Summary and book reviews of The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears

The Dream of Scipio

by Iain Pears

The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears X
The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2003, 416 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its center, are the elements of this ingenious novel, a follow-up to the bestselling, An Instance Of The Fingerpost.

"May well be the best historical mystery ever written," proclaimed The Sunday Boston Globe about Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost, while Booklist called its publication "a major literary event." Iain Pears's international bestseller was greeted with front-page reviews ("A crafty, utterly mesmerizing intellectual thriller"--The Washington Post Book World), named a New York Times Notable Book, and hailed as a Book to Remember by the New York Public Library. Now he returns with a greatly anticipated novel that is so brilliantly constructed, the author himself describes it as "a complexity."

The centuries are the fifth (the final days of the Roman Empire); the fourteenth (the years of the Black Death); and the twentieth (World War II). The setting for each is the same--Provence--and each has at its heart a love story. The narratives intertwine seamlessly, but what joins them thematically is an ancient text--"The Dream of Scipio"--a work of neo-Platonism that poses timeless philosophical questions. What is the obligation of the individual in a society under siege? What is the role of learning when civilization itself is threatened, whether by acts of man or nature? Does virtue lie more in engagement or in neutrality? "Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless," warns one of Pears's characters.

JULIAN BARNEUVE died at 3:28 on the afternoon of August 18, 1943. It had taken him twenty-three minutes exactly to die, the time between the fire starting and his last breath being sucked into his scorched lungs. He had not known his life was going to end that day, although he suspected it might happen. It was a brutal fire, which took hold swiftly and spread rapidly. From the moment it started Julien knew it would never be brought under control, that he would be consumed along with everything around. He didn't struggle, didn't try to escape; it could not be done. The fire ravaged the house--his mother's old house, where he had always felt most at ease, and where he always thought he had done his best work. He couldn't blame those nearby; any sort of rescue would have been foolhardy. Besides, he wanted no assistance and was content with the privacy they had granted him. Eight minutes between the fire starting and his collapsing into unconsciousness from the smoke. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions for Discussion
  1. In The Dream of Scipio, the stories of Manilus Hippomanes, Olivier de Noyen, and Julien Barneuve are linked through time by a philosophical text which suggests that "man is responsible for his own salvation, but through knowledge, not through deeds or faith." (p. 154). In other words, "that action is virtuous only if it reflects pure comprehension, and that virtue comes from the comprehension, not the action." (p. 381). In what ways is this tenet illustrated by the lives of the three main characters? In what ways is it challenged?
  2. "Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless." Discuss the trajectories of Manilus, Olivier and Julien in ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal
Complex, surprising and thought-provoking, a dream of a novel in more sense than one.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert
... the plotting is a marvel; the text moves smoothly among the three eras, drawing parallels that rarely seem forced. In the end, Pears asks good, cutting questions about the idea of civilization, showing that those who claim to preserve it are often its worst enemies.

Booklist
Pears' elaborate narrative triptych is dazzling for its structure, its complexity, and the richness of thought that gives it texture. But, finally, it is the passion of the love stories, undercutting bloodless philosophy while embracing the messiness of life, that lets the novel soar.

BookPage
An enormously accomplished work that stand as a learned novel of ideas, a meditation on history and a moving love story, all rolled into one volume.

Kirkus Reviews
This imposingly intricate novel begins slowly, makes heavy demands on the reader, and rises to a stunningly dramatic crescendo

Reader Reviews

jlp

A most unusual, and rather difficult book, but well worth the effort.

Pears, the author of An Instance of the Fingerpost, has written an historical novel, but one which takes place at three different times, with three different casts of characters: a ...   Read More

M.-R. Stringer

I'm no literary critic. I have a brother-in-law who is, and much published, and I know that what he does I can't possibly do.
But I *am* a reader, and an omnivorous one.
And I LOVE this book. I believe it's the best book I've ever read.
It's not the ...   Read More

coralie [14]

the dream of scipio
First impressions of this book include the complexity and intricacy of the plot- hard to keep up with but when one adapts oneself the the writing style, one finds an excellent account of history to revel and lose oneself in.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Iain Pears

If you liked The Dream of Scipio, try these:

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: That Time I Loved You
    That Time I Loved You
    by Carianne Leung
    Carrianne Leung was a Toronto Book Award finalist for That Time I Loved You as well as for her debut...
  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Aeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Smiling Man
    The Smiling Man
    by Joseph Knox
    Joseph Knox's latest turns on a simple premise: an unidentified and unidentifiable murdered man is ...
  • Book Jacket: The Heavens
    The Heavens
    by Sandra Newman
    I've been a big fan of Sandra Newman's writing ever since reading her 2014 novel The Country of Ice ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    American Princess
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    Rated 4.9 stars by BookBrowse members - one of the highest scores of all time!
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.