Summary and book reviews of The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell

The Rule of Four

by Ian Caldwell, Dustin Thomason

The Rule of Four
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  • First Published:
    May 2004, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2005, 464 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

An ivy league murder, a mysterious coded manuscript and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide memorably in this debut novel, that weaves together suspense and scholarship, high art and unimaginable treachery.

An ivy league murder, a mysterious coded manuscript, and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide memorably in The Rule of Four -- a brilliant work of fiction that weaves together suspense and scholarship, high art and unimaginable treachery.

It's Easter at Princeton. Seniors are scrambling to finish their theses. And two students, Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris, are a hair's breadth from solving the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili--a renowned text attributed to an Italian nobleman, a work that has baffled scholars since its publication in 1499. For Tom, their research has been a link to his family's past -- and an obstacle to the woman he loves. For Paul, it has become an obsession, the very reason for living. But as their deadline looms, research has stalled -- until a long-lost diary surfaces with a vital clue. And when a fellow researcher is murdered just hours later, Tom and Paul realize that they are not the first to glimpse the Hypnerotomachia 's secrets.

Suddenly the stakes are raised, and as the two friends sift through the codes and riddles at the heart of the text, they are beginnning to see the manuscript in a new light--not simply as a story of faith, eroticism and pedantry, but as a bizarre, coded mathematical maze. And as they come closer and closer to deciphering the final puzzle of a book that has shattered careers, friendships and families, they know that their own lives are in mortal danger. Because at least one person has been killed for knowing too much. And they know even more.

From the streets of fifteenth-century Rome to the rarified realm of the Ivy League, from a shocking 500 year-old murder scene to the drama of a young man's coming of age, The Rule of Four takes us on an entertaining, illuminating tour of history--as it builds to a pinnacle of nearly unbearable suspense.

Chapter 1

Strange thing, time. It weighs most on those who have it least. Nothing is lighter than being young with the world on your shoulders; it gives you a feeling of possibility so seductive, you know there must be something more important you could be doing than studying for exams.

I can see myself now, the night it all began. I'm lying back on the old red sofa in our dorm room, wrestling with Pavlov and his dogs in my introductory psychology book, wondering why I never fulfilled my science requirement as a freshman like everyone else. A pair of letters sits on the coffee table in front of me, each containing a vision of what I could be doing next year. The night of Good Friday has fallen, cold April in Princeton, New Jersey, and with only a month of college left I'm no different from anyone else in the class of 1999: I'm having trouble getting my mind off the future.

Charlie is sitting on the floor by the cube refrigerator, playing with the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. One of the most unique aspects of this novel is its ability to take the reader directly into the lives of the student-heroes Tom and Paul (as well as Gil and Charlie), and then in a sentence place readers in the middle of Renaissance intrigue. Did you think tensions among the Princeton students and their mentors and rivals mirror those of the men centuries ago protecting the secrets? How were the conflicts similar, or different? Did you find that these character relationships drove the narrative as much as the decoding of the fascinating book, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (pronounced Hip-ner-AH-toe-mak-ee-a Poh-LI-fi-ly)?

  2. The authors, Caldwell and Thomason, have been close friends since they where eight. Why is this important to the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Caldwell and Thomason have placed their first book in territory known well to them - Princeton University (Caldwell graduated from there in 1998 and Thomason from Harvard, in the same year). One critic describes The Rule of Four as 'Dan Brown by way of Donna Tartt and Umberto Eco'. The comparison to Dan Brown is, presumably, to do with the subject matter - a mysterious coded manuscript; however, the writing style and pacing is much slower here. The Rule of Four received substantial publicity when released in hardcover and some good media reviews, but the reader reviews have been less than stellar.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (235 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist - Keir Graff

...an impressive debut, a coming-of-age novel in the guise of a thriller, packed with history (real and invented) and intellectual excitement. But despite their command of language and arcana, the book occasionally betrays its origins as a post-college project.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Think Dan Brown by way of Donna Tartt and Umberto Eco.... There are murders, romances, dangers and detection, and by the end the heroes are in a race not only to solve the puzzle, but also to stay alive. Readers might be tempted to buy their own copy of the Hypnerotomachia and have a go at the puzzle.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An astonishingly good debut.... Academic evil stalks the campus and no one is safe.... Intricate, erudite, and intensely pleasureable.

Author Blurb Nelson DeMille
Caldwell and Thomason have created a stunning first novel; a perfect blend of suspense and a sensitive coming of age story. If Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, and Dan Brown teamed up to write a novel, the result would be The Rule of Four. An extraordinary and brilliant accomplishment - a must read.

Reader Reviews

simi

This book was fantastic. I believe it had a strong plot and, at the same time, was a lot of fun to read. It was a cerebral, challenging read that would give satisfaction to even the most harsh critic. Being in my teenage years, it is very ...   Read More

troy

I try to find time to read good books. Now I make the time. This is great story! I am excited to see great writers adding more than just another story. Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason along with another great writer Dan brown all research and write ...   Read More

Geoff Morrison

Not only an entertaining book, but one with subtle and overwhelming truths about early adulthood and the implicit challenges of being that age. I could not put it down!

Jean

I just finished reading this book and all I can say is "kudos" to these two relatively young authors for creating such an intense, enlightening, and engrossing read. The character development in this story was excellent and I found myself ...   Read More

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The Rule of Four received very good reviews when it was published in hardcover last year, and both the hardcover and the newly released paperback appear to be selling well. However, it is interesting to note that of all the books shortlisted for the 2004 BookBrowse Awards (which about 1,000 BookBrowse subscribers voted on earlier this year), The Rule of Four was one of the most widely read but lowest rated of the books. I suspect that this was because many people bought it believing it ...

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