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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious and stimulating novel for our times.
In this remarkable and hugely conceived novel of ideas, Pears gives us three intense, emotionally gripping stories set in Provence during the fifth, fourteenth, and 20th centuries. In each of these, a sensitive and thoughtful man of letters faces not only a crisis of belief, but also of action, as outside forces threaten to destroy civilization as he knows it. As each...
Published on June 9 2002 by Mary Whipple

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't finish
Gave up at around 150 pages. I received a copy of Christopher Moore's "Island of the Sequined Love Nun" that I ordered from Amazon. "Scipio" was at best interesting, and usually boring, so I had no hesitation to put it down to pick up the Moore book. Keep in mind, however, that Christopher Moore is a favorite of mine, and I just knew his book would...
Published on Nov. 25 2003 by Richard Steixner


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious and stimulating novel for our times., June 9 2002
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This review is from: The Dream of Scipio (Hardcover)
In this remarkable and hugely conceived novel of ideas, Pears gives us three intense, emotionally gripping stories set in Provence during the fifth, fourteenth, and 20th centuries. In each of these, a sensitive and thoughtful man of letters faces not only a crisis of belief, but also of action, as outside forces threaten to destroy civilization as he knows it. As each man fights to save the values he finds important, Pears explores the ethical underpinnings of western thought and history, those ideas first proffered by Plato which continue to influence men and governments two thousand years later.
A mysterious 5th century manuscript by Manlius Hippomanes connects the parallel plots and eras: the waning days of the Roman Empire, as the barbarian hordes attack Gaul's borders and Manlius Hippomanes writes The Dream of Scipio; the 14th century in Avignon, when poet Olivier de Noyen discovers some of Manlius's writing and deals with papal intrigue, the Hundred Years War, and the Black Death; and the Vichy government in France during World War II, when Julien Barneuve, a scholar who has traced the Manlius manuscript, joins the Vichy government in an effort to "civilize" the German occupiers and prevent deportation of the Jews.
This is not a beach book--its excitement is far more thoughtful than sensational. Pears' characters are real, flawed people living and loving in times of crisis and experiencing conflicts with parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. These conflicts clearly parallel those in the wider world of their political alliances and governments, and ultimately affect their attitudes toward humankind in general. Beautiful love stories, which bring warmth to the narrative, are portrayed with the delicacy such fragile relationships deserve and the strength which allows them to endure. As we, too, face uncertain times and threats to our own civilization, Pears offers a reflective and thought-provoking framework for contemplating our own future.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A philosophical and historical masterwork!, May 31 2004
This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
I wasn't impressed with Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost, but I was told that this novel was an outstanding work of fiction. I am glad I gave it a whirl. This is a wonderful and true work of historical fiction. What makes this novel all the more memorable to me is that it is philosophical as well. The Dream of Scipio is an extremely well done and beautiful novel -- a challenging read involving three different characters at three different points in history. All come from the same French town, and each one affects the subsequent character. The story flows in a marvelous and steady motion, moving seamlessly from one historical period to the next. The three main characters are concerned, perhaps obsessed, with making morally correct decisions in a seemingly immoral world. Each lives in a time when tremendous calamities of historical consequences were occurring around them and throughout the whole of Europe. The decisions they make are not easy and the latter characters look for guidance to the writing of the Manlius, the first character in the novel. The Dream of Scipio is a highly interesting read, one that enthralled me from beginning to end. I love historical fiction and this novel is one of the best I've read. If you are not afraid of a philosophical and somewhat complex novel, pick this one up. You won't regret it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Thought-Provoking, March 16 2004
By 
B. McEwan "yellokat" (Brooklyn, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
The jacket copy on this book is somewhat misleading, since it's billed as a mystery, which leads one to expect a more suspense-filled plot and also a story that moves quickly. This novel is neither, although it does contain a mystery of sorts. The question surrounds the identity and interactions between several historical figures in three different time periods -- the fall of Rome, the time of the Black Death in Europe and the fall of France during the Second World War.
The story contains many references to philosophy and religion, comparing characteristics among the three time periods and the people who lived through each. A key idea of the book is the question of personal choice during times of trouble. Does one hold fast to absolute principles, risking death and destruction, or is it better to go along with the opposition in hopes of ameliorating its brutality?
