Umberto Eco, (born January 5, 1932), is an Italian novelist, humanist, columnist and professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna. He has written several best-selling novels as well as a number of influential scholarly works and is a popular weekly columnist for L'Espresso. In 2005, he was named the world's second-most important public intellectual by the readers of Prospect Magazine and Foreign Policy. He has been awarded more than 26 honorary academic degrees, eight literary awards and is a member of the Académie Universelle des Cultures, the Academy of Sciences of Bologna and the International Academy of Philosophy of Art. His first and most famous novel, The Name of the Rose, has sold over nine million copies.
Born in the small Piedmontese town of Alessandria to accountant Giulio Eco and his wife Giovanna, Umberto Eco survived World War II as well as the guerrilla warfare between Fascists and Communist partisans that took place in the mountains of Piedmont. The name Eco is not a conventional Italian name and is supposed to be an acronym for ex caelis oblatus, "a gift from heaven", which was given to his grandfather, an orphan, by a civil servant. Eco attended the University of Turin and studied law, but like another Italian humanist before him, Petrarch, Eco abandoned the law and graduated with a doctorate of philosophy in 1954. His particular interest was in medieval philosophy and he wrote his doctoral thesis on Thomas Aquinas. After graduating, he began working at RAI as its Editor for Cultural Programs and published his first book, Il problema estetico in San Tommaso, (The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas) in 1956. He lost his job at RAI in 1959, but found a position as the nonfiction senior editor of Casa Editrice Bompiani; in the same year he published Sviluppo dell’estetico medievale, (Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages) which established him as a significant intellectual figure in Italy.