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on 8 February 2005
Although this book is set in roughly contemporary times the style and character of the work harks back to a gentler age. The comedy is subtle and restrained rather than laugh-out-loud, the characters are the aimiable types one could find in Wodehouse or Jerome. In fact, had this been written 50 years ago it would have been a prime candidate for filming as an "Ealing comedy".
The three novellas collected in this volume chart the progress of von Igelfeld through a series of unlikely escapades in his home town of Regensberg, Switzerland, Venice, Ireland, England and finally South America. In each case his insouciant academic view of the world is never displaced by the real life events taking place around him. Even being caught up in a revolution in Colombia isnt enough to stop him worrying whether a rival professor is using his desk back at the University.
This is bathos at its best, each of the characters blissfully unaware of the comedy they are in. No wisecracks or one-liners, no slapstic or satire - just slghtly foolish people trying hard not to be.
The book is a real treat. Refeshing and funny.
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VINE VOICEon 25 May 2006
While this comic trilogy is unlikely to raise belly laughs it is a lovely picaresque exercise in social comedy and mild farce featuring the rather woolly minded and gauche Professor von Iglefeld. McCall Smith's deadpan style enable us to accept the Prof's amazing misguided adventures where he gets into all kind of Meldrew-like scrapes with south-american revolutionaries, irish farmers, acadmic rivals and colleagues. As previous reviewers have mentioned, this is understated satire and gentle bathos, more akin to bygone times eg Ealing Films - there's no bad language or graphic violence and minimal innuendo. It's also quite different from his Detective Agency / 44 Scotland Street stuff. I hope Prof Iglefeld has many more adventures.
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on 29 March 2005
I received this book for Christmas and hadn't noticed it before.
Having previously read three of the No1LD series, and becoming a bit tired of the characters, I approached this with caution. How could this be any good when all the marketing millions were being diverted to Precious and Botswana? THIS TRILOGY IS BETTER. This deserves to be in the limelight - it is the funniest book I've EVER READ - EVER. The tale about the impromptu speech in the second novello was hilarity at it's very best. This has restored my faith in the author and I'm currently resuming my journey through Botswana. Buy it, borrow it, read it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 November 2009
This book is very different and in no way connected to the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

It is a separate book, not connected to any of the author's previous series and it is simply brilliant. It is very apt at describing the slightly surreal world of German academia and the brief detour into Latin America seems only fitting in this context.

Everything from the high levels of hierarchical prestige and an insistence on it - especially as the stakes, at the end of the day, are so low - to the description of scientific conferences, is spot on. Perhaps written for a dying generation - one would hope that the current breed of aspiring professors will grow to be a bit more worldly - but the sublime understanding of the subject matter, together with an uncanny ability to describe it so humorously are in my opinion fairly unique.

Anyone, who has gone through the process of completing a PhD, especially in the German speaking world, will find hours of hillarity here, and it will stay with the reader for a long time to come.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 July 2005
....although not that enjoyable a read. After greatly enjoying The "Ladies' Detective Agency" books, this came as a bit of a let-down for me. Very different. But my wife liked it!
The protagonist, an unlikeable German academic is totally unable to see his own serious social blunders. Comedy of embarassment, I suppose, but mostly cringe-makng for me.
Somehow, the odd incident does linger in the mind, months later.
By all means read it, a very clever and well written book, but one that may not entertain you in the same way as other books by this excellent author.
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on 9 August 2007
I found this book a very different read to McCall Smith's other novels. It trundles along and has some wonderful comic moments but overall failed to hit the spot in the same way that his other stories have done. My impression is that a book format for this story is not the right media - it would have been better as, for example, a play on Radio 4. Interestingly I saw McCall Smith at a literature event where he read extracts from the book and added comments - this brought the characters to life and lifted them off the page into a bizarre world of academia that suddenly seemed tragically realistic, and thus quite hilarious.
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on 27 May 2005
This is the sort of book that makes a train journey pass very nicely - though you probably won't remember what it was about by the time you make it through the ticket barrier! Mcall Smith writes about an innocent world where people are rarely nasty to each other, and where integrity and politeness usually win through. This in itself is restful and pleasing, though it also means that his plots are never truly engaging at anything other than a fairly superficial level. That said, there are some really charming moments in this book, and some lovely wry humour: the moment when the group of German academics agree that the English have no sense of humour is wonderful! So enjoy the book - just don't expect to remember much of it for long.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2015
I haven't read any other book by Alexander McCal Smith and have to say this one was a little strange but still a quick read to occupy the day. We are introduced to three German scholars, one of whom Von Ingelfeld, although seems to have a good bond with his colleagues and friends, has a very competitive side to him which can get him into a few situations. This isn't a book you will laugh out loud to but it will certainly surprise you at just how having one book published (Portuguese Irregular Verbs) can lead to such strange encounters. It's a quick book to get into and each book leads easily into the next.
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on 29 September 2010
As a recent devotee of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, I have to admit I was initially a bit wary about reading one of McCall Smith's *other* books... how on earth would I cope without Precious Ramotswe et al? I needn't have worried. By the time I'd read a few pages of this, I was caught up in the slow moving but nonetheless witty adventures of Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld and his German colleagues, his fellow academics and friends.

Centred around Igelfeld's progressing studies and travels around the globe from Ireland to Columbia, this book contains all three stories of the Igelfeld trilogy: Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances. Whilst I concede that the book is witty in places, the humour is never quite laugh-out-loud; it's more gentle and subtle. If you want slapstick, you won't get it here, but what you will get are wonderfully drawn characters written in that beautiful McCall Smith manner without any crudeness, innuendo or profanity.

I will caution however that it DOES take a while to get into this book which can be a bit dry in places, and if you're expecting it to be anything like the Detective Agency stories then you may be sorely disappointed. As other reviewers have said, this doesn't quite hit the spot in the same way they do; if however, you're looking for a very different book with a focus towards academia and philosophy then this is a worthwhile, memorable enough read.
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on 15 December 2013
The 2½ Pillars Of Wisdom collects three novellas which describe the adventures of three very tall professors at Regensburg University, with the pompously amusing Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld as the principal character. Each novella is itself a collection of short stories and although all three novellas were enjoyable, it was the second volume, The Finer Points Of Sausage Dogs, which was definitely my favourite. I read this section of the book while on holiday on the beach and at times I was laughing away to myself so much that anyone else nearby on the beach must have thought I was a bit strange. I'm a big fan of the 'No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' books so overall I was pleased to discover that once again Alexander McCall Smith has created some excellent characters who are involved in some charming and memorable stories.
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