Michael Dirda at The Washington Post:
These are all, as far as history is concerned, discrete events. But could they actually be connected? What if Barthes — an authority on semiology, the study of signs and symbols — had discovered a linguistic secret of immense power, one for which people would kill? The pioneering structuralist Roman Jakobson had famously promulgated six functions to language, but he hinted at the possible existence of a seventh, one in which words acquired the persuasive force of incantations or magic spells. If a speaker knew how the seventh function operated, he or she could convince people of anything at all. One could potentially rule the world.
Like Umberto Eco’s conspiracy classic, “Foucault’s Pendulum,” or Zoran Zivkovic’s “Papyrus Trilogy,” Laurent Binet — a professor of French literature in Paris — has produced an intellectual thriller that will be catnip to serious readers. While it contains Bulgarian assassins, Japanese ninjas, a beautiful Russian agent, French politicians and several male prostitutes, its main characters are prominent European philosophers and cultural theorists, including Eco, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers.