on July 5, 2004
I was digging through Amazon's online version of a bookstore's "bargain bin" looking for something new to read. I came across Foucault's Pendulum and it sounded interesting enough. It starts out, the first 10 or 20 pages, quite convoluted and confusing. I remarked to my husband that perhaps this book was a bit "too cerebral" for me. But, I perservered and I am so glad I did!
Yes, those that say the book starts slow- it truly does. But then, it opens up to this magnificent and complex universe of religious history, conspiracy theories, murder, mystery and suspense and keeps you wanting to read more.
The vocabulary is intense and pretty advanced and there were, in fact, several words that I was unfamiliar with entirely- particularly those that were in LATIN (what was that about?) But, after sitting down with this book for a while, you feel that you have just worked out your brain. It's invigorating! I found myself having resurected a long-lost vocabulary that I almost forgot I even had!
To sum it up- great book. Very intriguing, complicated, and, sorry for the cliche, "page turning" story. But, as an added bonus, it is extrordinarily thought-provoking and brain exercising! Highly recommend it to those of you that don't want your brain to turn into oatmeal in the lazy summer months.
on July 29, 2007
Umberto Eco is internationally renowned as an author, a philosopher, a literary critic and a historian. He is also a professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna and lives in Milan. "The Name of the Rose", his debut novel, was first published in Italy in 1980 and became a bestseller throughout the world. It was also adapted for the big screen in 1986, a version that starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater. "Foucault's Pendulum" was first published in 1988.
The story is told by Casaubon, as he looks back over the previous fifteen years of his life. A graduate of the University of Milan, he's something of a specialist on the Knights Templar - having researched their trial for his thesis. It was in the late sixties, while still a student, that Casaubon first met Jacopo Belbo at Pilade's Bar. Belbo was an editor with Garamond Press deals largely with reference books and university textbooks. (There is another side to Garamond - Manutius, a vanity press where the authors pay for the priviledge of seeing their books in print). However, Belbo also has to deal with the occasional submission on the Templars - which is unfortunate, as he believes that if "someone brings up the Templars he's almost always a lunatic". As a relative 'expert', it's almost inevitable that Casaubon starts spending a little more time with Belbo at the publishing house...
At Garamond, Belbo works most closely with Diotavelli - a cabalist who insists he's an albino Jew. However, of the two, Belbo is by far the more developed character. Although quite witty at times, he's a rather pessimistic character, with a very low opinion of himself. He sees himself as a coward, seems doomed to be unlucky in love and is frustrated at being an editor instead of an author. He's also the proud owner of a recently acquired computer, which he christens Abulafia - into which, in time, Belbo pours his innermost thoughts.
From the book's outset, it's clear the three are in trouble : Diotavelli is in hospital, apparently gravely ill, while "They" are pursuing Belbo. Convinced that "the Plan" is real, Jacopo is in Paris and seems to believe the Templars are after him. Unfortunately, when his phone call to Casaubon is interrupted, it would appear it would appear the Templars (like the Mounties) always get their man. The Plan had been little more than a game for the three friends, something they had developed after having read too many of the conspiracy-inspired manuscripts landing on their desks at work. Although they didn't realise it at the time, it was a manuscript submitted by Colonel Ardenti that was to become the launchpad for their Plan. The manuscript is, naturally, written about the Templars and the Grail and incorporates - he claims - some recently rediscovered information.
While "Foucault's Pendulum" isn't exactly a short read, it is an absorbing, interesting and enjoyable one. There's plenty happening - Templar history, the Rosy Cross and Rosicrucians, a stint in Brazil, numerology (thirty-six and one hundred and twenty seem to be quite popular), 'the' Sophia and a man called Aglie - someone who seems to enjoy masquerading as the (apparently immortal) Comte de Saint-Germain. There's even a touch of sexy pinball, courtesy of Lorenza Pellegrini. An outstanding book, and absolutely recommended.
on May 25, 2004
I discovered this book because my French teacher gave it to me as a challenge in high school, years back (I guess sleeping during class was a bad idea). So, I read it in French and the translation is slightly superior than the English version in my mind. Craaaaazy. The book IS difficult and anyone who says otherwise is either Eco himself or someone who, as one of the character would say, should take the cork out of his ass and let the wind out. Sorry.
