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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: Dan Brown's Inferno

I studied Dante's Inferno when I was in high school, and then in college I wrote a paper on the astronomical references in it, which are extensive and show the poet's depth of knowledge about the subject.
Dan Brown's novel is likewise a descent into a modern hell, using Dante's work as the central metaphor. Professor of semiotics Robert Langdon is back following a coded trail left by a brilliant sociopath whose ego is so huge he craves detection. The plot is formulaic, but masterfully so as are all of Brown's books. My main complaint is that the chase involves ducking into ancient cubby holes, trap doors, secret passages, and such. The narrative details of entrapment and escape provide the engine of suspense. Yawn. Thankfully, there is not much in the way of gun play or car wrecks, although there are just enough to give the adapting screenwriter an excuse for the usual pyrotechnics.Yawn again.
Following an intricate series of coded messages is the staple Brown plot device. You have to suspend your skepticism that a bad guy would go to lengths to create such an elaborate crumb trail. But it is fascinating, and of course it's well researched within the context of the Divine Comedy. The historical background also provides the excuse to run through picturesque locales and their ancient structures, namely the famous buildings of Florence, Venice, and Istanbul. It's a delightful travelogue, and you get a much richer history than any tour guide could provide.
The core theme of Brown's Inferno has to do with the hazards of world overpopulation. This is a serious and sobering subject, and an immensely important one. Ask yourself why it's not being debated on the floor of Congress and you will once again realize how inadequate our political system is at dealing with real problems. I won't spoil this topic for you, but hold the thought that an urban legend (and conspiracy theory) is that consumption of GMO grains causes infertility.

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