Umberto Eco (born 1932) is an Italian mediaeval historian, semiotician (semiotics: the study of signs[1]), and philosopher. Outside academia, he is best known as a novelist, particularly his debut novel, The Name of the Rose, which was made into a film starring Sean Connery.

Because of his background, his works tend to avoid Small Reference Pools and Viewers are Morons - only to go right through to the other side, invoking Viewers Are Geniuses instead. His novels abound in language games, meticulously researched history and more than a little philosophising. Basically, he's the polar opposite of Dan Brown: a knowledgeable writer whose fiction is well researched, and full of genuine historical, narrative, and cultural intrigue, but who never pretends that his novels are anything more than stimulating intellectual entertainment. In fact, he once noted, humorously, in The Paris Review that Dan Brown might as well have stepped out of a page of his book Foucault's Pendulum.

Wrote an essay in 1984 about tropes called "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage", which ends with what might as well have been to a reference to TV Tropes, describing a possible future in which viewers and artists are all equally aware of the universe of tropes and spend their time recognising them and using them to communicate.[2]

List of Novels

List of non-fiction

  • Why Read The Classics, an book by book discussion on many of Western Canon's works.
  • Turning Back the Clock, a collection of essays, mostly dealing with current events of The Noughties.

List of children's books

  • The Bomb and the General
  • The Three Astronauts
  • The Gnomes of Gnu

Tropes pertaining to his work in general

  • Berserk Button: Apparently, a sure-fire way of getting thrown out of his lectures is to quote his own works to him.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In some novels, it's almost necessary to understand three or four languages.
  • Bookworm: Has a 50,000 volume library. The protagonist of the Mysterious Flame also counts.
  • Cool Old Guy
  • Post Modernism: In the critical, academic sense
  • Consummate Liar: Baudolino
  • Death of the Author: Played with often, on numerous levels. In his critical work, he is known for pioneering the related idea of the "open work" or "opera aperta", but also analyses the author's role in The Limits of Interpretation.
  • Downer Ending: Yambo finds the First Folio - then dies.
  • Dwindling Party: Baudolino went to search for the kingdom of Prester John with 11 other people. By the end of the book, only three remain of his group.
  • Everything's Better with Platypi: His essay Kant and the Platypus, despite acknowledging that Kant has nothing to do with the platypus.
  • Heroic BSOD: Baudolino, after he finds out that he and his friends unwittingly killed Frederick.
  • Historical Domain Character: His works feature real historical figures (sometimes lesser-known ones), like Bernard Gui, Ubertino of Casale and Michael of Cesena in The Name of the Rose, and Frederick Barbarossa, Niketas Choniates, Robert de Boron or Otto of Freising in Baudolino.
  • International Date Line: Plays a big role in The Island of the Day Before, where the protagonist believes he is stuck near one side of it.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Yambo cannot remember anything to do with his personal life, but recalls everything he's ever read.
  • Locked Room Mystery: The death of Emperor Frederick in Baudolino.
    • Eco's fascinated with this trope, and it shows up as a major or minor plot point in pretty much every novel he's written.
  • The Longitude Problem: In The Island of the Day Before.
  • Magical Land: The kingdom of Prester John in Baudolino.
  • Never Heard That One Before: In one essay in How To Travel With A Salmon, he writes how many times he was told puns based one the similarity of his name and the word "echo". He states that the reason for this is that people who have an idea don't realize that other people already thought of that.
  • No Name Given: The Archpoet in Baudolino, because he's based on a historical character whose name is unknkown.
  • Omniglot: Baudolino. Yambo. Probably Eco himself.
  • Pretender Diss: When asked if he considers Dan Brown his literary heir, he once responded that the difference is that while he himself writes about conspiracy theories, Dan Brown simply repeats them - "as such, he's probably not my son, but maybe my bastard."
  • Shout-Out: Lots in The Mysterious Flame due to Yambo's illness
  • Shown Their Work: His novels come with footnotes, glossaries and bibliographies.
  • Sophisticated As Hell: Occasional examples are found in his non-fiction works
  • Take That: the one at the end of Baudolino stands out
  • Title Drop: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was a name of a comic book the main character found in their childhood home.
  • Unreliable Narrator: By the end of Foucault's Pendulum, Casaubon doubts his own sanity, and questions how much is true of what he had seen. In Baudolino, the protagonist admits that he's a great liar and decieved many people, so the veracity of his story also can be questioned, especially since it gets more and more outlandish as it progresses.
  • Word Salad Title: Prefers titles of this nature


  1. Signs: anything which represents or stands for anything
  2. Après nous, le déluge.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.