Besides being a novelist (e.g., The Name of the Rose), Umberto Eco is a professor of semiotics of international standing, and a prolific and accessible commentator on topics political and otherwise. The title refers to what he sees as a regression toward old-fashioned wars and hatreds, though he treats these matters briefly. The collection centers on pieces written during Italy’s age of Berlusconi, when the same man ran both the government and the major media. (Imagine a Rupert Murdoch in the White House.) Eco meditates on the fate of government under what he calls “media populism,” leadership claiming direct contact with the people through the media (television), and able to slip the fetters of constitution and press. All this commentary is entertaining, but its discursiveness has a quicksilver effect: What was that he just said? His final short offering, “On the Disadvantages and Advantages of Death,” written as he entered his seventies, contemplates the possible disadvantages of trying to extend life past a hundred years—boredom, repetitiveness, a world crowded with people of the same super-longevity. He decides to just let nature take its course. 


James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.