Books for Brains

How To Write A Thesis

by Umberto Eco

ecoWhen Umberto Eco published The Name of the Rosein 1980, no one could have imagined – least of all Eco himself – that his first, sprawling novel, set in medieval times, would almost immediately become an international best-seller. Within Italy, at that time, Eco was known to the academic public, but he was not yet known to the international reading public for these and many other books he would go on to write. Three years before The Name of the Rose was published, Eco had published another kind of best-seller: a popular guide on how to research, write, and deliver a thesis – the paper required of all students for graduation from the university. Since then, the book has only gained in popularity. It has been compared to the MLA Handbook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk and White, but always with an important difference. Its author is Umberto Eco. Almost 40 years after its publication in Italian, How to Write a Thesis has become the go-to book for students writing theses not only in Italian, but in 17 other languages. Now it is available in English for the first time, where it is destined to become a classic, too.

First printed in Italian in 1977, and now in its 23rd edition, the book has never gone out of print in Italian. When originally published, it was the first Italian manual for academic writing, and it remained the only one for quite some time. Today, there are plenty of manuals available that offer subject-specific advice and information about how to write a thesis in the digital age. Eco’s book has never had a facelift or update of any kind. Yet it remains today the first writer’s manual recommended by Italian university professors, and PhD students who blog about academic writing are constantly citing it.

This is Umberto Eco’s most didactic book, and his most personal one. He is writing about what he likes best: writing books. He got the taste for writing with his own thesis, and he hopes others get the bug too. The book has endured for three reasons:

  • it gives advice and not instructions
  • the prose is accessible
  • it exemplifies the rigor and creativity of its author, an outstanding academic who is also a best-selling novelist.

In other words, it is full of humor, character and wisdom – nothing like the typical writer’s manual.

It is not a novel, but it’s certainly not a typical how-to guide. Written by on the great prose stylists of our time, it is full of telltale Eco signs, such as the culinary terms of the sort that abound in his fiction: “Academic research is like a roast pig. You don’t throw any of it away.”

About the author:

Umberto Eco is an Italian semiotician, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist. He is the author of The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, and The Prague Cemetery, all bestsellers in many languages, as well as a number of influential scholarly works.

Courtesy of MIT Press


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