In the three cases described in the novel, the opposition is represented by the barbarians who sacked Rome, the oppressive Church of the Dark Ages and the invading Germans of 1942. In the first two instances, the heroes allow themselves to be co-opted by a barbarian king and the Church hierarchy, with mixed results. In the final instance, the hero teeters on the brink of choice, finally deciding to stick with his principles, even though in doing so he, his friends and his way of life are certain to be destroyed.
The book is exceptionally thought-provoking. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I read, going back and re-reading sections, and pondering what I might do in a similar situation. A bonus was that I learned a good deal about the Greek philosophers and about what life was like during times and in places that I don't know much about. This is a very good read that will challenge most readers and, in return, pay off in ways that the usual page-turners do not.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Do the Right Thing, Jan. 29 2004
By 
L. Dann "adhdmom" (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
This is a three dimensional weaving of exceptional characters in the worst of times. I was cautious reading due to the nature of the three eras and the gruesome realities of those times. The Black Plague, Vichy France and the Fall of the Roman Empire despite the lush south of France setting, tend to exhaust my tolerance for gore. Yet, Avignon could never be more enchanting and true love continues to spur humanity toward a higher good despite our base natures. The historical and artistic details are sublime, but it is as a writer that Pears captivates his audience. Through ingenious plotting with a superb timing and philosophical tension, I found that I was less concerned with the violence and more concerned with the struggle of the individual in time.
From Spike Lee to the Greek tragedians- it is about moral action- and if you are one of those who assume it is easier in these times or that we have advanced stop reading and turn on the TV. This book has wit and yet it requires some effort. If the reader dares, it is extraordinarily worthwhile.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What would you do?: characters at the limit, Jan. 12 2004
By 
Guillermo Maynez (Mexico, Distrito Federal Mexico) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
Iain Pears uses a single region (Provence, around Avignon) and a common thread (a manuscript on philosophy)to illustrate three different moments in Western civlization and the lives of three different men who had to make difficult moral choices. It happens that each historical moment is one when civilization, the whole order of society, is about to crumble down in a great catastrophe, all of which makes the heroes' choices all the more painful and exasperating.
Pears skillfully interweaves the three stories: in the Fifth century, Manlius Hippomanes, a wealthy and educated Gallic Roman and a community leader, is faced with hard choices regarding the impending conquest of Rome by the Northern barbarians. What should he do? Fight a lost battle just for honor's sake, or negotiate with the oncoming forces to try to save what he can from Roman civilization? Not easy to decide.
In the Fourteenth century, Olivier de Noyen is a young man working for a Cardinal at the Papal court, then settled in Avignon. He has found Manlius's manuscript, "The Dream of Scipio" and is studying it with a wise Jew with whose servant he falls in love. As the great Plague sets in, political intrigues start boiling, with Olivier's master a prominent figure. At some point Olivier will have to decide between remaining loyal to his master and being a part in the unfair condemnation of Jews as the cause of the Plague, or changing his time's history for the sake of love and fairness, betraying his master.
And Julien Barneuve, a scholar, is forced after the Nazi invasion of France to decide between resisting the invaders by force with no chance of winning, or collaborate with them in order to civilize them and save French culture. It won't be easy as he is desperately in love with a Jewish woman.
I think Pears has done a very well rounded work, keeping the three stories different, but tied together by common themes and situations. Each one of the three main characters is different from the other two, all of them intelligent but with distinctive qualities and shortcomings, as well as with differing stances in life in terms of power, status and money. Each one of them has a love story with a woman with whom there is no chance of a normal loving relationship, for different reasons. In each story the Jews are threatened (while never degenerating into a simple pamphlet).
Each story is very beautiful, moving and exciting, and Pears manages to keep a near perfect symmetry between the three of them, in terms of space, tone, and quality of writing. Pears is also very good at depicting, in an economical yet rich way, landscapes, towns, garments and people. More than just a novel, I think this is one of the best books written in the last years, at least among those I have read. It is erudite yet never pedantic; complex but at the same time clear. But the bottom line is the stories are good and cleverly intertwined.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not a beach book for sure!, Dec 28 2003
By 
J. Marren "jtm497" (Glen Ridge, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
"Scipio" is one of the best novels I've read in years, and I read a lot! Be forewarned by the few negative reviews here on Amazon--to fully appreciate this book you should be interested in history, philosophy, and above all willing to think about how one discerns the right course of action when presented with a moral dilemma. If you're willing to take on the challenge, you're in for a treat!
Pears presents the story of three men in three different historical periods in Southern France. The paralells are eerie--in each case the world is sliding into chaos--the fall of the Roman Empire, the scourge of the Black Death, and the occupation of France by the Germans in WWII. Each man is presented with the same moral dilemmas--does one fight shoulder to shoulder with one's friends in a cause that is probably hopeless? should one betray a friend to save many others? is following our principles at all important when the world crumbles around us? is saving "civilization" the highest goal--or our our responsibilities less lofty--to our family and friends and those we love?
Each protagonist has a love in his life, a dark haired muse, and Pears weaves three unconventional but utterly believable love stories through the novel. That this is also a literary device to verbalize the moral issues presented doesn't ruin the portraits of these three independent, thoughtful, courageous women.
The role of the Jews in this story is also fascinating--in each case they are the pawns of history, as men of power exploit anti-Semitism for their own purposes, either persecuting or in one case protecting them, never out of moral conviction but rather to further other ends.
Our protagonists meet three different ends, and Pears leaves us to judge for ourselves who followed the right path. One achieves his goals--at great cost--and retires to live out his life. One recognizes he has been on the wrong path all along and dies a terrible death in a last grand gesture to redeem himself. One survives with his love, but also at great cost.
Each reader will reach their own conclusions--but Pears also invites us to look at how history judges these three. In the history books one man is a saint, one a traitor, one disappears without a trace. It's said history is written by the winners--if this is so what can we learn from it, other than how to "win?"
I hope one of my book clubs can be persuaded to read this--one could discuss it for hours!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought provoking, Dec 23 2003
By 
Paul Donovan (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
The central conflict at the heart of "The Dream of Scipio" is whether a civilisation should be defended with force, or whether it can absorb its enemies and convert them to its mores without in turn being converted to "barbarism" by the conquerors. Pears selects a common region (centred around Avignon) and three distinct historical periods to explore this concept. The three stories are linked by historic documents passed surviving over the generations, and by a common issue of Jewish persecution in Europe.
Initially the juxtaposition of the three stories seems a little awkward - as the reader is moved back and forth across fifteen centuries, switching between the three strands of the narrative in the course of a very few pages. Unlike "An Instance of the Fingerpost" this is not compartmentalised into distinct stories in separate sections. However, it is this deliberate use of a disjointed narrative that forces the reader to break out of historical complacency. Reading of the events of the fifth century, when civilisation is "saved" through conquest, it seems a perfectly rational course of action to save culture for posterity through converting the conqueror. Comparing this, within a few pages, with the Nazi occupation of France in the last century, and historical detachment is brought up against direct comparisons with more recent reality - can acquiescence and conversion really work?
The thread of anti-Jewish pogroms also runs through the story, along with other religious persecutions. This emphasises the horrific consequences of failing to maintain "civilised" standards, even if this is perceived as a temporary expediency.
Examining a single event from different vantage points was, of course, what made "An Instance of the Fingerpost" so successful story. That device is used here to equal success, but it is a single concept examined indirectly from different vantage points in time. It works extremely well, and - though not a book to attempt on a hangover - makes for compelling reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought provoking, Dec 22 2003
By 
Paul Donovan (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
The central conflict at the heart of "The Dream of Scipio" is whether a civilisation should be defended with force, or whether it can absorb its enemies and convert them to its mores without in turn being converted to "barbarism" by the conquerors. Pears selects a common region (centred around Avignon) and three distinct historical periods to explore this concept. The three stories are linked by historic documents passed surviving over the generations, and by a common issue of Jewish persecution in Europe.
Initially the juxtaposition of the three stories seems a little awkward - as the reader is moved back and forth across fifteen centuries, switching between the three strands of the narrative in the course of a very few pages. Unlike "An Instance of the Fingerpost" this is not compartmentalised into distinct stories in separate sections. However, it is this deliberate use of a disjointed narrative that forces the reader to break out of historical complacency. Reading of the events of the fifth century, when civilisation is "saved" through conquest, it seems a perfectly rational course of action to save culture for posterity through converting the conqueror. Comparing this, within a few pages, with the Nazi occupation of France in the last century, and historical detachment is brought up against direct comparisons with more recent reality - can acquiesence and conversion really work?
