Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: The Name of the Rose

This is a review of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

This novel is set in an Italian monastery in 1327. The protagonist Adso of Melk is a novice accompanying his master William of Baskerville to investigate a murder. It's fun as a serial murder mystery, and it's interesting to think about the historical and ethical issues that are raised concerning knowledge, secrecy, reasoning, belief, etc.

William of Baskerville is himself a disciple of William of Occam, and at times his reasoning seems almost Bayesian: he says, "reasoning about causes and effects is a very difficult thing," and then explains about the usefulness of conditional independence in simplifying inference.

At one point William tells an amusing parable reminiscent of a recent BBC article: "[i]f you wish to keep a place clean here, to prevent anyone from pissing on it, which t he Italians do as freely as dogs do, you paint on it an image of Saint Anthony with a wooden tip, and this will drive away those about to piss."

I gather from the introduction that the author, a semiotician, embedded a rich collection of references to more or less subtle points of Catholic theology that I missed but that others may enjoy.

Some descriptive passages are a bit florid but on the whole I enjoyed this book.

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