Foucault's Pendulum

Umberto Eco
Foucault's Pendulum Cover

If you're not sure, give it a try...


This was my first Eco book.

I usually lose patience quickly when an author has a proclivity to use two, three - even four analogies where one is sufficient. Not so with this book. The analogies are so clever - and cleverly delivered - that I barely noticed I was being pestered by one of my pet peeves. Even after realizing it, I still was not bothered all that much. Strange, that.

Eco is a very wordy writer who, at the same time manages to drive the plot forward while painting immense pictures with words. The translation from Italian to English must have been a monumental task as the prose is dense and the sheer amount of cryptic references is staggering. While I'm sure some parts must have suffered due to translation, I found the text eminently readable. Anyway, on to the story...

Imagine that you work at a publishing house in Milan as a researcher. Now, imagine that, previous to being hired into this position, you wrote your doctoral thesis on the Knights Templar, thereby making you somewhat of an expert on the subject. Imagine further that your little publishing house is constantly beset by crackpot wanna-be authors who are looking to publish their personal crack-pot theories about the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Jesuits, the Jews, the Illuminati, the Catholics, the Nazis, the Masons, the Muslims, and... oh yes! The Masters of the World, who live underground, (naturally!)

So one night, after a long day at the office researching compounds for books on metallurgy, you are sitting around with a couple of your co-workers at the local watering hole discussing these crack-pot authors, (whom you have dubbed 'Diabolicals' - smirk!), when you hit upon an idea; you and your friends will write 'The Plan'! You will create a cohesive, all- encompassing plot that ties together all known conspiracy theories into a single unified plot! This plot will explain, once and for all, what all these mysterious secret groups have been up to all these centuries. To help with this task you enlist the aid of a strange, urbane old fellow named Agliè who is extremely knowledgeable about the occult and who likes to imply that he is the Comte de Saint-Germain, living in perpetuity and assuming new identities as the previous ones, (ahem), outlive their usefulness. But I digress...

As you and your friends obsessively enter historical details of 'The Plan' into your computer, (which is compiling all the data and turning it into 'The Plan' by finding conflicts in your data), you realize that the original Templar plan, (you know, the one that you are creating), went awry due to some mismanaged numerology. This led to one splinter group of Templars missing their meeting with another splinter group of Templars, which led to various and sundry shadowy organizations meandering around in the dark trying to figure out how to get back on track. When they catch wind of 'The Plan', these shadowy groups begin to pursue you and your friends in order to wring the final key to mastery of the world from you! Verily, your hoax is become like The Great Worm Ouroboros, eating it's own tail.

Oh, and everything of course hinges on the pendulum.

I liked this book despite the wordy 640-page length. I liked it despite Eco's insistence on lengthy descriptions. I liked it despite - and because of - the 'kitchen sink' approach that included just about every secret organization and conspiracy theory ever dreamed up. I loved this book for the humor and education it bestows. With that said, Focault's Pendulum is not for everyone. Many people will likely find it dry and tedious. I found it funny and entertaining in many parts. Downbeat and sad in others. One thing most readers will probably agree on - love it or hate it, Eco writes some extremely well-researched material and the depth of his historical knowledge is incredible.

If you're not sure, give it a try. Don't give up too soon but, if you're not having a good time by around page 200 or so, this book might not be for you.