Foucault's Pendulum
  • Foucault's Pendulum
  • Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault's Pendulum

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by Umberto Eco

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“As brilliant and quirky as The Name of the Rose, as mischievous and wide-ranging . . . A virtuoso performance.” —San Francisco Chronicle
A literary joke plunges its creators into mortal danger in this captivating intellectual thriller by celebrated author Umberto Eco.

A Colonel Ardenti starts it all: He

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“As brilliant and quirky as The Name of the Rose, as mischievous and wide-ranging . . . A virtuoso performance.” —San Francisco Chronicle
A literary joke plunges its creators into mortal danger in this captivating intellectual thriller by celebrated author Umberto Eco.

A Colonel Ardenti starts it all: He tells three editors that he has discovered a coded message about a centuries-old Knights Templar plan to tap a mystic source of power greater than atomic energy. The editors, bored with rewriting crackpot manuscripts on the occult and amused by his fantastic claims, decide to cook up a Plan of their own. Into their computer they feed manuscript pages on Satanic initiation rites, Rosicrucianism, the measurements of the Great Pyramid—and out comes a map indicating a point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled, a point located at Foucault’s Pendulum in Paris. A terrific joke, they think. Until people begin to disappear mysteriously, starting with the colonel . . .

“An encyclopedic detective story about a search for the center of an ancient, still-living conspiracy of men who seek not merely power over the earth but the power of the earth itself . . . An intellectual triumph.” —Anthony Burgess, The New York Times Book Review

UMBERTO ECO is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna and the bestselling author of numerous novels and essays. He lives in Milan.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An intellectual adventure story, as sensational, thrilling, and packed with arcana as Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Count of Monte Cristo."—THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

"Endlessly diverting . . . Even more intricate and absorbing than his international bestseller The Name of the Rose."—TIME

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If a copy (often unread) of The Name of the Rose on the coffee table was a badge of intellectual superiority in 1983, Eco's second novel--also an intellectual blockbuster--should prove more accessible. This complex psychological thriller chronicles the development of a literary joke that plunges its perpetrators into deadly peril. The narrator, Casaubon, an expert on the medieval Knights Templars, and two editors working in a branch of a vanity press publishing house in Milan, are told about a purported coded message revealing a secret plan set in motion by the Knights Templars centuries ago when the society was forced underground. As a lark, the three decide to invent a history of the occult tying a variety of phenomena to the mysterious machinations of the Order. Feeding their inspirations into a computer, they become obsessed with their story, dreaming up links between the Templars and just about every occult manifestation throughout history, and predicting that culmination of the Templars' scheme to take over the world is close at hand. The plan becomes real to them--and eventually to the mysterious They, who want the information the trio has ``discovered.'' Dense, packed with meaning, often startlingly provocative, the novel is a mixture of metaphysical meditation, detective story, computer handbook, introduction to physics and philosophy, historical survey, mathematical puzzle, compendium of religious and cultural mythology, guide to the Torah (Hebrew, rather than Latin contributes to the puzzle here, but is restricted mainly to chapter headings), reference manual to the occult, the hermetic mysteries, the Rosicrucians, the Jesuits, the Freemasons-- ad infinitum . The narrative eventually becomes heavy with the accumulated weight of data and supposition, and overwrought with implication, and its climax may leave readers underwhelmed. Until that point, however, this is an intriguing cerebral exercise in which Eco slyly suggests that intellectual arrogance can come to no good end.
Library Journal
Eco, an Italian philosopher and bestselling novelist, is a great polymathic fabulist in the tradition of Swift, Voltaire, Joyce, and Borges. The Name of the Rose, which sold 50 million copies worldwide, is an experimental medieval whodunit set in a monastic library. In 1327, Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate heresy among the monks in an Italian abbey; a series of bizarre murders overshadows the mission. Within the mystery is a tale of books, librarians, patrons, censorship, and the search for truth in a period of tension between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. The book became a hit despite some obscure passages and allusions. This deftly abridged version, ably performed by Theodore Bikel, retains the genius of the original but is far more accessible.

