Inferno (a Robert Langdon novel)
Dan Brown, 2013
In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.
In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces…Dante’s Inferno.
Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust…before the world is irrevocably altered. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—June 22, 1964
• Where—Exeter, New Hampshire
• Education—B.A., Amherst College; University
of Seville, Spain
• Currently—lives in New England
Novelist Dan Brown may not have invented the literary thriller, but his groundbreaking tour de force The Da Vinci Code—with its irresistible mix of religion, history, art, and science—is the gold standard for a flourishing genre.
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1964, Brown attended Phillips Exeter Academy (where his father taught), and graduated from Amherst with a double major in Spanish and English. After college he supported himself through teaching and enjoyed moderate success as a musician and songwriter.
Brown credits Sidney Sheldon with jump-starting his literary career. Up until 1994, his reading tastes were focused sharply on the classics. Then, on vacation in Tahiti, he stumbled on a paperback copy of Sheldon's novel The Doomsday Conspiracy. By the time he finished the book, he had decided he could do as well. There and then, he determined to try his hand at writing. His first attempt was a pseudonymously written self-help book for women co-written with his future wife Blythe Newlon. Then, in 1998, he published his first novel, Digital Fortress—followed in swift succession by Angels and Demons, Deception Point, The Lost Symbol, and most recently Inferno.
Then, in 2003, Brown hit the jackpot with his fourth novel, a compulsively readable thriller about a Harvard symbiologist who stumbles on an ancient conspiracy in the wake of a shocking murder in the Louvre. Combining elements from the fields of art, science, and religion, The Da Vinci Code became the biggest bestseller in publishing history, inspiring a big-budget movie adaptation and fueling interest in Brown's back list.
In addition, The Da Vinci Code became the subject of raging controversy, inspiring a spate of books by scholars and theologians who disputed several of the book's claims and accused Brown of distorting and misrepresenting religious history. The author, whose views on the subject are stated clearly on his website, remains unperturbed by the debate, proclaiming that all dialogue, even the most contentious, is powerful, positive, and healthy.
Brown revealed the inspiration for his labyrinthine thriller during a writer's address in Concord, New Hampshire. "I was studying art history at the University of Seville (in Spain), and one morning our professor started class in a most unusual way. He showed us a slide of Da Vinci's famous painting "The Last Supper"... I had seen the painting many times, yet somehow I had never seen the strange anomalies that the professor began pointing out: a hand clutching a dagger, a disciple making a threatening gesture across the neck of another... and much to my surprise, a very obvious omission, the apparent absence on the table of the cup of Christ... The one physical object that in many ways defines that moment in history, Leonardo Da Vinci chose to omit." According to Brown, this reintroduction to an ancient masterpiece was merely "the tip of the ice burg." What followed was an in-depth explanation of clues apparent in Da Vinci's painting and his association with the Priory of Sion that set Brown on a path toward bringing The Da Vinci Code into existence.
If only all writers could enjoy this kind of success: in early 2004, all four of Brown's novels were on the New York Times Bestseller List in a single week!
From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:
• If I'm not at my desk by 4:00 a.m., I feel like I'm missing my most productive hours. In addition to starting early, I keep an antique hourglass on my desk and every hour break briefly to do push-ups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. I find this helps keep the blood—and ideas—flowing.
• I'm also a big fan of gravity boots. Hanging upside down seems to help me solve plot challenges by shifting my entire perspective.
• When asked what book most influenced his career as a writer, here is his response:
Until I graduated from college, I had read almost no modern commercial fiction at all (having focused primarily on the "classics" in school). In 1994, while vacationing in Tahiti, I found an old copy of Sydney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy on the beach. I read the first page...and then the next...and then the next. Several hours later, I finished the book and thought, Hey, I can do that. Upon my return, I began work on my first novel—Digital Fortress—which was published in 1996.
(Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)
Inferno is jampacked with tricks. And...[t]o the great relief of anyone who enjoys him, Mr. Brown winds up not only laying a breadcrumb trail of clues about Dante (this is “Inferno,” after all) but also playing games with time, gender, identity, famous tourist attractions and futuristic medicine.... And it all ties together. Dante’s nightmare vision becomes the book’s visual correlative for what its scientific calculations suggest. And eventually the book involves itself with Transhumanism, genetic manipulation and the potential for pandemics.... [But] there is the sense of play that saves Mr. Brown’s books from ponderousness.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
No matter what the critics might say about his overwriting, his overuse of cliches, his paper-thin characterizations, and his impenetrably murky plots, Brown...isn’t just a novelist; he’s a crossover pop culture sensation.... Plot predictability aside, Brown really does deliver the kind of exotically situated entertainment his fans expect. The formula has become a formula for a reason: It works in getting readers to turn the page.
