Author: Umberto Eco

Category: General Nonfiction

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In this prescient essay collection, the acclaimed author of Foucault’s Pendulum examines the cultural trends and perils at the dawn of the 21st century.In the last decade of the 20th century, Umberto Eco saw an urgent need to embrace tolerance and multiculturalism in the face of our world’s ever-increasing interconnectivity. At a talk delivered during the first Gulf War, he points out the absurdity of armed conflict in a globalized economy where the flow of information is unstoppable and the enemy is always behind the lines. Elsewhere, he questions the influence of the news media and identifies its contribution to our collective disillusionment with politics. In a deeply personal essay, Eco recalls his boyhood experience of Italy’s liberation from fascism. He then analyzes the universal elements of fascism, including the “cult of tradition” and a “suspicion of intellectual life.” And finally, in an open letter to an Italian cardinal, Eco reflects on a question underlying all the reflections in the book: What does it mean to be moral or ethical when one doesn't believe in God?“At just 111 pages, Five Moral Pieces packs a philosophical wallop surprising in such a slender book. Or maybe not so surprising. Eco's prose here is beautiful.”—January Magazine Review This slim book covers a lot of territory in a little over a hundred pages. Its five essays address everything from warfare to faith to the media, and Umberto Eco insists that they are all linked: "Despite the variety of their themes, they are all ethical in nature, that is to say, they treat of what we ought to do, what we ought not to do, and what we must not do at any cost." Several of his views are provocative. In listing the characteristics of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," for instance, Eco describes many of the beliefs held by modern-day conservatives. He also remarks: "Europe will become a multiracial continent--or a 'colored' one, if you prefer. That's how it will be, whether you like it or not. This meeting (or clash) of cultures could lead to bloodshed, and I believe to a certain extent it will." Fans of Eco's bestselling novels won't necessarily be drawn to Five Moral Pieces, though readers who have enjoyed his nonfiction will want to explore this small collection. --John Miller From Publishers Weekly Most famous for his complex, erudite novels, semiotician and literary theorist Eco (Foucault's Pendulum, etc.) devotes these occasional essays primarily to the quest for tolerance in an intolerant world and to the intellectual responsibility of individuals to confront difficult moral problems directly. Eco observes, for example, that war contradicts "the very reasons for which it is waged" in a world where telecommunications technology and constant migration render traditional rationalizations for war (e.g., the defense of borders) obsolete. In the end, he argues, war cannot be defended, for, in addition to its manifold evils, it is a wasteful enterprise, squandering lives and resources. In another essay, Eco contends that ethical principles can indeed be articulated apart from any grounding in religious faith, though a natural ethic and a religious ethic may share common ground. Examining the reporting techniques of several Italian newspapers, he asserts that they share a moral responsibility to inform rather than to titillate with gossip and advertising. In the collection's most eloquent essay, Eco sketches the universal elements of fascism (such as "the cult of tradition" and a "suspicion of intellectual life"), emphasizing that such elements persist even today and can appear in the most innocent guises. Finally, he reveals the complex bond linking migration, with the resulting impact of one culture on another, and intolerance, concluding that the only solution is to teach tolerance from birth. Eco's fans will enjoy his perspective on these issues, but aside from his worthy reflections on fascism, these pieces neither ask new questions nor reach startling conclusions; some are even quite simplistic (e.g., "War is a waste"). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc. From Library Journal The author of three best-selling, ingeniously plotted novels and several collections of sharp and witty essays (most recently Kant and the Platypus), Eco here presents five pieces on the fragility of ethical principles in postmodern culture. The essays, which originated as lectures, were either prompted by a crisis (the Gulf War, the trial of a Nazi criminal, the rise of ultra-conservatives in Europe) or an invitation to weigh in on public debates on postmodern ethics, the implosion of journalistic standards in our age of infotainment, or the perils and promise of migration for this millennium. Eco did not iron out the marks left by these occasions, and the remaining traces of spoken language nicely offset his conceptually rigorous engagement with weighty issues. A discussion of the possibilities for a nonfoundational ethics is trenchant, convincing, and highly rewarding for serious readers. Confessional moments about his coming-of-age in fascist Italy, however, are slightly flat, like set pieces in often-told tales. In its entirety, this slim volume is cogently argued and periodically sparkles with the kind of wit and insight that readers have come to expect from one of Italy's brightest minds. Recommended for larger public libraries, academic libraries, and special collections. Ulrich Baer, NYU Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. From Booklist Eco is one of the most highly regarded and influential writers and intellectuals of our time. His fiction has engaged the minds of millions, and his intellectual work in semiotics and ethics has opened up those specialties to countless outsiders. Here Eco tackles difficult subjects with apparent ease in essays that, dealing with morality and ethics, touch every area of modern thought. His "Reflections on War," written at the beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis, still resounds truthfully today. "On the Press" looks at the media and their influence on the world and one another. "Ur-Fascism" discusses the fascist regimes of Franco, Mussolini, and the Nazis, ending with the caveat that fascism, with its resurgence in the guise of militant new right-wing groups, isn't at all a thing of the past. Through these and the other essays, Eco combines reflections on our shared history and his recommendations for a more favorable modernity in a manner that seems indisputable and brilliant. Michael SpinellaCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved Review PRAISE FOR FIVE MORAL PIECES"In his fiction and nonfiction alike, Eco is an urbane, genial writer who brings calmness and clarity to every subject he treats."--Los Angeles Times"Cogently argued and periodically sparkles with the kind of wit and insight that readers have come to expect from one of Italy's brightest minds."--Library Journal About the Author Umberto Eco (1932–2016) was the author of numerous essay collections and seven novels, including The Name of the Rose, The Prague Cemetery, and Inventing the Enemy. He received Italy’s highest literary award, the Premio Strega; was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government; and was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.