cover image Inventing the Enemy: 
And Other Occasional Writings

Inventing the Enemy: And Other Occasional Writings

Umberto Eco. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-547-64097-6

Thought provoking and sometimes intimidating, this collection by Eco (The Name of the Rose) offers 14 “occasional” pieces—writings produced for specific events—from the past decade. While rooted in the disposition and lens of a humanities academic, Eco leaps enjoyably through topics, such as the human need for enemies; the beauty, importance, and history of fire; whether the fallout from WikiLeaks will require espionage technology to regress to “a lonely street corner, at midnight.” While mostly sticking to conventional essay formats, two humorous collage-style works (one on the danger of proverbs, another composed of Fascist critiques of Ulysses) also make for entertaining reads. Eschewing hyperbole, Eco’s arguments are nuanced, reserved, and refreshingly lower-case conservative. Though he couches his ideas in accessible prose, the general subject matter may prove a stumbling block for some readers. Eco seems reluctant to clue in readers to helpful background information, as hinted at by many a snippet quotation in another language included without translation or elaboration. As such, some of the essays may only half-illuminate for a general readership. Still, the collection amply shows off Eco’s sophisticated, agile mind and will undoubtedly bring pleasure to readers familiar with his worlds while enriching those willing to learn about them. (Sept.)