography historian David Kahn titles him the “Father of Western Cryptography”, pointing to three significant advances in the field which can be attributed to Alberti: “the earliest Western exposition of cryptanalysis, the invention of polyalphabetic substitution, and the invention of enciphered code” (The Codebreakers, 1967).

According to Alberti himself, in a short autobiography, he was capable of “standing with his feet together, and springing over a man’s head.” Alberti also claimed that he “excelled in all bodily exercises; could, with feet tied, leap over a standing man; could in the great cathedral, throw a coin far up to ring against the vault; amused himself by taming wild horses and climbing mountains.” Needless to say, many in the Renaissance promoted themselves in various ways and Alberti’s eagerness to promote his skills should be understood, to some extent, within that framework.

He was also interested in the drawing of maps and worked with the astronomer and cartographer Paolo Toscanelli.

A touch of “Swan Song” and a dash of “The Stand”…Very good post-apocalyptic tale in the mode and mood of R. McCammon’s “Swan Song” and S. King’s “The Stand”. ★★★★★

Excerpt from Troop of Shadows:

Prologue
Colleyville, Texas
October

Dani cursed the weight of her backpack. The final two items from the ransacked Walgreens, crammed in as an afterthought ten minutes ago, might cost her everything. After surviving the last twelve months of hell only to be thwarted now by a can of Similac and a twelve-pack of Zest soap, would be sadly anticlimactic. Despite running at a full sprint down a dark suburban street, dodging overflowing garbage cans while eluding three men who would steal her hard-won tubes of Neosporin and likely rape and kill her in the process, she snorted at the thought of a fictional headline: Young Woman’s Life Ends Tragically but Zestfully Clean.

Damn it, she would ditch the backpack. She could come back tomorrow night for it, but right now staying alive outweighed any future benefit its contents might provide. As her pursuers rounded the corner behind her, she darted across the front lawn of a house and leaped over a cluster of dead juniper shrubs. A year ago, those shrubs had been green, manicured, and providing curb appeal to the upscale neighborhood; they functioned now as a hurdle component in the obstacle course Dani navigated on most nights.

She angled toward the side of the house and around the corner, only to come to an abrupt stop next to a six-foot barricade. Residents of these sprawling bedroom communities situated between Dallas and Fort Worth clung to their privacy fences as fiercely as their rural counterparts did to their firearms. Why all those day-trading dads and cheerleader moms required such secrecy was beyond Dani. She didn’t care. All that mattered was how difficult they made her nightly forages. Only idiots or people with a death wish traveled alone on the streets anymore. The clever ones navigated through backyards and drainage ditches, shadowed easements and alleyway, avoiding open spaces and other humans.

Especially humans traveling in groups.

Stealth and caution were second nature to her now, and she was pissed at herself for loading up the backpack with more weight than she could easily carry at a full run.

Rookie mistake.

She flung the pack into the undergrowth of a once meticulous garden, making a mental note of the enormous red tip photinia which camouflaged the bundle in a leafy shroud. She hoped to be alive the next day to retrieve it.

She clambered up the fence, finding a toehold on a warped plank, and squirmed over the top. A silver fingernail of a moon did little to illuminate the backyard. Weak starlight reflected off the inky surface of a half-empty, kidney-shaped swimming pool. Her Nikes gripped the concrete deck as she skirted the murky water and made a beeline for the back of the yard that was, of course, separated from its neighbor by a privacy fence. It was a tall one too — a full ten feet. There were no bushes or trees to use for leverage either. She scanned the area for anything that might serve as a step ladder.

Of all the yards she could have chosen for her escape, she’d picked one with a damn ten-foot fence.

Her heart raced from the sprint, but not from panic. Gone was the young woman from a year ago, the full-time floundering college dropout and part-time surly Starbucks barista who spent too much time reading books and not enough time looking for a job that would allow her to move out of her parents’ house. She was too smart for her own good, everyone had told her. She should have taken that secretarial position in North Dallas, but she would have lost her sanity in that environment. The tedious filing, the ringing phones, the office politics — in other words, hell on earth for a girl with an IQ over a hundred and fifty.

Despite the recent horrors, she’d come into her own at last, after twenty-one years of meandering through life unfocused and unchallenged. The extra twenty pounds she’d been carrying courtesy of Freddy’s cheeseburgers and Taco Bell burritos were gone, thanks to her newfound self-discipline and endless hours of Krav Maga training with Sam. Not only had she transformed her body, she’d elevated and strengthened her mind as well. Before the power had gone out, she’d watched countless tutorials on T’ai Chi, Qigong, and Buddhist meditation. During that same window — when people were beginning to get sick, but before most of them had died — she’d combed book stores and libraries within a fifteen-mile radius. When the country went dark and people realized that life-saving information was no longer available with a few keystrokes, Dani had amassed reference material on subjects as diverse as hydroponics and combat first aid, ancient meat drying techniques and bomb making. Between martial arts lessons with Sam, she spent every spare minute absorbing the printed esoteric knowledge like a greedy lizard on a sun-drenched rock.

Knowledge was survival.

When the first of the men slithered over the fence into the backyard, she hadn’t found anything to use as a foothold. Another figure followed behind him. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and released it from her lungs, slow and measured, then took off at a full run toward them. While she ran, fingers slid down to a leather sheath secured to her belt. Two seconds before she reached the first of her would-be assailants, a Ka-Bar — the grandaddy of tactical knives — was in her hand.

Dani used momentum and every ounce of her one-hundred-twenty pound frame to slam the first man into the second, knocking both assailants off-balance and unprepared for her next move: a vicious stab to the groin of the first. He collapsed to his knees. She followed with a backhand movement, opening up the throat of his companion. A similar gesture to the man with the injured groin silenced his moaning.

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