Foucault's Pendulum, Eco's second novel, is a bit irritating. The plot consists of three Milan editors who concoct a series on the occult for an unscrupulous publishing house that Eco ridicules mercilessly. The work details medieval phenomena including the Knights Templar, an ancient order with a scheme to dominate the world. Unfortunately, few listeners will make sense of this failed thriller. -- James Dudley, Copiague, New York

San Francisco Chronicle
As brilliant and quirky as The Name of the Rose, as mischievous and wide-raning....A virtuoso performance.
New York Times Books of the Century
...[A]n intellectual triumph.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.14(d)

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That was when I saw the Pendulum.
 The sphere, hanging from a long wire set into the ceiling of the choir, swayed back and forth with isochronal majesty.
 I knew—but anyone could have sensed it in the magic of that serene breathing—that the period was governed by the square root of the length of the wire and by p, that number which, however irrational to sublunar minds, through a higher rationality binds the circumference and diameter of all possible circles. The time it took the sphere to swing from end to end was determined by an arcane conspiracy between the most timeless of measures: the singularity of the point of suspension, the duality of the plane’s dimensions, the triadic beginning of p, the secret quadratic nature of the root, and the unnumbered perfection of the circle itself.
 I also knew that a magnetic device centered in the floor beneath issued its command to a cylinder hidden in the heart of the sphere, thus assuring continual motion. This device, far from interfering with the law of the Pendulum, in fact permitted its manifestation, for in a vacuum any object hanging from a weightless and unstretchable wire free of air resistance and friction will oscillate for eternity.
The copper sphere gave off pale, shifting glints as it was struck by the last rays of the sun that came through the great stained-glass windows. Were its tip to graze, as it had in the past, a layer of damp sand spread on the floor of the choir, each swing would make a light furrow, and the furrows, changing direction imperceptibly, would widen to form a breach, a groove with radial symmetry—like the outline of a mandala or pentaculum, a star, a mystic rose. No, more a tale recorded on an expanse of desert, in tracks left by countless caravans of nomads, a story of slow, millennial migrations, like those of the people of Atlantis when they left the continent of Mu and roamed, stubbornly, compactly, from Tasmania to Greenland, from Capricorn to Cancer, from Prince Edward Island to the Svalbards. The tip retraced, narrated anew in compressed time what they had done between one ice age and another, and perhaps were doing still, those couriers of the Masters. Perhaps the tip grazed Agarttha, the center of the world, as it journeyed from Samoa to Novaya Zemlya. And I sensed that a single pattern united Avalon, beyond the north wind, to the southern desert where lies the enigma of Ayers Rock.
At that moment of four in the afternoon of June 23, the Pendulum was slowing at one end of its swing, then falling back lazily toward the center, regaining speed along the way, slashing confidently through the hidden parallelogram of forces that were its destiny.
Had I remained there despite the passage of the hours, to stare at that bird’s head, that spear’s tip, that obverse helmet, as it traced its diagonals in the void, grazing the opposing points of its astigmatic circumference, I would have fallen victim to an illusion: that the Pendulum’s plane of oscillation had gone full circle, had returned to its starting point in thirty-two hours, describing an ellipse that rotated around its center at a speed proportional to the sine of its latitude. What would its rotation have been had it hung instead from the dome of Solomon’s Temple? Perhaps the Knights had tried it there, too. Perhaps the solution, the final meaning, would have been no different. Perhaps the abbey church of Saint-Martin-des-Champs was the true Temple. In any case, the experiment would work perfectly only at the Pole, the one place where the Pendulum, on the earth’s extended axis, would complete its cycle in twenty-four hours.
 But this deviation from the Law, which the Law took into account, this violation of the rule did not make the marvel any less marvelous. I knew the earth was rotating, and I with it, and Saint-Martin-des-Champs and all Paris with me, and that together we were rotating beneath the Pendulum, whose own plane never changed direction, because up there, along the infinite extrapolation of its wire beyond the choir ceiling, up toward the most distant galaxies, lay the Only Fixed Point in the universe, eternally unmoving.
