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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
The 21/2 Pillars of Wisdom
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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 25 April 2010
I think this may be McCall Smith's funniest work, and strangely his most endearing. His affection for his characters - three very thin, very tall, very overeducated linguists - is obvious in every paragraph. The humor that ensues from Professor Doctor Doctor von Igelfeld's adventures and misadventures is honest and endearing, while gently reminding us not to take ourselves quite so seriously.
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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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on 17 July 2017
At first sight, this book appears to be a study of the rarefied world of Academic linguistics. Little seems to happen, dust settles, the rhythm of the superb prose rocks one gently into a false sense of tedium, then BANG Professor Dr Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld finds himself embroiled in a succession of the most ridiculous scenarios. The plot is weaved in so subtly, the humour so understated, that it's rather like boiling a lobster - you don't realise you're reading a killer of a book until it is too late. You're done for. Completely hooked, scarlet with laughter and left wanting more. Who knew Portuguese Irregular Verbs could be so intriguing?
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on 4 December 2016
I've given this book 2 stars rather than 1 star as I thought there were a couple of amusing incidents to start with. I hoped it would develop but it was just the same humour.... which was so subtle, it left me not even trying to finish the book ( I read about three quarters of it). I was very bored!
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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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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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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 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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