Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists is not a meaty tofu-y substantial sort of book even though it weighs much more than most books of its size (it is printed on really nice paper). It is still, however, a book worth checking out if you get the chance.

Eco was invited by the Louvre to organize a series of conferences, exhibits, readings, concerts, and films on a subject of his choice. Eco chose the list, a topic that also includes catalogues and enumeration. Eco loves lists and points out that many of his novels include them. He claims his love of lists derives from his study as a young man of medieval texts and James Joyce.

The Infinity of Lists centers on art and text and is anchored together by short essays written by Eco. We begin with the Shield of Achilles and the list of what appears on the shield. We get full-color photos or related art such as a fresco at Pompeii of Thetis and Hephastus talking about the shield and one of many attempted artist’s renderings of the shield. There is also discussion of Homer and his catalogue of ships in the Iliad. At the end of the chapter we get excerpts from Hesiod and Homer. The whole book proceeds like this.

One of my favorite chapters is on the visual list. In it Eco discusses the list in art and how it has been portrayed visually and how artists have managed to create lists that end in “and etcetera” within the fixed frame of a painting. Some of the art included in this chapter is The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, The Taking of Constantinople by Palma il Giovane, and The Last Judgment by Jean Cousin the Younger.

The book is quite a visual treat with the art ranging from the ancient to the modern. And of course, eventually Eco discusses libraries and includes some library paintings I don’t recall seeing before like The Library by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (unfortunately not linkable).

This is a book to browse and enjoy at leisure on a lazy weekend.