The thread of anti-Jewish pogroms also runs through the story, along with other religious persecutions. This emphasises the horrific consequences of failing to maintain "civilised" standards, even if this is perceived as a temporary expediency.
Examining a single event from different vantage points was, of course, what made "An Instance of the Fingerpost" so successful story. That device is used here to equal success, but it is a single concept examined indirectly from different vantage points in time. It works extremely well, and - though not a book to attempt on a hangover - makes for compelling reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and thought provoking, Dec 22 2003
By 
Paul Donovan (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
The central conflict at the heart of "The Dream of Scipio" is whether a civilisation should be defended with force, or whether it can absorb its enemies and convert them to its mores without in turn being converted to "barbarism" by the conquerors. Pears selects a common region (centred around Avignon) and three distinct historical periods to explore this concept. The three stories are linked by historic documents passed surviving over the generations, and by a common issue of Jewish persecution in Europe.
Initially the juxtaposition of the three stories seems a little awkward - as the reader is moved back and forth across fifteen centuries, switching between the three strands of the narrative in the course of a very few pages. Unlike "An Instance of the Fingerpost" this is not compartmentalised into distinct stories in separate sections. However, it is this deliberate use of a disjointed narrative that forces the reader to break out of historical complacency. Reading of the events of the fifth century, when civilisation is "saved" through conquest, it seems a perfectly rational course of action to save culture for posterity through converting the conqueror. Comparing this, within a few pages, with the Nazi occupation of France in the last century, and historical detachment is brought up against direct comparisons with more recent reality - can acquiesence and conversion really work?
The thread of anti-Jewish pogroms also runs through the story, along with other religious persecutions. This emphasises the horrific consequences of failing to maintain "civilised" standards, even if this is perceived as a temporary expediency.
Examining a single event from different vantage points was, of course, what made "An Instance of the Fingerpost" so successful story. That device is used here to equal success, but it is a single concept examined indirectly from different vantage points in time. It works extremely well, and - though not a book to attempt on a hangover - makes for compelling reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Six Degrees of SCIPIO: Pears Weaves a Tangled Web, Oct. 19 2003
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This review is from: Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
Civilization is the forest that people can't see for the trees; the crowd that we can't see because we're part of it. The three protagonists in Iain Pears' THE DREAM OF SCIPIO are surrounded by people they love, admire, respect, believe, detest, distrust, and hate. While each man occupies the same few square miles of earth in Provence, France, each is separated by centuries at three crisis periods in history: Manlius Hippomanes at the end of the Roman Empire, Olivier de Noyen during the Great Schism at the onset of the Black Plague, and Julien Barneuve in the midst of the Second World War.
Pears does not pass judgement on his characters; each man's fate comes as a result of what he does, or what he fails to do. Still, each seemingly insignificant deed committed yesterday reverberates through today into tomorrow. Each man is faced with the same unenviable choice: when the world is the burning house, do you rush in to preserve possessions and loved ones or do you sacrifice these people and things, letting the house burn for the better of future generations? One man will turn his back to the past and look only to the future, making his decisions strategically no matter what it ultimately costs him. Another will turn a blind eye, complacently living in the present, regardless of what happened in the past or what is foreshadowed in the future. Only one will rely on his own humanity and faith to guide him, saving lives even as he himself is sacrificed, without a second thought about the fate of civilization.
Pears compellingly weaves these three plots into a rich and entertaining fictional narrative rooted in real historical events. On a deeper level, however, SCIPIO raises difficult questions that are all too relevant in today's tumultuous world, because perhaps we are at now at a crisis point of our own. What makes any decision right or wrong? Would we, in a difficult position, make better choices? What should we believe when even truth is corrupted by time? History is our attempt to keep track of civilization, but it's a biased account, written by the winners, the ones that survive. Is it a flaw in human nature that whether or not we know our history, we seem doomed to repeat it? Perhaps this is true because, whether our own intentions are good or less than noble, we never act alone.
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The Dream of Scipio
The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears (Paperback - May 13 2003)
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