Just spotted a few news stories reporting the death of Umberto Eco, from cancer, at the age of 84. An erudite and subtle Italian academic, polymath, and scholar, - and already quite well known in his native Italy as an elegant essayist, Umberto Eco acquired an international reputation with the publication of his extraordinary and entirely original book "The Name Of The Rose". This work was an examination and interrogation of language, attitudes, religion, medieval culture, truth and who has the right to define it, conformity, knowledge, and the sometimes fraught relationship between power, politics and belief systems, - and it used (very successfully) the device of a murder mystery (well, a series of murders) to tell this tale. In essence, The Name Of The Rose served to make murder mysteries, above all medieval murder mysteries, intellectually respectable. And, from an academic author's point of view, to be both popular, (and best selling) and intellectually respectable is about as good as it gets. The combination of high philosophy, astounding erudition and a neat and complex murder mystery (which worked on its own terms, as the subsequent movie/film adaptation made abundantly clear) turned this into a tour de force and an international best seller. I was an undergrad when it was first published in the early 80s. This was an intellectual tour-de-force - and one which became a best seller, and a talking point in every campus across Europe. No academic with his salt (there weren't all that many female academics in the early to mid 80s) and none of the academics who taught me - from a variety of nationalities - could face having coffee with one another without being able to admit that they had finished this book - although the more usual complaint was "Gosh. My Latin is rather rusty, so, I struggled a bit with the Latin passages." More to the point, it was a shock to some of the people that I knew that one could be high brow, and write a superbly-researched book that told a tale well on a number of different levels, not least that of a gripping thriller and a rather compelling murder mystery, without sacrificing intellectual heft. The medieval thriller, and murder mystery was never the same after The Name Of The Rose - it became elegantly fashionable and a lot more accessible to a popular (rather than simply an elite) audience. And it became commercial, too. People were happy to buy books set in medieval worlds. After the stunning (and possibly unexpected) success of The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco could write whatever he wanted; his essays remained excellent, but none of his subsequent novels ever reached the pinnacle of The Name of The Rose. Anyway, his death was reported today; a tolerant, humorous, erudite European intellectual, who loved life and a good intellectual argument, RIP Umberto Eco.