The plot is very simple: three editors start making connections between all the secret societies ever heard of, famous conspiracy theories, mainstream and less mainstream religions, Pandora boxes of metaphysic fun... You get the idea. But don't expect the plot to evolve much in action. As a matter of fact, don't even expect a novel. Try picturing three Mulder's from the X-Files on crack for hundreds of pages. The book is a trip, a stream of words and ideas. Dare I compare it to Joyce's Finnegans Wake? Nah, but it's one of those things where you shouldn't stop at every word you can't understand (lots of those in the book, lots and lots of it).
The knowledge is interesting and certainly worth digging further, but you can also enjoy it as what it is. Much, much better than the Da Vinci code...
on July 7, 2000
Umberto Eco is a major cause of headaches. Well, he was for me, at least.
About seven years ago, I bought myself a paperback copy of Foucault's Pendulum at the university book store. It looked like an engaging plotline, the reviews were excellent, and it had a really neat cover.
I realize now that most of the reviewers were probably intelligentsia-wannabes who didn't want to admit to the other reviewers they didn't have a clue what Umberto Eco was going on about. I remember seeing pictures of movie stars holding copies of Foucault's Pendulum in order to look brainy.
Expecting some sort of smart cyber tale with a mystical flavour, I started reading. It was the densest prose I'd ever encountered, even worse than the Webster's unabridged dictionary's definition for "existentialism."
Foucault's Pendulum is definitely not a cyber story. A word processor is the only computer, and there aren't any net-running scenes. Nevertheless, the mystical stuff is certainly there. Umberto Eco waxes philosophical for pages upon pages about word processors (and everything else) in a mystical fashion, all the while going off on Rosicrucian and Greater Key of Solomon tangents in languages like Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and medieval French.
I slaved over Foucault's Pendulum for about a year, always making sure I had a copy of Webster's unabridged dictionary on hand. Unfortunately, it didn't help very much. You see, many of the words in the book are not in the dictionary.
I think that in order to truly comprehend the intricacies of Foucault's Pendulum, a reader needs to be a polyglot with several PhDs in history, philosophy, occult studies, and sciences under her/his belt. Oh yes, and the reader should also have more than a passing familiarity with Sam Spade detective novels.
This makes me wonder what sort of man Umberto Eco really is.
The book proved to be too much for me in my undergrad days. I only got about a third of the way into the novel before giving up in consternation.
Some time later, my husband made the cocky assertion he could read any English novel and fully comprehend it. I called his bluff and handed him my dusty copy of Foucault's Pendulum. I don't think he even made it as far as I did before he unceremoniously jammed the book back into its place on the shelf.
Then, about a year or two ago, I watched The Name of the Rose, and the richness of the plot made me want to try reading the book again.
So, I dragged the dusty book out of my bookshelf. I opened to where the bookmark was, and couldn't remember what the hellwas going on. I groaned aloud when I realized I would have to start all over from scratch.
Once again, I began struggling my way through heavily obfuscated prose. The three-volume dictionary did not leave my side. I was determined to finish the book, and finish it I did in a scant month.
Sure, I was irritable and walked around with a perpetual wrinkle ensconced between my eyebrows, but I finished it, darn it! And, with plenty of research on the side, I even understood (most of) it.
Never before have I worked so hard to read a book.
Now I have just begun to read Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln's The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. While reading the forward, I experienced a bit of déja vu. The subject matter is almost identical to the plotline of Foucault's Pendulum, albeit much easier to comprehend.
A few pages later, I read how Umberto Eco was inspired to write his migraine of a novel from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
Why couldn't I have read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail first? It would have saved me a few brain cells.
