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The Rule of Four

3.27  ·  Rating details ·  34,569 ratings  ·  2,290 reviews
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 hai
Mass Market Paperback, 450 pages
Published June 28th 2005 by Dell Publishing Company (first published 2004)
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Janessa Marie Oh! I didn't know that. But I know how that feel. But I guess having never been at Princeton and experiencing snow. I did not gave much attention to t…moreOh! I didn't know that. But I know how that feel. But I guess having never been at Princeton and experiencing snow. I did not gave much attention to that.

But since I got curious... the story started during 1999, 5 centuries after the original text was printed. I found articles at

The Press (Christchurch)
Copyright 1999 The Christchurch Press Company Limited
April 19, 1999

Barely sporting

THE Princeton UniversityBoard of Trustees in New Jersey has voted to ban the students' traditional "nude olympics" after this year's event turned into an alcoholic brawl. The Daily Princetonian newspaper reports the board had voted to abolish the 30-year-old annual ritual, in which students gather for a nude frolic at midnight after the year's first snowfall. After this year's event, students at the elite Ivy League school complained of being sexually groped, and more than a dozen of the 350 participants landed in hospitals with alcohol poisoning or injuries.

Sunday Times (London)
Copyright 1999 Times Newspapers Limited
April 18, 1999, Sunday
HEADLINE: Sports story of the week

The annual Nude Olympics at Princeton University, New Jersey, has been banned after this year's event turned into an alcoholic brawl. For the past 30 years, students have marked the first snowfall of the year by a naked midnight frolic. But this year 350 people were taken to hospital with alcoholic poisoning and others complained of groping.

Hope that helped. :)(less)
Dee Yes. The Girlfriend of one of the main characters. But she never really has much to do with the story.

Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.27  · 
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 ·  34,569 ratings  ·  2,290 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Oct 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Princeton undergrads become obsessed with figuring out the riddles in a five hundred year old book, the Hypneratomachia. The obsession was not new with them. It had puzzled researchers for hundreds of year, in particular the parents of two of the students. The puzzling is interesting. The intrigue of battling scholars and murder on campus is tedious, and the description of campus life and the protagonist’s romantic entanglement are mostly annoying. I found myself practically skimming some passag ...more
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
I enjoyed it a lot! It leaves a pleasant aftertaste like a good walk through an orchard. Is a bit similar to the Langdon series but a bit different in its languid pace of the plot.
DD 2017 A reread!
Like many of us, I think, my father spent the measure of his life piecing together a story he would never understand. (с)
A son is the promise that time makes to a man, the guarantee every father receives that whatever he holds dear will someday be considered foolish, and that the person he loves b
Jul 11, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who are nostalgic about their ivy league college days
This book was billed as a more intellectual version of The Da Vinci Code, and while I suppose it is essentially that, I honestly did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Dan Brown's book. The story is about a Princeton student who inherits from his father an obsession with an ancient text called the Hypnerotomachia, purported to contain directions to a vault of treasure.

Unfortunately, less than half the book was really devoted to the treasure hunt itself, with the remainder consisting of too-extens
Sep 05, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A Mr. Nelson DeMille writes on the back of this book that, "If Scott Fitzgerald, Umberto Eco, and Dan Brown teamed up to write a novel, the result would be The Rule of Four." I don't believe...I just can't...words fail me. F. Scott Fitzgerald must be spinning in his grave right now. Comparing Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason to Fitzgerald? Blasphemy. As for comparing them to Dan Brown, they're not even the poor man's Dan Brown - more like the homeless man's, if that. (I haven't read Umberto Eco, ...more
Sean Gibson
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
It’s a pretty safe bet that a dude who writes books about mysterious books is probably going to dig a book about a mysterious book. Then again, not so long ago, it was a pretty safe bet that a crazy guy from a reality show wouldn’t have a prayer of winning a major political office…but, hey—California went and elected that Schwarzenegger guy.

(Not where you thought that one was going, was it? Settle down, everyone.)

