Archive for Umberto Eco

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

Il cimitero di Praga

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 15, 2012 by xi'an

In the plane back from Kyoto, I did read most of Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, as my computer was down and as I had by then reviewed both PhD theses I had taken with me…  I am always impressed by Eco’s books and the erudition they show, and I read The Name of the Rose several times. I also enjoyed very much Foucault’s Pendulum as well as the Island of the Day Before.

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate how modern anti-semitism was fueled by conservatism forces during the French and the Italian 19th century revolutions. And how forged documents were produced to this effect, culminating with the alas famous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The story mostly takes place in Paris, as the central character is an agent provocateur and con-artist at the centre of those forgeries, employed by various and sometimes ennemy secret services and societies to move public opinions against Jews, free-masons and republicans. Not only he is at the origin of the Protocole, but he also forged the letter incriminating Captain Dreyfus (and later Esterházy). Not a very pleasant character, to be sure. Especially since he suffers from schizophrenia. And seems to be only motivated by greed. Not a pleasant story either!

Once again, and as usual with Eco’s books, the story is well-documented. Actually, the author says that every character appearing in the book is real except for the narrator. However, I find the pseudo-Dickensian/Dumasian style Eco adopted in this book rather heavy-going, while the plot is not particularly gripping. In a related vein of conspiracies and secret societies, Foucault’s Pendulum was way better..

Compstat 2010

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on January 26, 2010 by xi'an

As a member of the scientific committe of the incoming Compstat 2010 meeting, taking place in Paris next August (22-27), I have received abstracts to evaluate. The abstracts were available through EasyChair and I have never seen the like of this system! It looks as if it was conceived in the final months of the former DDR…  All abstracts come into a single bland page with no access to abstracts before papers are selected. Once I have made my selection of papers I would like to review, the list of selected papers still does not provide the abstracts. A true nightmare…

Note that the meeting will be held in the beautiful buildings of the  Conservatoire National des Arts et des Métiers,  which is also linked with Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum since it partly takes place there. Another point of relevance is that Jean-Michel Marin will give a tutorial on Bayesian Core during Compstat 2010. (He will focus on Bayes factor approximations.)