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The Rule of Four

A book by Ian Caldwell

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A warm, satisfying journey of personal growth and discovery!

  • Apr 7, 2011
The Rule of Four is a coming-of-age novel built around a real-life mystery, The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Renaissance book that has puzzled scholars and historians for 500 years. As a literary device, it succeeds quite well but if you're looking for a historical thriller in the style of "The Historian" or "The Da Vinci Code", you're cracking the spine on the wrong book, I'm afraid!

As a result of his academic interest in the Hypnerotomachia, Paul Harris, a Princeton freshman, seeks out the acquaintance of Tom Sullivan, another newcomer to Ivy League university life, whose father was a well-known historian working on the same mystery until the time of his death. Even in real-life, the book contains puzzles, codes and mysteries that seem to defy logic and decryption and Paul and Tom are slowly absorbed and buried under an almost overwhelming obsession to find the solution!

In fact, however, the story is not really about a Renaissance literary puzzle at all. And it most certainly is not a thriller or murder mystery! It's actually a well written, warm and gratifying story of personal growth - Tom and Paul's grappling with obsession and their struggles with an academic advisor who seems bent on plagiarizing their work; their acquaintance and burgeoning friendship with Charlie Freeman, an emergency paramedic who has recently been accepted into medical school and Gil Rankin, a stereotypical Ivy League snob who is destined for fame and fortune on Wall Street; Tom's intense but difficult relationship with Katie Marchand that seems threatened at every turn by his obsession with the Hypnerotomachia and his inability to focus on things that really matter; the realistic presentation of undergraduate life at an Ivy League university including hazing, student antics such as The Nude Olympics, variations on hide and seek in the university underground infrastructure, the ominous difficulties of studies, examinations and imposing deadlines and, of course, the endless round of parties and drinking. Ultimately, as happens all too frequently, young men and women reach the conclusion of their life at university and distance simply peels them apart and they move in different directions.

While the real point of the story lies elsewhere, the puzzle, supposedly penned by one Francesco Colonna, provides an extraordinarily interesting side-bar - Renaissance history, code-breaking, art and architecture, eroticism and, most fascinating of all, a short, minutely detailed re-creation of Savonarola's brief but brutal religious and moral dictatorship over Florence at the time of the Medici family.

Those who seek to shoehorn The Rule of Four into a niche reserved for historical fiction, thrillers or mysteries are doomed to set it aside unfulfilled. Like The Third Temptation, only letting the book set its own tone and reading it with no stylistic expectations will allow The Rule of Four's quality and warmth to rise to the surface! Well done, Caldwell and Thomason!

Paul Weiss

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April 07, 2011
Nicely written, Paul!
April 07, 2011
Thanks, Linda.
More The Rule of Four reviews
review by . November 17, 2012
Tom Sullivan is about to graduate from Princeton. He has an obsession inherited from his father, about the book, "Hyperotomachie Polyphile" which was published in 1499. Tom's father's reputation was destroyed by his research and opinions of the book.      Tom and his roommate, Paul, are both extremely interested in finding the secrets of the book, such as, who is the real  author. Tom also wants to study why the book has such a major effect of those …
review by . August 06, 2005
One of my local librarians suggested a book she thought I might like... The Rule Of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. Unfortunately, this is one of those rare instances where we didn't agree. The book didn't do a whole lot for me...     The novel tracks the story of four Princeton students, two of which have a history involving the study of a book titled the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. This is an actual book written in the late 1400's, and it's thought to have a number …
review by . July 12, 2004
I enjoyed reading this book, but I think that the center of the work was advertised as being the unravelling of the mysterious book. That doesn't appear to be the situation, as we are treated to a tour of the Princeton campus and learning more than we would care to about customs and things at that school. I would have preferred to see more of a concentration on the mystery surrounding the book, and the characters involved in that, but when the authors did concentrate on the mystery, they did an …
review by . June 04, 2004
It is a marketing misjustice of sorts (or perhaps not in terms of sales) to compare "The Rule of Four" to Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" and Donna Tartt's "Secret History". Those readers expecting Brown's page-turning assured puzzle solving hero, easily reducing age-old mysteries encrypted within easily recognizable masterpieces to child's play while single-handedly fending off adversaries trained to disseminate the likes of the Terminator, will most definitely be disappointed in scholarly Tom, his …
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Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #15
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Caldwell and Thomason's intriguing intellectual suspense novel stars four brainy roommates at Princeton, two of whom have links to a mysterious 15th-century manuscript, theHypnerotomachia Poliphili. This rare text (a real book) contains embedded codes revealing the location of a buried Roman treasure. Comparisons toThe Da Vinci Codeare inevitable, but Caldwell and Thomason's book is the more cerebral-and better written-of the two: think Dan Brown by way of Donna Tartt and Umberto Eco. The four seniors are Tom Sullivan, Paul Harris, Charlie Freeman and Gil Rankin. Tom, the narrator, is the son of a Renaissance scholar who spent his life studying the ancient book, "an encyclopedia masquerading as a novel, a dissertation on everything from architecture to zoology." The manuscript is also an endless source of fascination for Paul, who sees it as "a siren, a fetching song on a distant shore, all claws and clutches in person. You court her at your risk." This debut novel's range of topics almost rivals theHypnerotomachia's itself, including etymology, Renaissance art and architecture, Princeton eating clubs, friendship, steganography (riddles) and self-interpreting manuscripts. It's a complicated, intricate and sometimes difficult read, but that's the point and the pleasure. There are murders, romances, dangers and detection, and by the end the heroes are in a race not only to solve the puzzle, but also to stay alive. Readers might be tempted to buy their own copy of ...
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ISBN-10: 0385337116
ISBN-13: 978-0385337113
Author: Ian Caldwell
Publisher: The Dial Press

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