Consequently, consider that I’m exactly the intended core audience for The Rule of
Sep 10, 2007 rated it did not like it
I strongly, strongly disliked this book.
After I first finished reading it, I wondered if the reason I hated it was because it had been mismarketed as a Da Vinci Code analogue, and I do love me some sleuthing among historical artifacts. But no.
I hated it because I disliked the pretentious characters. I disliked the plot and the constant, preening, self-indulgent homage to the hallowed halls of Princeton. I am always thrilled to hear that people love their alma mater. Really. But I don't need a c
Apr 01, 2010 rated it did not like it
Confession: This book was so dreadful that I was moved to create a new readometer especially for it.
Another confession, I never finished this book, it is unbelievably dull. Sure I never got to the end, although several reviews suggest that there isn't really an end anyway but as far as I got it seems to be a pseudo intellectual group masturbation about the wonders of going to Princeton. Quoting as many classics as can be crammed into the storyline (there was a storyline wasn't there?). The whol
Tim Nielsen
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredibly creative; I love how Ian takes the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and creates a compelling story built around history and detective work. If you loved Dan Browns books because you where excited to figure out the clues and solve the mysteries then you will love this book. The story itself included just enough drama to not take away from the underlying teaching of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (I’m sorry, once I taught myself to say it once I can’t stop saying it now). This anci ...more
Jan 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
I am mystified by the great reviews that this book got...for instance, i believe the nyt said "stunningly erudite," where i think what they meant was "pretentiously psuedointellectual", or, in more common terms, "dull". other people have said that this is similar to the da vinci code, only written well, whereas i would say that it is more of a modern "name of the rose," written by two people who are boring. my only way of understanding the reviews is to think that book reviewers enjoy the consta ...more
Syl Sabastian
Jun 01, 2018 rated it liked it
There's a reason Steven King recommends never using a word if there is a simpler one that will do. Because, sadly, when authors stretch their readers, and those readers can't quite make the stretching, they end up feeling stupid. Tending to react badly to the experience. Or, overreacting, mostly with negativity. Unreasonably so. This book, from reading through its reviews after I read it, seems to do just that.

It's a good engaging read, well written. A detailed story, connecting to complexity a
La Petite Américaine Cash App: $Covid2020sucks
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who think dust is exciting
Shelves: sucked
"The Da Vinci Code for people with brains." The Independent.

Sigh. Yeah. More like a book for anyone who passed English 101 freshman year of college. At least the Da Vinci Code was a page-turner ... an idiotic and predictable page-turner, but still entertaining. In The Rule of Four, it takes 268 pages for two hours to pass. The male protagonists are four college guys who drink wine (yeah right) and watch Audrey Hepburn movies (suuuuuure), and one is such a genius that he can easily translate a 1
Jan 07, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: hated-it, mysteries
I think I once read a more poorly written book.

Let me think for a No, I guess I was wrong.

Many books may suck, but few can exceed this one for true crappiness.
Sep 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Second time through; still one of my all-time favorites. The prose is elegant and witty, despite being billed in the "literary thriller" genre (think The Da Vinci Code). The characters are rich, deep, and believable, especially Tom Sullivan, the narrator, on whom I think I have a wee crush. His observations on the dangers of loving things that cannot love you back—in his case, books—have stayed with me since I first read this last summer. The Rule of Four reads like a memoir, a careful blend of ...more
Jonathan K
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A debut novel by two Princeton grads, this story has a Dan Brown quality immersing the reader into the Renaissance years while the main two characters work to uncover the meaning of a mysterious book written in 1499. Well researched, paced and developed it engages the reader, raises questions and demonstrates good storytelling. The only fault I can find is somewhat of a let down with the finale. This isn't uncommon with first books though it did diminish the six years of work the authors investe ...more
May 01, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
the short version:

As trashy as you'd expect, with the unfortunate surprise of being almost completely uninteresting. Also, the end of the book thinks it is romanticizing academics, but it's really insulting them.

the long version (what I wrote about the book when I first read it):

Another Ivy League Education Gone to Waste

There's a small selection of English language books in the lounge at work, and I picked up The Rule of Four the other day. I recalled reading a -- mostly positive -- review of
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You can compare it to the Da Vinci Code, in that it has the same sort of genre. The difference is that The Rule of Four has more character development, and less thriller action. To me, the book seemed similar in pretense, but was smarter in the content. It had a scholarly feel, and not just a governmental action feel.

Beautiful analogies and allegories are utilized by the two writers to convey the character’s thoughts and musings. These were a pleasure to read and effectively added to the emotion
Jul 04, 2008 rated it did not like it
I don't even think this should have been published. This was the biggest waste of time. The book focuses on a manuscript (you never really learn how to pronounce it, even with the pronunciation guide) that has secret clues hidden in it that are uraveled by some friends. It's stupid. The plot is terrible and just as you think the climax of the book is coming up, it ends. This is one of the few books I tell everyone to steer clear of. Totally worthless.
Bonnie Shores
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: other
While I can't deny that The Rule of Four was well written, I also can't deny that it was a thirteen-hour esoteric, pretentious dissertation on two Princeton seniors obsessed with an ancient text called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.


This book was a Da Vinci Code wannabe—only the "clues" seemed to appear out of thin air and you'd quite literally have to know everything to figure out the meaning of the obscure references. Instead of searching for and finding clues, Paul apparently had the brain cap
Dec 02, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: craptastic
Oh, "The Rule of Four." It's been a while since I read this, but I thought about it again when I saw not one, but two copies at my local thrift store yesterday. It came out in 2004.

