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The Dream of Scipio Paperback – June 3, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 155 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (June 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573229865
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573229869
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Royce E. Buehler on July 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Your reaction to Iain Pears' new novel is likely to depend on what you liked about "Instance of the Fingerpost." If it was the Chinese puzzle box of its plot within a plot within a plot, you won't find that here. "The Dream of Scipio" places its bets on depth rather than cleverness. Was it the colorful, cunning, swaggering characters, telling their stories in memorably distinct voices? Calm, third person narrative is the rule this time. Our three main characters - the gregarious aristocrat Manlius Hippomanes, in the final months of the Roman Empire; the impetuous itinerant poet Olivier de Noyen, caught up in papal politics as the Black Death descends on Avignon; and the reclusive historian Julien Barneuve, coping with the demands of the Vichy regime during the Nazi hegemony - are all restrained and bookish men who aspire to live above the storms of passion. Many readers will find them disappointingly bloodless, but I'm not sure this is a flaw. Despite the three peculiar, parallel love stories at the center of the plot, this work intends to be classical rather than romantic in spirit.
But if you are the sort of person who dips into Gibbon's Decline and Fall for pleasure; if what attracted you to "Fingerpost" was the way it made bygone, alien ways of being human palpable; or the subtlety of its characters' intrigues and political calculations; or its philosophical sophistication; or its grasp of both the moral ambiguity of the human situation, and the imperative to behave morally in the face of that ambiguity - then "The Dream of Scipio" will give you at least the same level of satisfaction as the last book.
Be warned that there are murders here (what is human history if not a catalogue of murders?), but no murder mystery.
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Format: Hardcover
In this remarkable and hugely conceived novel of ideas, Pears gives us three intense, emotionally gripping stories set in Provence during the fifth, fourteenth, and 20th centuries. In each of these, a sensitive and thoughtful man of letters faces not only a crisis of belief, but also of action, as outside forces threaten to destroy civilization as he knows it. As each man fights to save the values he finds important, Pears explores the ethical underpinnings of western thought and history, those ideas first proffered by Plato which continue to influence men and governments two thousand years later.

A mysterious 5th century manuscript by Manlius Hippomanes connects the parallel plots and eras: the waning days of the Roman Empire, as the barbarian hordes attack Gaul's borders and Manlius Hippomanes writes The Dream of Scipio; the 14th century in Avignon, when poet Olivier de Noyen discovers some of Manlius's writing and deals with papal intrigue, the Hundred Years War, and the Black Death; and the Vichy government in France during World War II, when Julien Barneuve, a scholar who has traced the Manlius manuscript, joins the Vichy government in an effort to "civilize" the German occupiers and prevent deportation of the Jews.

This is not a beach book--its excitement is far more thoughtful than sensational. Pears' characters are real, flawed people living and loving in times of crisis and experiencing conflicts with parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. These conflicts clearly parallel those in the wider world of their political alliances and governments, and ultimately affect their attitudes toward humankind in general.
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By A Customer on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent. For the first time for any novel, I actually started re-reading it the same day I finished it. Like some other reviews say, if you are expecting "Fingerpost 2", this is not it.

This story is not about events that need to be solved, but is about the motives of the people, what they believed, when, why, and how their actions changed. It is a well-balanced blend of history, philosophy, some romance (not as much as the jacket cover implies), and the choices that individuals can make. And, interestly, even though it is fairly clear where Pears comes out on the choices, the presentations of the characters were not basic black-n-white. Each character has some good reasons for what they did. And, each choice has some abiguity to it. No choice yields a 100% balance on the scales of justice.

From this standpoint, this is what I like best about Pears's writing. He is able to create a story that comes close to feeling real because events do not seem force-fitted to make things come out "right". Plus, he apparently does quite a bit of research to get the feel of the time right.

His choices of time were also fascinating. The end of the Roman empire because it was clear that it was the end and this impacted how people reacted. The period of the Black Death when there really could be no sense of historical trend because the plague was a random occurrence, not from the actions of men. And, the German occupation of France where, in general, it was clear the Germans would lose so people could make choices toward an expected result. Each context makes certain choices potentially more reasonable than others. No free lunches on exactly what the right answers are.

I plan on re-reading this again after I get through some other books that have been waiting while I spent my time with this one.
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