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The Dream of Scipio

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  3,831 ratings  ·  387 reviews
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 Instan
Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 3rd 2003 by Riverhead Books (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,831 ratings  ·  387 reviews

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Richard Derus
Oct 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In The Dream of Scipio, the acclaimed author of An Instance of the Fingerpost intertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories�and three of the darkest moments in human history. United by a classical text called "The Dream of Scipio," three men struggle to find refuge for their hearts and minds from the madness that surrounds the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hours of World War
Erin Casey
Oct 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
This book tells the three most tragic and beautiful stories I have ever read. Each takes place in Avignon, but in a different era of crisis - the loss of Gaul from the Roman Empire, the Black Death arriving during the split in the Roman Church, and the Occupation in WWII. Each successive narrator is aware of his predecessor(s), respects them and wishes to understand them, to better handle themselves in their own time of crisis and to better serve the incredible women they love. I think only one ...more
I bought and read The Dream of Scipio because I really enjoyed Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost, which was a thoroughly engaging, immersive historical mystery. In comparison, The Dream of Scipio - while ambitious just like its predecessor - falls a little short.

The Dream of Scipio follows the life of three very different men, all of whom lived in Provence in three different centuries, during various times of great and important historical change: Manlius Hippomanes, a wealthy Roman aristocr
Ron Charles
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Iain Pears is everybody's fantasy of the ultimate history teacher. (At least for people whose fantasies extend to history teachers.) His popular mysteries, so intricately woven from the threads of the past, have given the genre more class and intellectual depth than it's ever had. His latest novel, "The Dream of Scipio," is another category-buster, a work of such philosophical and cultural complexity that its greatest mystery is "How can Pears know so much?"

Pears's canvas has never been larger (
Mar 20, 2014 marked it as unfinished
So the other day Yann and I were talking about food (as one does here) and the in-laws. The conversation centered around the kiwi question, which is as follows:

I do not particularly like kiwis, but neither do I particularly dislike them. I am happy to eat a kiwi which is placed in front of me, without objection or disgust, but I do not necessarily take great pleasure in eating them either. They're fine. They're moyen. They're edible, but I wouldn't cross the street for one.

I am unable to succes
Lissa Notreallywolf
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: goned
This was one of the most remarkable novels I have ever read. The theme introduced is how one participates in epochs of change. Set in three different time periods in Provence, France, the novel explores how three different men make decisions about the preservation of culture. They are Manlius Hippomanes, living in the decline of the Roman empire; Olivier de Noyen living during the Italian Renaissance with the exiled papacy and Julien Barneuve a scholar during the Nazi occupation. I am familiar w ...more
Jane Niehaus
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Some books we read for pleasure, some for intrigue, some for thought-provoking stimulus. Given the nature of this book--three interwoven stories across three time periods--fall of the roman empire, the black plague in 1350s, and WWII France--I find it required a lot of concentration--especially during my early morning commute and late at night. Occasionally, I'd have to back track a few pages to figure out where some character or detail first appeared--not easy to do when the stories change ever ...more
Suzanne Vrieze
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book that deals mainly with the question of how to preserve civilisation set in various times of great trouble, disease, war and stress. The conclusion or essence of the book, and an excerpt that stuck with me, I found on page 370-371, when Julien talks to Marcel during WWII:

I thought in this simple contrast between the civilised and the barbaric, but I was wrong. It is the civilised wo are truly barbaric, and the Germans are merely the supreme expression of it. They are our greatest a
Some interesting facts concerning this booK:

1- According to Wikipedia, "The Dream of Scipio (Latin, Somnium Scipionis), written by Cicero, is the sixth book of De re publica, and describes a fictional dream vision of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus, set two years before he commanded at the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE."

2-Some critics consider Raphael's painting Vision of a Knight to be a depiction of Scipio's Dream.

Themis-Athena wrote a great review about this book.
Stephanie Butland
Jan 16, 2009 rated it did not like it
This is that rare thing - a book I gave up on. I realised after 100 pages or so that I was actually dreading reading it.... a disappointment, as I loved An Instance of the Fingerpost A Novelby the same author. ...more
Jesse Bullington
Some time ago I finished The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears and it has continued to drift around my mind ever since. Simply put, it is a wonderful book that, if you are anything like me, you will savor as the rare delicacy that it is. I literally forced myself to put it down several times in order to prolong the pleasure of reading it. My first Pears novel and already I am in awe of the fellow.

I cannot think of the last book I read where parallels among characters were drawn with such subtlety an
Martin Zook
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Reading Cicero's The Dream of Scipio (versions are on-line for the Google proficient) helped this half-blind reader better understand Pear's intent in his own recounting of The Dream of Scipio.

Ciscero's DoS recounts a recognition that humans have been "given souls made out of the undying fire which make up stars and constellations." Each is "animated by the divine mind, each moving with marvelous speed, each in its own orbit and cycle. It is destined that you and other righteous men suffer your
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
What a perfect book.

The Dream of Scipio opens with the death of one of the main characters, Julien, an academic who has spent much of his life studying one of the other main characters, Oliverio, who in turn had during his life a hunger for learning which drew him to study the third main character, Manlius. Julien was a soldier in WWI and becomes a bureaucrat in occupied France during WWII. Oliverio is a poet and a secretery for a Cardinal in Avignon during the time of Pope Clement before and a
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Pears delivered an excellent novel, but I expected this when I picked it up.

The dream of Scipio is a novel about three men living in three separate times whose only connection to each other is a manuscript, that was written by a philosopher years before. The manuscript is inspired by a female philosopher, and in each subsequent time, each man is inspired to understand her teachings and the manuscript itself through their own work, their own love lives, and the political upheaval in each of thei
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english-lit
I loved this book.