I guess it's because of the cover. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail has a rather vanilla cover, and I'm drawn by shiny things. Foucault's Pendulum has the coolest foil embossing.....
on September 12, 2002
Three editors go on a mental trek to rediscover and revise the history of the world based on the writtings of people who could be considered credible and others that could have zero credibility at all. As they do, they unravel a massive web of conspiracies orchestrated from the depths of history to the present day by innumerous secret societies and underground groups poised to control the world and take over. These "societies" often clashing amongst themselves and often figments of imagination of others (but how can we really know) take the three protagonists around the world as they search for more and more data to put together their story. And the more data that piles in the more the truth becomes a blur.
As the story spins, they, and we too, do not know which of their "facts" are real and which aren't. For some the devices are not available to test their authenticity, and for others, the suspicion lingers that strategically placed false information has been laid in their path to throw them off track.
But the worst element for the three investigators is the very real possibility that some of the "facts" could be mere inventions of their own brains! Thus, they constantly need to investigate themselves too to keep their story in check. But how easy, or rather, how feasible is that?
"Foucault's pendulum" is a book that spans over 650 pages, and a story that many people have found exhausting or even pointless. But if you had to attempt yourself to write a story with the outcome and the "moral" of this one then it would be very probable that you'd need a build-up as long and as "exhausting" as Ubmerto Eco here does.
Allthough i could agree with some that this incredible novel is at times "exhausting", i totally understand the need for its structure and length.
Eco deals with more than just a story here. The way we perceive reality and how we are sometimes led to perceive it is a topic that bears no borders. Which, probably explains why 100s of books have been written on the subject.
Is there a conspiracy by secret societies to control the world? Hmm, who are you to answer, and, if there is, why do you imagine that these "societies" would let you know? You are enlightened? Says who? And what if it's all in your brain? If it is indeed "all in your brain" how would you be able to know?
How much "knowledge" and how many "facts" rest in your cerebrum about which you cannot trace the track by which they got there? How much of the "history" you know and have been taught can you actually prove for yourself?
And even if you set out to prove it for yourself, could you?
How easy is it really to separate truth from lie? I say it's not that easy. And if it's not that easy, then, wouldnt those who hold power and know this too, try to use this little fact to their advantage?
Wouldn't they try to use that as a device to manipulate, brainwash, mislead and misguide, whole peoples for their dark goals? Common sense would dictate that yes, but then, if common sense is really "common" why is it so uncommon to begin with?
To cut a long story short, this is a tremendous book. Yes it demands your dedication, but for good reason. Yes, it might not be for everyone (and judging from other reviews i read) it obviously isn't but, so what? Good things are by definition not for everyone, especially in days like these where intraterrestrial intelligence is becoming more rare than the white eagle.
This incredible rollercoaster of a book takes you deep back with a time machine, thrusts you back...forward, plays with your mind, plays with its own mind, and climaxes in its last 100 pages to the question troubling us all:
what is real?
While you might attempt to think about it, excuse me while i go get paranoid.
Umberto Eco is without a doubt one of the sharpest thinkers of our time. But on second thought, who's to say??
on May 23, 2002
The story starts simply enough; a veteran of the Foreign Legion appears in the office of three young Milanese editors with a crazy tale of having discovered a coded message almost a thousand years old, involving the Knights Templar and Stonehenge, which when decoded will unleash a mystic source of power that is greater even than nuclear energy. Oh yeah? say the editors; well, we'll go one better, we'll make a Plan of our own. And they proceed to do so, by feeding bits and pieces of fact and fancy into a computer named Abu (for Abulafia, the medieval Jewish cabalist): the secrets of the Great Pyramid, the Knights Templar's initiation rites; Rosicrucian lore, and a few hefty sprinkles of Brazilian candomblé. Hey, it's great fun and they're only playing a game, after all... until they discover that the game is playing them and they've unleashed a terrifying force they can neither harness nor understand. Umberto Eco is not a so-called "popular" writer and this book is not for anyone looking for an easy read. It has more twists and turns than a Chinese puzzle; it's dense, packed full of historical facts and references, and zips across time and geography until the reader has to slow down and reorient himself. Eco takes over 600 pages to get where he's going, but for those who stay with it, it's a wild, crazy joyride leading up to a slam-bang conclusion. It's fun, it's fascinating, and it's a learning process all in one. What else can you ask of a great book?
