Umberto Eco: Chronicles of a Liquid Society

A posthumous collection of essays about the modern world from one of Europe’s greatest, and best-selling, literary figures

Umberto Eco was an international cultural superstar. In this, his last collection, the celebrated essayist and novelist observes the changing world around him with irrepressible curiosity and profound wisdom. He sees with fresh eyes the upheaval in ideological values, the crises in politics, and the unbridled individualism that have become the backdrop of our lives—a “liquid” society in which it’s not easy to find a polestar, though stars and starlets abound.

In these pieces, written for his regular column in L’Espresso magazine, Eco brings his dazzling erudition and keen sense of the everyday to bear on topics such as popular culture and politics, being seen, conspiracies, the old and the young, new technologies, mass media, racism, and good manners. It is a final gift to his reader—astute, witty, and illuminating. 

This book may have well been entitled “Millennials Need Not Apply.” Baby Boomers will find themselves here, but anyone who was not alive for the WWII or the Vietnam War need not bother. I think even my husband, a fervent Gen-Yer, who is constantly teasing me for just making it into the Millennial category, would be put off by quite a bit of this.

At first, I respected what he was saying–there was quite a bit of nostalgia for his childhood, and it made sense, the way he felt about the world. Fascism, remembering the bomb shelters, a general paranoia about how the world was starting to resemble those days. But then he really started digging into the Internet and how detrimental it was to society and it went from a slight paranoia to total lack of respect and absolute conspiracy.

In many of the essays, I would think “Okay, I know what this is going to be about, let’s see what Eco has to say.” But by the end, I would be thinking “Does he even know?” He completely loses the thread on his own thoughts. Plus, they are totally outdated. It’s a posthumous collection, so I kind of understand that. But I’m not really interested in reading about your hatred of the Internet when you’re ranting about Windows Vista.

Not to mention, the guy was just an asshole. There’s a story he tells–no, brags–where he is walking towards a girl with a cellphone, and just stops right in front of her so she runs into him and drops it. “I only hope her cell phone broke when it fell, and I advise anyone in a similar situation to do as I did.” I read a few more essays after this, but that was pretty much it for me. The next section was all about the conspiracy of 9/11, and well, no thanks.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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