The three stories of a fifth century Roman bishop, a Medieval court person and a twentieth century historian blend nicely together and have a tension brought on by three turning points in world history: the fall of the Roman Empire, the plague and the Holocaust. Tied together is the will to survive and the scourge of collapse. The three stories are really one story as the more modern person looks back on the Medieval person, who in turn examines the Bishop and each tries to un
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that I read slowly and carefully. I will most likely reread The Dream of Scipio, not so much because I feel that I missed something, although I probably did, but to revisit a perpetual dilemma well presented.

Three stories overlap and intertwine, one set during the fall of the Roman Empire, the second during the years of the black plague and the removal of the papacy to Avignon and the third takes place in the years of the Second World War. The stories have in common the setting in
Bryn Hammond
Did Not Finish (did not like). Irreconcilable differences.
Roman Baiduk
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
'The Dream of Scipio' by the British historian and novelist Iain Pears didn’t have such a stunning effect on me as his first big novel 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' though it is very, very good. The narrative develops like a ray of light that passes through the thickness of historical eras and illuminates heroes living at different times, but connected together by a thread of fate. Of particular interest to me is the central moral question of the novel: is it possible to do bad things for the ...more
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In three different periods of history, European civilization is deteriorating, and the three main characters find themselves having to decide what to do about it. It is about surviving imminent catastrophe, about the difficulty of knowing how to act well when the odds against survival are diminishing. Manlius, suave, sophisticated, versed in the depths of Neoplatonic philosophy, sees that late Roman civilization in Gaul is falling apart, and, with the Goths and the Burgundians, barbarian tribes ...more
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a masterpiece. An exploration of a theme played out across time. Three specific periods in history, each which saw the end of a civilization. The first in the final days of the Roman Empire; and then during the worst days of the Black Death, and finally at the end of WWII.

The story examines the way in times of strife we scapegoat the other. It asks the same question over and over: what is civilization? Is civilization just the books we read or is it the society that allows certain civil
Apr 16, 2020 rated it liked it
A literary historical fiction that weaves the lives of three men around the classic work, The Dream of Scipio that explores the relevance of the work to three completely different time periods.

Book Club material.
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other, favorites
I rarely ever give more then three stars, so it really took me some self convincing to finally give this book that five star rating it deserves.

Any explanation or summary of the book or detailed description would do this book injustice; it would take me hours to only find the right words let alone use them to forge a review of such a kind worthy of its material.

In stead I want to limit myself to the big feeling I got from the book; even though the book interweaves three stories that are centur
Kathryn Bashaar
Oct 25, 2008 rated it liked it
This book has an interesting premise. Three different characters who live in Provence at three different points in history, are faced with the same moral dilemna: in times of chaos and uncertainty, how much should a good man compromise with evil, in the attempt to protect something or someone that he values? Manlius Hippomanes lives at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, and has to decide how much he will compromise with the barbarians and the rising Christian church, to protect the classi ...more
Althea Ann
Much more serious – and much slower going than Pears' art history mysteries; unlike those, this book definitely has literary aspirations. The Dream of Scipio actually tells three different stories, (slightly) intertwined by the device of a philosophical manuscript influenced by Cicero, and by the themes of love, political maneuvering, friendship, betrayal – and Europe's persistent anti-Semitism.
As Pears describes the titular document, the book is "partly... a discourse on love and friendship and
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I started my summer with the hugely distasteful, "Angels and Demons," by Dan Brown, his precursor to, "The Da Vinci Code;" and then, thankfully, strode into midsummer with the perfect antidote, "The Dream of Scipio," by Iain Pears. Where the former ripped through a fantasy-land of paranoia, the latter provides a deep exploration of wisdom, love, friendship, bigotry, betrayal, relative morality - and, well, a whole existential landscape.
Mr. Pears uses the common literary device of telling three s
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
UNCLE. I give up. I love Iain Pears, and I can tell this is an interesting book, well-written with interesting characters. If I were on vacation and could read the whole thing with 100 percent concentration, in one or two sittings, I'm sure I would have finished it and loved it, which is why I gave it four stars. But I'm not on vacation and am reading it in little bits, at the end of the day, half asleep, in bed. I just can't follow the plot. There are three characters/story lines that each get ...more
Sep 08, 2018 rated it liked it
An extremely ambitious novel that focuses on weighty questions like the purpose, role and value of culture and civilisation in times when the "recognised" order is collapsing; bringing in anti-semitism; xenophobia; the role of Christianity, personal belief, rationality, friendship, loyalty, honesty. Its conclusions on these are fairly damning in many ways.

The danger with something of this enormous scope is that it becomes too worthy and takes itself too seriously. I felt that something like tha
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
it is hard to know what to say about this book. I have read several of his other books, a light mystery series about an art historian and his girlfriend/wife, an investigator for the (fictitious) Italian Art Squad. The Dream of Scipio is nothing like those books. It is three stories about the choices people make in times of crisis, specifically what their responsibilities are to individuals vs. to "civilization" in general and, in fact, what constitutes the idea of civilization. The stories are ...more
John Newcomb
Oct 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an interesting story set in three different times around the now French town of Vaison. The earliest was at the fall of the Roman Empire, the second at the dawn of the Renaissance and the most recent was set during Vichy France. All three times have humanist protagonists who fail in their ambitions to uphold honesty, decency and the greater good. All three times also illustrate that the persecution of Jews is an ever present event.
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Iain Pears is an English art historian, novelist and journalist. He was educated at Warwick School, Warwick, Wadham College and Wolfson College, Oxford. Before writing, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany) and correspondent for Reuters from 1982 to 1990 in Italy, France, UK and US. In 1987 he became a Getty Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Yale University. His ...more

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