Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Susan Stepney
Jason Kuykendall

Umberto Eco


Serendipities: Language and Lunacy is a collection of essays by Umberto Eco, on topics related to the history of languages, mostly relating to those situations where things didn't quite work out.

Sometimes people believe untrue things because they want them to be true, as the first chapter shows with a look at examples such as the Rosicrusians and the mythical kingdom of Prester John. But novel (if rather doubtful) ideas can provide useful insights into how information spreads around, as Eco shows in the second chapter which looks at who influenced Dante in his speculations about the original language of Adam. Likewise the third chapter looks at how the animals found in newly explored lands were interpreted in terms of existing literature -for instance the rhinocerous as a unicorn. The fourth chapter looks at attempts to create a language with the minimum of redundancy and the last chapter at the linguistics of Joseph Maistre.

To some degree these essays seem to be ones which didn't get into The Search for the Perfect Language, so they are rather a random selection of topics. I didn't find the last chapter particularly interesting, but the others did give an entertaining look at some of the obscure corners of linguistics. info
Paperback 144 pages  
ISBN: 0156007517
Salesrank: 674578
Published: 1999 Harvest
Amazon price $11.61
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Paperback 176 pages  
ISBN: 0753808781
Salesrank: 449046
Weight:0.35 lbs
Published: 2002 W&N
Amazon price £8.99
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ISBN: 0156007517
Salesrank: 963081
Weight:0.49 lbs
Published: 1999 Harvest Books
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Product Description
Serendipities is a careful unraveling of the fabulous and the false, a brilliant exposition of how unanticipated truths often spring from false ideas. From Leibniz's belief that the I Ching illustrated the principles of calculus to Marco Polo's mistaking a rhinoceros for a unicorn, Umberto Eco offers a dazzling tour of intellectual history, illuminating the ways in which we project the familiar onto the strange to make sense of the world. Uncovering layers of mistakes that have shaped human history, Eco offers with wit and clarity such instances as Columbus's voyage to the New World, the fictions that grew around the Rosicrucians and Knights Templar, and the linguistic endeavors to recreate the language of Babel, to show how serendipities can evolve out of mistakes. With erudition, anecdotes, and scholarly rigor, this new collection of essays is sure to entertain and enlighten any reader with a passion for the curious history of languages and ideas.