The Rule of Four

I recently read The Rule of Four, a truly fascinating novel co-written by first-time authors Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Fascinating to me, at any rate — your mileage may vary. If you’re interested in Latin, linguistics, typography, academic mysteries, the Renaissance, and cryptography, you’ll be interested in this book. If you want to limit yourself to traditional mysteries, you’ll probably be disappointed by it.

As often happens in novels of this sort, it can be difficult to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. This is a meta-book: a book about a book. It’s about the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a genuine novel published in 1499 by the renowned Aldus Manutius. Although its modern publisher claims that it is “[o]ne of the most famous books in the world,” I suspect that few of today’s readers will have heard of the Hypnerotomachia. Fortunately, MIT Press has put the entire 1499 book on the Web.

The Rule of Four is too complex for me to summarize it adequately in this space. Just read the description at the Random House site in order to see what it’s about. Then read The Rule of Four, and follow that up by reading The Real Rule of Four, a slim volume by Joscelyn Godwin, who will help you disentangle fiction from fact. Do it now!

Categories: Books, Linguistics, Math