Book Review:The Infinity of Lists – Umberto Eco

Eco’s The Infinity of Lists came out last year, and is now available in English in a hardcover edition. The book is a collection of Eco’s thoughts on the aesthetics and philosophy of lists. The translation is highly successful and easily readable.

First off is the book itself: Although this would not usually require its own paragraph, this book is beautiful enough that it should be mentioned in detail. It is very heavy, weighing at least a couple of pounds, and probably owes this weight to the 400 thick, glossy pages that it contains. The cover demonstrates a delightful conversation between text and image, and the image is found to be relevant right away to the text. The front cover could do without the giant publisher’s logo in the lower right though. I was a bit disappointed by the solid white book underneath the dust cover, as it seems again a publisher has felt it unnecessary to contribute the same amount of effort in making a beautiful object as they did to covering one (But the white does look good at the edges when the dust cover is on.

The book itself contained twenty one chapters, each a beautiful essay in its own right. The variety of lists that are covered, and the in-depth analysis of each could only come from a master like Eco. He mostly focuses on art and books, and takes the subject matter very literally throughout, but he succeeds wonderfully at this task. I especially appreciated the chapters on incongruous and chaotic lists, which were filled with witty side comments by Eco, which came much appreciated due to the academic essay nature of the text.

I did have one problem with the book- it did not have enough structure or connection between the chapters. Though it did occasionally cite another chapter, or prepare the reader for the next one, the book did not have enough structure across it. I felt like Eco just listed all the types of lists he could come up with, and gave each one its own chapter. This technique is reminiscent of The Architecture of Happiness, and I do not think that it comes across as successful.

On a final note, the anthology and the images included with the text are amazing. Any author that Eco mentioned just in passing has at least one relevant passage with enough included to give plenty of context. Every image is relevant and can be easily connected to the text that it is near. Overall, I think it was a very successful book, especially when read as an academic essay.