The Rule of Four

The Rule of Four

infobox Book |
name = The Rule of Four
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = The Dial Press
release_date = 2004
media_type = Print (Hardback, Paperback)
pages = 384 pp (first edition, hardback)
isbn = ISBN 0-385-33711-6 (first edition, hardback)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

:"This article relates to the 2004 novel. For the legal term, see Rule of four"

"The Rule of Four" is a novel written by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, and published in 2004. Caldwell, a Princeton University graduate, and Thomason, a Harvard University graduate, are childhood friends who wrote the book after their respective graduations. Both Caldwell and Thomason attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.

"The Rule of Four" reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, where it remained for more than six months. The book was a no. 1 national and international bestseller and has been translated into more than 25 languages. It has sold more than four million copies worldwide, and to date is the best selling debut novel of the decade. It is currently being developed by Warner Bros. as a feature film.

Plot summary

The book is set on the Princeton campus during the weekend of Good Friday, 1999. The story involves four Princeton seniors, friends and roommates, getting ready for graduation: Tom, Paul, Charlie and Gil. Two of the students, Tom and Paul, are trying to solve the mystery contained within an extremely rare, beautifully decorated and very mysterious (real) book— the "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili".

Tom, the narrator, is the son of a professor who had dedicated his life to the "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili". Throughout the novel, he struggles between being fascinated by the book and trying to pull away from the obsession that drew a rift between his father and his mother and is now causing discord between him and his girlfriend, Katie.

His roommate, Paul Harris, is a brilliant young scholar who is writing his undergraduate thesis on the "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili". He has spent all four of his undergraduate years studying the book and is close to a breakthrough.

Charlie, the roommate who acts as the parent of the four friends and Gil, heir to a wealthy East-Coast banking family are supporting characters to Tom and Paul's project.

The novel charts the relationship between the four roommates and how obsession can be both a boon and a burden. It is a story about growing up as much as solving the mystery of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. The disciplines of Renaissance science, history, architecture, and art are drawn upon to solve the mystery.

In the end, Paul discovers that the Hypnerotomachia contains a number of hidden and encyphered texts, with the solution to each one revealing a clue towards the next one. However, after solving a chain of several of these, he finds a text that says that there will be no more clues and he must solve the rest of the book on his own. He realizes that the entire book contains a message encoded by following a "rule of four", in which the message starts with one letter, then moves to a letter four rows down, then three columns right, then two rows up, then two columns left, and repeating. The placement of this hidden text throughout the entire book explains the Hypnerotomachia's strange syntax, use of multiple languages, and neologisms. This final text explains that the author of the Hypnerotomachia was a humanist in Renaissance Florence, who created a large underground vault to seal away a number of ancient books and pieces of art to preserve them from the followers of the priest Girolamo Savonarola, and who then sacrificed himself on the Bonfire of the Vanities to help prevent further destruction of humanist treasures.

It also turns out that Paul's friend Bill Stein and his thesis advisor Vincent Taft were conspiring together to steal Paul's thesis and claim credit for it, and the sealed vault of treasures. They were murdered by Paul's wealthy but unstable benefactor Richard Curry to prevent this from happening.

Literary significance & criticism

The book has been well-received by critics, with the "New York Times Book Review" calling it "the ultimate puzzle book", and several others comparing it to the "Da Vinci Code". [cite web | url = | title = Book review: The Rule of Four | accessdate = 2006-08-05]


External links

* [ "The Rule of Four" Official Website]

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