on February 3, 2004
I can understand what the 'one-star reviews' are refering to when they equate reading this book to 2 months of hard labour. The English version is not a pleasure to read due to the faulty translation.
Do not kill the writer for it'was the messenger who changed the text.
on May 29, 2004
I agree wholeheartedly with the reviewer below who identifies Eco as an acquired taste, the reader's patience is rewarded with an intoxicating amount of fascinating information - nay - enlightenment. The book follows Eco's trademark style of writing intelligently and entertainingly.
It would not benefit the reader of this review if I attempted to summarise Eco's literary accomplishments in "Foucault's Pendulum", in fact it would be a disservice; instead, suffice to say that the subject matter the book is concerned with (Templars, numerology, Mein Kampf, Galileo, Stonehenge, connections between cross temporal events) is in itself absorbing and add to that, Eco's unique and simply wonderful storytelling technique, the reader is in for a genuinely enthralling experience - I will not be surprised if this book finds its way onto the reading lists of students of the social and political sciences. It is by no means reserved for the conspiratorially inclined amongst us, although ostensibly, that is why it was recommended to me in the first place. You have the benefit of reading a basic summary of the plot below in other reviews and it would be imprudent to judge the book's capacity by what you read here. In telling the story of three book editors' search for the truth, Eco packs in a tremendous amount of intricate detail on a number of subjects. The Sunday Times described the book as "...encompassing everything you ever wanted to know about practically anything...", this claim is not as absurd as it may sound. Eco's learned accounts that follows every diversion in the book (and there are numerous) are guaranteed to leave you feeling fulfilled once you have completed the book.
I successfully finished the book on my second attempt. Failure the first time around is attributable to attempting to keep pace with and investigate every single new revelation the book made. By the time I had made a dent in the book, several weeks had passed and I had finished three other books and visited numerous websites and also a Templar church near the Strand area. This was all in the course of reading the first 200 pages. At the beginning, I was compelled to refresh my understanding of "Simple Harmonic Motion" and the relevant differential equations which govern the motion of a pendulum. Readers will be fascinated by different aspects of the book, depending on their individual interests and experiences and will be interested by all others. If it piques the reader's curiosity, they may wish to independently investigate aspects of this book further. This, however tempting, does slow one down but is worth it, the information picked up along the way will make for good story telling around a fire.
The key is to keep the pages turning and it will not be long before this becomes an effortless process. If you are a lawyer, charge the time you spend reading this to "knowledge management" or "general development". I might read it again, I suspect it's a bit like the God Father parts I & II - certain to notice things that I missed the first time around.
on May 28, 2004
Foucault's Pendulum is the best intellectual high you will ever experience! It spoils. Yes. You will not be able to read another book (fiction) without comparing it to Eco's genius. This book was written in 1988 and it created a cult. We now see books like The Davinci Code, Q, The Rule of Four...etc. that try to imitate the historical thriller with fascinating connections in conspiracy-like atmosphere, but, nothing compares to Eco!
This is an intellectual ride with a very high speed! This book is very demanding in terms of intricate prose, sophisticated language, and vocabulary and constant Latin, French, Italian, and German use of language and above all length. Don't be discouraged, you will be handsomely rewarded: Unbelievable amount of information of every kind, historical, theological, philosophical, artistic and literarty (well researched, verified, and accurate - unlike the less demanding neo-cultish/historical thrillers with half the length making fascinating connections trying to put 2 and 2 together and sacrificing accuracy in return.
Don't waste your time in replicas, go for the original trend-setter.