Chuck Leddy - Boston Globe
Despite all the predictability, Brown’s art reigns over boredom. He manages to keep the reader glued.... But as long as Brown has a die-hard readership that enjoys the conspiracy theory formula, he is still in the running, and some of the flack he gets is a bit unfair, as his novels are fun reads.
Samra Amir - International Herald Tribune
Yet, as I continued to turn the pages almost against my will, I wondered whether [Brown's] crimes against English prose might actually be a brilliant literary masterstroke. Brown's fusion of gothic hyperbole with a pedant's tour-guide deliberately restrains the imagination through its awkward awfulness. Once the plot finally kicks in, you are suddenly released like a stone from a blockbusting catapult.... Inferno moves with enhanced feelings of velocity, excitement and fun.
James Kidd - Independent (UK)
If Mr. Brown intended to use the plot as a wakeup call in light of today's global disasters, it certainly worked. I imagine that there will be some debate over his mathematical projections (and the interpretations of this data), but at the same time, controversy may arise when some readers are tempted to agree with the villain.... Inferno can still qualify as vacation reading, redeemed by the sweeping spectacle of the story. The ending is both startling and far more frightening than his other plots—and he does a good job of connecting the medieval world to the modern, where science fiction apocalyptic nightmares are becoming a living reality.
Rebecca Denova - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
• How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
• Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
• Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)
Also, consider using these LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Inferno:
1. You might begin a book discussion by providing some background on Dante's Divine Comedy—a review of the poem, as well as its historical influence on the development of art and literature.
2. Follow-up to #2: Before reading Dan Brown's thriller, how familiar, if at all, were you with the The Divine Comedy and its "Inferno" Cantica? Have you come away with a better understanding of the work? What are the ways in which the author uses Dante's great classic as a framework for his thriller?
3. Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks race to save the world from a crazed scientist who plans to unleash his solution to the world's overpopulation. To what extent, if any, do you (secretly) agree with the Bertrand Zobrist in his desire, if not his methods, to control overpopulation?
How do you feel about this statement by Brooks:
As a species, humans were like the rabbits that were introduced on certain Pacific islands and allowed to reproduce unchecked to the point that they decimated their ecosystem and finally went extinct.
To what extent is overpopulation a real-life global problem? You might do a bit of research on overpopulation and look at some of the countervailing predictions, suggesting that the global population will actually begin to collapse after 2050.
4. Talk about the real possibility of a worldwide epidemic. How plausible is the threat as portrayed Brown's book?
5. Talk about Transhumanism. What is it, and does it pose a boon—or a threat—to the future of humanity?
6. Follow-up to Question 5: At the end of the book WHO Director Elizabeth Sinskey says, "We’re on the verge of new technologies that we can’t yet even imagine.” Those technologies come with dangers but also with hope.
Sienna Brooks adds this about Transhumanism...
One of its fundamental tenets is that we as humans have a moral obligation to participate in our evolutionary process...to use our technologies to advance the species, to create better humans—healthier, stronger, with higher-functioning brains. Everything will soon be possible.
She then says...
If we don’t embrace [these tools], then we are as undeserving of life as the caveman who freezes to death because he’s afraid to start a fire.
What do you think?
7. Have you traveled to any of the three sites of the novel: Florence, Venice, or Istanbul? If so, how accurate is Brown's depiction of these cities? If you haven't been to Italy or Turkey, does the author bring the cities to life? Are they places you would like to visit?
8. Is this book a page-turner? Did you find yourself unable to put it down? If so, what makes it enthralling? If you didn't find Inferno an engaging read, what put you off the book?
9. Follow-up to Question 8: Brown uses a 4-part pattern for the episodes in his book: 1) Langdon is presented with a clue he must interpret, 2) he has a "eureka" moment, 3) he is pursued by villains who make a sudden appearance, and 4) he escapes after a hair-raising chase. Try going through the book to identify the pattern in various episodes.
10. What about the book's ending? Do you find it predictable ... surprising ... shocking ... frightening ... satisfying?
11. Have you read other Dan Brown thrillers? If so, how does this compare?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
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