 So it was not so much the earth to which I addressed my gaze but the heavens, where the mystery of absolute immobility was celebrated. The Pendulum told me that, as everything moved—earth, solar system, nebulae and black holes, all the children of the great cosmic expansion—one single point stood still: a pivot, bolt, or hook around which the universe could move. And I was now taking part in that supreme experience. I, too, moved with the all, but I could see the One, the Rock, the Guarantee, the luminous mist that is not body, that has no shape, weight, quantity, or quality, that does not see or hear, that cannot be sensed, that is in no place, in no time, and is not soul, intelligence, imagination, opinion, number, order, or measure. Neither darkness nor light, neither error nor truth.
I was roused by a listless exchange between a boy who wore glasses and a girl who unfortunately did not.
 “It’s Foucault’s Pendulum,” he was saying. “First tried out in a cellar in 1851, then shown at the Observatoire, and later under the dome of the Panthéon with a wire sixty-seven meters long and a sphere weighing twenty-eight kilos. Since 1855 it’s been here, in a smaller version, hanging from that hole in the middle of the rib.”
 “What does it do? Just hang there?”
 “It proves the rotation of the earth. Since the point of suspension doesn’t move . . .”
 “Why doesn’t it move?”
 “Well, because a point . . . the central point, I mean, the one right in the middle of all the points you see . . . it’s a geometric point; you can’t see it because it has no dimension, and if something has no dimension, it can’t move, not right or left, not up or down. So it doesn’t rotate with the earth. You understand? It can’t even rotate around itself. There is no ‘itself.’”
 “But the earth turns.”
 “The earth turns, but the point doesn’t. That’s how it is. Just take my word for it.”
 “I guess it’s the Pendulum’s business.”
 Idiot. Above her head was the only stable place in the cosmos, the only refuge from the damnation of the panta rei, and she guessed it was the Pendulum’s business, not hers. A moment later the couple went off—he, trained on some textbook that had blunted his capacity for wonder, she, inert and insensitive to the thrill of the infinite, both oblivious of the awesomeness of their encounter—their first and last encounter—with the One, the Ein-Sof, the Ineffable. How could you fail to kneel down before this altar of certitude?
I watched with reverence and fear. In that instant I was convinced that Jacopo Belbo was right. What he told me about the Pendulum I had attributed to esthetic raving, to the shapeless cancer taking gradual shape in his soul, transforming the game into reality without his realizing it. But if he was right about the Pendulum, perhaps all the rest was true as well: the Plan, the Universal Plot. And in that case I had been right to come here, on the eve of the summer solstice. Jacopo Belbo was not crazy; he had simply, through his game, hit upon the truth.
 But the fact is that it doesn’t take long for the experience of the Numinous to unhinge the mind.
 I tried then to shift my gaze. I followed the curve that rose from the capitals of the semicircle of columns and ran along the ribs of the vault toward the key, mirroring the mystery of the ogive, that supreme static hypocrisy which rests on an absence, making the columns believe that they are thrusting the great ribs upward and the ribs believe that they are holding the columns down, the vault being both all and nothing, at once cause and effect. But I realized that to neglect the Pendulum that hung from the vault while admiring the vault itself was like becoming drunk at the stream instead of drinking at the source.
 The choir of Saint-Martin-des-Champs existed only so that, by virtue of the Law, the Pendulum could exist; and the Pendulum existed so that the choir could exist. You cannot escape one infinite, I told myself, by fleeing to another; you cannot escape the revelation of the identical by taking refuge in the illusion of the multiple.
Still unable to take my eyes from the key of the vault, I retreated, step by step, for I had learned the path by heart in the few minutes I had been there. Great metal tortoises filed past me on either side, imposing enough to signal their presence at the corner of my eyes. I fell back along the nave toward the front entrance, and again those menacing prehistoric birds of wire and rotting canvas loomed over me, evil dragonflies that some secret power had hung from the ceiling of the nave. I saw them as sapiential metaphors, far more meaningful than their didactic pretext. A swarm of Jurassic insects and reptiles, allegory of the long terrestrial migrations the Pendulum was tracing, aimed at me like angry archons with their long archeopterix-beaks: the planes of Bréguet, Blériot, Esnault, and the helicopter of Dufaux.

