On Beauty: A History of a Western Idea by Umberto Eco (ed) - review by A C Grayling

A C Grayling

The Progress of Pulchritude

On Beauty: A History of a Western Idea


Secker & Warburg 438pp £25 order from our bookshop

ALTHOUGH DESCRIBED AS 'editor' of this attractive and intriguing book, Umberto Eco is decidedly its author. The same mixture of academic instinct and narrative talent that characterises his other non-fiction is present here again, and with it the same wide and reflective sweep. The mixture and the sweep are sure to offend purists among scholars, for whom the measure of fitness in such a work is the inverse relationship between narrowness of scope and number of footnotes - the narrower the scope and the larger the number of footnotes, the better.

Of course, that is how it should be for scholarly works, but happily the wider intelligent public is not always forgotten, and it is to them that Eco offers this history of ideas about beauty. Following the Wittgensteinian precept of showing rather than saying he offers a history by means

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