From the Tree to the Labyrinth: Historical Studies on the Sign and Interpretation

By Umberto Eco

A fantastically interesting and illuminating new book from one of the most wide-ranging thinkers I know of — all about how we create and organize knowledge.

This is straight Eco-the-semiotician (as opposed to Eco-the-novelist or Eco-the-esoteric-polymath-scholar). He discusses different views of classification and the relationships that order knowledge and meaning, from dictionaries to encyclopedias, breaking down schemas from the “tree of knowledge” (which recalls the work of Manuel Lima, who I heard speak at Hyperakt last year about his Book of Trees and tree-based information visualization!) to the infinitely-branching labyrinth.

This book looks like a really cool place to start in exploring the structures of not just information in general, but how people create systems to deal with huge amounts of complexly interrelated bits of knowledge.

One reviewer “hated it”, appraising the book as overly dense and academic (yet still gave it 4/5 stars); two seem to love it. But not many reviews overall — a fairly niche offering, it seems!

Chapter contents include “Metaphor as Knowledge”, something involving “Zoosemiotic Archaeologies” (sounds fascinatingly cryptic, no?), Language, Linguistics, “Fakes and Forgeries”, Definitions, the Infinite, and more.

I’ve flipped through this one a couple times, and it does seem like it may be the kind of book that appears outwardly fascinating yet tedious to read; this is largely why I’ve been hesitant to buy it (I don’t always love scholarly minutiae) — but it still ranks high on my wish list.

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-0674049185
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press

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