Umberto Eco

Baudolino is one of my favourite books. Flat out. I’ve read Foucault’s Pendulum, it was too smart for me I think. I’m a pretty clever guy and I enjoyed the book but I know a lot of it will have gone over my head. The Name of the Rose is great, but Baudolino is the one for me.

Books aside I love Eco’s essays and interviews, none moreso than this one, and mostly for this exchange:


Have you read The Da Vinci Code?


Yes, I am guilty of that too.


That novel seems like a bizarre little offshoot of Foucault’s Pendulum.


The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist.

I like this too:


You once said that semiotics is the theory of lying.


Instead of “lying,” I should have said, “telling the contrary of the truth.” Human beings can tell fairy tales, imagine new worlds, make mistakes—and we can lie. Language accounts for all those possibilities.


Deaths of Kings

While the skeleton of Richard III may have shown us that he didn’t quite fit the deformed villain mould it has shown us that his death was pretty brutal including 9 blows to his unprotected skull from swords, halberds and billhooks.

That son of York was the last British monarch to die in battle but my post about locked room mysteries reminded me of (the fanciful) take on Barbarossa’s death in Baudolino by Umberto Eco (which made my pick of the last decade) and generally got me thinking about regal mortality.

Henry I’s “surfeit of lampreys” is certainly a memorable one. At the age of 35 he fell ill and against doctors orders consumed an excessive number of lampreys and within weeks was dead. I wonder how many lampreys you’d have to eat for that to be the cause of death rather than your illness?

William II, Rufus, was killed in a ‘hunting accident’ in the New Forest after only 3 years on the throne (though by most accounts he wasn’t missed).

Edward II was killed while imprisoned in Berkeley Castle; it’s likely that death wasn’t administered by a red-hot poker to the rear but was certainly engineered by his own mother.

A cutting from a New York paper of the mid 1800s offers a rather unflattering summary the deaths of English/British monarchs from William the Conqueror:

Deaths of English Kings

Compare Richard the Lionheart’s “died like the animal from which his heart was named” with “the Lion (that) by the Ant was slain”, I fear our author is not a fan of the monarchy.

The death of Mary I by a “surfeit of black puddings” is an interesting one though I can’t find any other references beyond this cutting (it certainly never caught on like “surfeit of lampreys” did).

For the greatest royal death by food we have to look across the North Sea to Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden who died of digestion problems after a meal of:

…lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, kippers and champagne, which was topped off with 14 servings of his favourite dessert: semla served in a bowl of hot milk.


…of the Decade

Probably to be added to at a later date but I reckon these are my favourite X from 2000-2009.


  • Memento
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Spirited Away
  • Shaun Of The Dead


  • The Wire
  • The West Wing (it started ’99 but was mainly in the noughties)
  • Arrested Development
  • Spaced (again, started ’99 but series 2 was ’01 and it was definitely more of a Uni thing for me than it was 6th form)


  • Baudolino, Umberto Eco
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman