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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Blanc, Nero: Author interview | Main | Lindley, David: Degrees Kelvin »

Caldwell, Ian; Thomason, Dustin: The Rule of Four

  

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The Dial Press © 2004, 384 pages [amazon]
2.5 stars

Princeton undergraduate Paul Harris has been working on his senior thesis since freshman year, an investigation into the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili--"Poliphilo's Struggle for Love in a Dream"--a Renaissance text that was composed by a certain Francesco Colonna and published in 1499 by Aldus Manutius. It is unclear whether Paul's study of the manuscript had ever been manageable in its scope: "The Significance of Bird Imagery in the Hypnerotomachia" is the sort of topic one might have expected. But by the end of senior year, at least, Paul is intent on nothing less than deciphering the great secret of the text--hundreds of pages long though it may be and written in numerous languages--a task that has already proved beyond the efforts of half a millennium's worth of scholars. Great insights come to Paul in the eleventh hour, however, and solving the book's riddle seems to be within his grasp. There follows conflict in the form of a pair of jealous Hypnerotomachia scholars who have made no headway with the book themselves, and various calamities ensue. All of this is related to the reader by Paul's friend and fellow Princeton student Tom Sullivan, who is himself the son of a Hypnerotomachia scholar.

We are to believe that a freshman arrived in Princeton preoccupied already with an obscure Renaissance text to the extent that he was able to recite in chronological order the publications of a Renaissance historian who had worked on that text.The Rule of Four has been praised in some quarters as the next DaVinci Code, but while Dan Brown's bestseller offers nail-biting suspense and characters one can root for, The Rule of Four is a dull slog in the company of uninteresting characters. Its principal problem is one of credibility. We are to believe that a freshman arrived in Princeton preoccupied already with an obscure Renaissance text to the extent that he was able to recite in chronological order the publications of a Renaissance historian who had worked on that text. And we are to believe that during his senior year Paul's friend Tom worked on the Hypnerotomachia himself for ten hours a day, neglecting his own thesis and his girlfriend and any other responsibilities he may have had. Clearly Tom must have been besotted by the book, and indeed we are told throughout The Rule of Four that the Hypnerotomachia is beguiling: "...the Hypnerotomachia is a siren, a fetching song on a distant shore, all claws and clutches in person," Tom's father had once told him. "You court her at  your risk." But apart from such melodramatic assertions there is nothing in The Rule of Four to make us very interested in the Hypnerotomachia, or to make us understand why Tom's father and other scholars were so passionate about it.

There are other problems with The Rule of Four as well, colorless descriptions of characters (Paul "was driven by a curiosity that made him a pleasure to meet and converse with") and unrealistic dialogue (are college kids really saying things like "nip it in the bud" these days?). There is a ridiculous passage in which Paul recounts his thesis advisor's parable about a certain Rodge Epp Lang's beating of a dog: Paul recognized at once that the name is an anagram of "doppelganger." (Had the thesis advisor in fact beaten a dog? It doesn't matter.) In short, The Rule of Four is a great disappointment, lacking in suspense, its premise impossible to credit. Readers looking for their next clever literary mystery are advised to bypass this one.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.