Yes, it's that awesome. This treasure was published on the heels of The DaVinci Code- it was rushed out, and the editing and extremely poor writing style reflect this. Take one member of academia (Tom, a college student!), add a mysterious tome (the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili- it's got codes!), and all of the other peo
Kristy Carey
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just before reading this book, I read The Lost Symbol. Before I reached the end, I'd researched the ending. While I sometimes do that with a movie that I don't really care about, this was the first time I'd done it with a book.

As I listened to The Rule of Four, I have several books on Audio that I listen to while driving, I was confused by the plot. While I knew that the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was central to the story, the jumping back and forth in time was odd at times and I couldn't grasp w
Sep 12, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Really badly written and poor - how on earth did this get published?
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I opened this book with a fair amount of enthuzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (blink) but, sadly, it wasn't long before I realizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (yawn) I mean, multiple authors can work quite nicely, but it's always wizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (snort) underground in a sewer forever, clanging around and banging heads in that mazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (stretch) something about trees, and what the hell was with that hazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (shift) sure, I gave it my best shot, but I just could not m ...more
Originally posted on my blog.

Let's get something out of the way: The Rule of Four by Justin Thomason and Ian Caldwell is pretty much a paint-by-numbers affair as far as intellectual thrillers are concerned. There is, of course, an extremely obscure historical text called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili that apparently has an arcane code within it, revealing an earth-shaking truth that may rewrite history. There is an obsessive soul, a senior in Princeton named Paul, who becomes so consumed
The comparisons to The DaVinci Code are inevitable, and the substandard copyediting seems to indicate that The Rule of Four was rushed out in order to capitalize on the Dan Brown furor. That the mistakes weren't fixed for the paperback edition is rather puzzling. The reviews do seem overenthusiastic, though it figures that the New York Times would seize on this more erudite text given the opportunity to steer readers from Dan Brown. Overall, this book was less thriller, more bildungsroman, and I ...more
Sep 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: thrill seekers left wanting by The daVinci Code.
After listening to me complain about the terrible writing in The Da Vinci Code, my roommate recommended this book as a more satisfying read that blends art history with a murder mystery. I liked it (and greatly preferred the authors' style over that hack Dan Brown's), but I didn't love it.

Nearly as interesting as the book itself is the story of the two young authors, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, childhood friends and recent college graduates, who collaborated for years to write The Rul
Feb 24, 2009 rated it did not like it
I am becoming more and more baffled as to what it takes to become a New York Times Bestseller. But basically:

If you think books have too much show and not enough tell, if you're looking for a book with pages and pages of inconsequential back story, and most certainly, if you want to see how info dumping can be transformed into a art form, then by all means read this book!

I mean, I'm glad two childhood best friends went to college and used their collective degrees to write a book together, but so
Feb 21, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Egads, this was BAD. If you want a love-note to Princeton, then read this. If you want something to actually enjoy, do not read this. I will admit that it captures undergraduate life, and especially senior year, pretty well. But it also has the world's most boring mystery and characters I didn't care two whits about and an ending I saw coming since the beginning. Just because a book uses big words, doesn't make it clever.

My biggest problem was the protagonist's girlfriend (I can't be bothered t
Jeff Richey
Jul 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Suspense Enthusiasts
I enjoyed this book immensely. The Rule of Four came out around the same time as when the Da Vinci Code was a big deal, and other authors were jumping on the suspense/ historical fiction bandwagon. This was one of those books on that bandwagon. That being said, this is still a good read. The setting is Princeton. Tom Sullivan and Paul Harris are friends that have ties to a 500 year-old Renaissance book they are researching. The research is followed by many surprises, clues, solutions, relationsh ...more
May 23, 2007 rated it it was ok
Seemed like a pathetic attempt at ripping off Dan Brown's success, which is nothing short of delusional. While I could see why someone would want to recreate that amount of success, I see no point whatsoever in writing something as shitty as he did in order to achieve that goal.

Fortunately, this book is better than The Da Vinci Code. Unfortunately, that's really not saying much at all. The twist at the end is actually a doozy, and the concept of the puzzle-ridden text is quite intriguing, but th
Jan 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I didn't think this book lived up to it's billing. In fact, I'd have to go ahead and disagree with the statement from the publisher: "a brilliant work of fiction that weaves together suspense and scholarship, high art and unimaginable treachery." It was a mystery, yes. It incorporated scholarship, yes. It had moments of suspense. It wasn't really that suspenseful, though. I thought the story actually moved rather slowly. I was interested, but not enthralled. There was also the aspect of believab ...more
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Ian Caldwell is an American novelist. After graduating from Princeton University in 1998, he and his childhood friend Dustin Thomason co-wrote the semi-autobiographical The Rule of Four, which was published in 2004.
Caldwell and Thomason graduated from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 1994. Caldwell was a Phi Beta Kappa in history at Princ

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