A signed first edition of this book has been privately printed by The Franklin Library.

Copyright © 1988 Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri Bompiani
Sonzogno Etas S.p.A., Milano.
English translation copyright © 1989 by Harcourt, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Meet the Author

UMBERTO ECO is the author of five novels and numerous essay collections, 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 is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Brief Biography

Bologna, Italy
Date of Birth:
January 5, 1932
Place of Birth:
Alessandria, Italy
Ph.D., University of Turin, 1954

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Foucault's Pendulum 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
lrg More than 1 year ago
This book has been described as the "thinking man's Da Vinci Code." Eco's writing generally, and this novel especially, is extremely deep, sophisticated, and intellectually involved. Thus, it's not for everyone: no thrilling sex, murder, and intrigue. Eco draws from the works of Jorge Luis Borges, which I recommend for some background into the intellectual workings of this novel. For example, there is much underlying discussion of various "secret" societies that strain to utilize all manner of tenuous conspiracy theories, historical shortcuts, and intellectual assumptions that cause fantastic conclusions, which in turn leads to the groups' sense of self-prophised legitimacy (or even preceived omniscience). Borges' writing alludes to this only vaguely, whereas Eco is much more specific, developing this idea and applying it to modern "secret" societies and conspiracy theories.

Again, reader be warned: this novel takes much effort, multiple readings, and contemplation to fully appreciate. You will see right away that Eco does not think highly of "Da Vinci Code" conspiracy theories, but much more though-provoking is whether Eco (or the narrator) believes in any creative or faith-based believe systems at all. For example, a principal character in the novel utilizes the BASIC computer programming language to produce "poetry." Does this character, the narrator, or the novel thus imply that creative works such as poetry are so easily contrived and devoid of deeper meaning? I'm unsure myself, therefore requiring another read of the novel.

An intellectual approach to this novel will yield great appreciation both for the work and for the author. Do not pick up this novel expecting to have your heart racing! Also, I strongly recommend "In The Name of the Rose" by Eco as kind of a "Introduction to Eco's World 101" course.
MarksTheSpotMH More than 1 year ago
Massively detailed, pleasantly convoluted, and surprisingly humorous - a rollercoaster for the mind!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Foucault¿s Pendulum starts with Casaubon, a student studying the Knights Templar. He connects with Belbo who works for a book publisher and they hit it off and start planning a series of books mainly dealing with historical conspiracies. Before long they¿re writing one of their own. The Kabbala comes in here and Masons, Napoleon and mainly the Knights Templar and a huge centuries-long conspiracy they think they¿re finding. ----Watching it all come together is astonishing, and then, just when you think you¿ve got it, you start asking whether the book your reading is part of the conspiracy or something else. When you¿re finished with Foucault's Pendulum, I doubt you¿ll be sure about exactly what happened. To an extent, that¿s the main idea.----The other recurrent idea here is that everything in the past is relative to the witness who sees it, even to the point where you can¿t know what¿s real or not, which must be a hard lesson for someone like Eco to teach since he¿s invested so much in learning about the past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book could have used a severe editor. It should be half as long. If you are interested in secret societies, conspiracy theories, and the psychology of belief, the book might interest you. The plot itself, which involves a literary fraud that enmeshes its creators, is fascinating. But not for 700 pages. If you have a choice, read the Nook version. There are many characters that you will want to refresh your memory about with the Find feature, and hundreds of obscure references and rare words that you will want to Look Up.
dharmakirti More than 1 year ago
One of my all time favorites.
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