Spitzit’s House

Where serious topics come to relax

The Rule Of Four is quite the bore

Published in 2004, The Rule of Four was written by childhood buddies, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. It is their first published book, therefore, I will start by fairly stating that the book is not horrible, and is far from the worst book I have ever read. Without doing any formal research, my psychic mind also tells me that Ian and Dustin are most likely a couple of Ivy League intellectuals that are completely disconnected from the rest of us idiots.

I have had this book for about 3 years now. I purchased it like I do most books, based on how interesting it sounds from the synopsis on the dust cover. Not exactly scientific, but it works for me. At the time, I was still high off the “Da Vinci Code” and desperately looking for another history/fiction thriller steeped in mysterious codes from the past. The Rule of Four seemed like it would hit the spot. The calculated release of this book while readers were still buzzed on Da Vinci Code was the only genius thing about the book.

Over the past few years I have attempted to read The Rule of Four on at least three occasions and each time I have put it down to read something more compelling. However, this last time I was determined to make myself read it cover to cover, all 368 pretentious pages of it.

The story basically follows four super smart college room mates in their senior year at Princeton as they navigate the evidently much sought after and deadly mysteries of an ancient and anonymously written book called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. The four characters include the standard cast of characters that we all know and love including our main character, Tom as the somewhat normal guy with a haunted past; Paul, the brilliant but reclusive genius; Charlie, the athletic and brawny man’s man; and Gil, the charming, good-looking popular guy that everyone wants to be with. Basically, what you have here is the Ivy League A-Team.

The book is dreadfully boring in the beginning, but does have parts where it starts to get exciting. However, each time the book gets you going, it just derails back into boring dialogue about obscure historical figures, or Princeton history and tradition. In a nutshell, Paul and Tom are trying to decode a 500 year old book that apparently will reveal a map to a hidden treasure trove of lost art and historical artifacts that was stowed away by a rich Italian guy who feared that a powerful Bishop at the time was going to gather all the world’s great art and burn it. For ages scholars have been trying to decode the strange book that is written in multiple languages, is based on one long dream and seemingly makes no sense at all. But two Princeton seniors are on the verge of cracking the code that 500 years worth of scholars have not even come close to. All this sound confusing or unfamiliar? That’s because it is.

My main problem with the book is that it is written by scholars for scholars. The book is chock full of obscure historical references and people that I have never heard of. It is all done in the casual manner that almost assumes the reader is also a scholar and we are all familiar with obscure European history, and we are all willing to ditch our smoking hot girlfriend to spend time decoding a book. What the book does succeed in doing is alienating the reader, and when the reader feels alienated, the reader becomes bored and disinterested.

Take the “Da Vinci Code” or even the movie “National Treasure” for example. They are both stories, that are very loosely based around history. Granted, they could have tried to be a little more historically accurate, but the point is that the historical events and figures in these stories are ones that most people have heard of, therefore, we are drawn to it. The Rule of Four could have been better if it had been dumbed down a bit, but that would probably go against the writer’s principles and would have offended other scholars that loved the book.

I’m no idiot, but I’m definitely no scholar either. I read the book, found it to be very pretentious and boring…but not terrible. Somewhere in all the scholarly minutiae was a good story that just got lost by a couple of virgin writers that needed to show off how smart they are. On a scale of 1 to 10, The only Rule of Four is a Four.


August 29, 2008 Posted by | Book Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment