On the Shoulders of Giants

Umberto Eco, trans. from the Italian by Alastair McEwen. Belknap, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-674-24089-6
This delightful collection assembles 12 essays by the late Italian novelist originating in lectures he delivered between 2001 and 2015 at the annual La Milanesiana cultural festival. Eco’s remarks on such broad topics as “Beauty” and “Ugliness,” “Some Revelations on Secrecy,” and “Representations of the Sacred” reveal his astonishingly wide range of interests, encompassing such varied subjects as linguistics and chemistry. At times, his erudition might lose some American readers—how many will be familiar with the poètes galants movement, or the literary character Jacopo Ortis? But his skill in making unexpected connections—as when he applies T.S. Eliot’s critique of Hamlet as a “poorly made patchwork of previous... material” to explain why Casablanca’s “hundred clichés” resulted in a much-loved film whose viewers can “quote the classic lines even before the actors do”—and, especially, his wit will win his audience’s attention back. Of Thomas Aquinas, for example, Eco notes that since the great medieval philosopher believed that resurrected bodies in the afterlife would retain their hair, but not genitals, “This would suggest that in heaven you can get a shampoo and set, but you cannot have sex.” If Eco often leads readers down a not easily followed intellectual path, they are usually well rewarded for persisting on it. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 09/13/2019
Release date: 10/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-1-78730-145-0
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