Umberto Eco - Foucault's Pendulum

"The fundamental theme to be drawn from Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum appears to be similar to the underlying theme of The Pendulum itself stands out as a symbol of pure empiricism for the narrator and the reader who are both cunningly drawn into a bizarre web of historically famous esoteric beliefs. While the 'believers' seek the secret truths of the universe believed to be known only to the privileged cognoscenti/templars/masons the pendulum simply hangs in place demonstrating the earth's rotation to anyone who cares to look and think without prejudice." -- Norman Kemp
This book came in highly recommended to me from an old friend who said that it is great for those interested in thinking, history, and/or philosophy.

When I first began reading, I found many interesting items in the text, but couldn't figure out what was going on in the plot for many chapters. I pressed on because there were so many interesting comments made and was not disappointed by this decision. The book is rich with analogy, symbolism, and double meanings. I don't think I would have gotten much out of this work a few years ago as a religious believer who thought he had a corner on the truth. In a way, it reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance although I grasped close to nothing out of that book when I read it years ago with an orthodox Mormon frame of mind. That's not to say that I pulled everything possible out of Foucault's Pendulum. I don't think any two people could come away from this book with the same impression. It certainly isn't a book for everyone.

Foucault's Pendulum should be appreciated by most thinkers though. For those with an interest and/or background in Italian, European History, the occult, the Templars, the Rosicrucians, Masonry in its various forms, or religion this book will be better understood. I particularly enjoyed the "files" of Belbo as well as some of the narrators' thoughts summing up his experience near the end. I heard someone say that it leaves you wishing you'd taken more liberal arts in college. I completely agree with this opinion.

It's difficult to explain exactly what this book is about as so many areas are explored. Foucault's Pendulum could be grouped into all of the following categories--yet it doesn't fit well into any single one of them: fiction, non-fiction, history, philosophy, religion, human experience, thriller, humor, adventure, romance, mystery. In short, I suppose it contains a summary of the human condition. Others have said that Eco's other book, The Name of the Rose, is actually better than this one. I'll have to put that one on my list and read it one of these days.

For a more detailed review (which may spoil a few things if you plan on reading it), see this page.

Here are a few quotes: (the book is filled with wonderful one liners)
"What did I really think fifteen years ago? As a nonbeliever, I felt guilty in the midst of all those believers. And since it seemed to me that they were in the right, I decided to believe, as you might decide to take an aspirin: It can't hurt, and you might get better."

"And I began to question everything around me: the houses, the shop signs, the clouds in the sky, and the engravings in the library, asking them to tell me not their superficial story but another, deeper story, which they surely were hiding--but finally would reveal thanks to the principle of mystic resemblances."

"The animal that coils in a circle is the serpent; that's why so many cults and myths of the serpent exist, because it's hard to represent the return of the sun by the coiling of a hippopotamus."

"...these are now people lost in a maze: some choose one path, some another; some shout for help, and there's no telling if the replies they hear are other [lost] voices or the echo of their own..."

"Taken literally, these texts were a pile of absurdities, riddles, contradictions."

"I have understood. And the certainty that there is nothing to understand should be my peace, my triumph."