Mr. Eco - Chapeau!
on May 22, 2004
"...if there had to be a cosmic plot, we could invent the most cosmic of all."
"Foucault's Pendulum" is a book rich in history and deep in mystery. Even when you reach the end, you may not be entirely sure what just happened. And of course, considering the subject matter, that is entirely the point.
The story centers around one Casaubon, a student writing a paper about the Knights Templar. By chance, he meets Jacopo Belbo, a book editor working for a small publisher in Milan. They strike up a fast friendship, and Casaubon shortly begins working for the same publisher, helping them to gather facts and imagery for a new series of books they are publishing.
Casaubon, Belbo, and another editor named Diotallevi take a morbid interest in the subject matter of the many books that are brought to them. The prospective authors, who they call "the Diabolicals," present them with far-fetched ideas about global historical conspiracies and a centuries-old plot to somehow rule the world from the shadows. While each story is different, the three men can see common threads running through all of them, and on their own time they explore the idea further themselves, just for the fun of it.
Using an early model of a word processor (celverly named Abulafia, after the Hebrew Kabbalah scholar), they begin borrowing random concepts from the work of the Diabolicals and stringing them together. They include other sources as well, just to mix it up a bit. What they discover is what they call the Plan, and it could be the most important conspiracy theory in the history of the modern world, involving the Rosicrucians, the Jewish Kabbalah, Masonic rituals, Napoleon, the Nazis, and of course at the center of it all, the Knights Templar, spanning over 600 years of European history... or, it could just be a huge coincidence.
What makes "Foucault's Pendulum" such a great novel is not just how it strings the different pieces of the puzzle together (which it does masterfully), nor simply how it makes it whole idea so compelling (which it also does well), but how, simulataneously, it makes you question everything you're reading. Right up until the end (and even beyond), Eco keeps you guessing as to what is "real" and what is not. Where other authors, covering similar subjects, make the conclusions predictable or melodramatic, Eco manages to find a place where the reader is never really sure if what they're reading about is fact, fiction, or something in between. The conclusion is subtle, and leaves nagging doubts in the reader's mind.
The history presented in the book is top-notch, and it's never presented in a way that is insulting or "dumbed down" for the reader. Many books like this tend to include long, painfully obvious passages of exposition, but with Eco one never feels like the information is being presented by sacrificing the story. He manages exposition quite well, and everything that is presented matches the needed context of story and the characters.
The characters themselves have depth, and their dialogue never fails to make them real for the reader. I particularly enjoyed one part, early on, when the three new friends discuss a School of Comparative Irrelevance, a course of studies for useless or impossible subjects, such as "Urban Planning for Gypsies," "Morse Syntax," and "The Phonetics of the Silent Film." This passage served many purposes. On the surface level, it was extremely amusing. It also told the reader a great deal about each of the main characters in an efficient, transparent way. Finally, it serves as foreshadowing of the far broader and deeper invention these characters would soon be embarking upon. To accomplish so much in just a few pages of (primarily) dialogue is the mark of a gifted author.
Through the course of the book Casaubon has many different experiences, both mystical and mundane. Abulafia becomes more than a simple word processor, it becomes a source of truth and another veil of mystery to be pulled aside. Belbo tries to reconcile his sardonic nature with the mystery they seem to be uncovering, trying to maintain a scholarly distance while becoming more and more entranced with the story beneath the stories they hear. And Diotallevi ties everything they learn in with his own beliefs, and what truth means to him.
In the end, "Foucault's Pendulum" is a story about faith, and both the wonderful and terrible things a powerful belief can accomplish. It is also about how different people can take the same facts and each will interpret them in their own way, often wildly different from one another. Eco conveys his ideas via a compelling, original story, and in so doing makes we, the readers, think about what he has to say. It is not the facts themselves that are important, but only the connections we make between them. Perhaps, in the end, it is the interpretations, not the facts themselves, which shape beliefs... and therefore shape the events of history.
"But I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth."