Monday, May 25, 2015

2013: Inferno by Dan Brown

The Author:

Dan Brown (1964-    ) was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, where his father worked as a professor of mathematics.  Brown went on to study at Philips Exeter and later Amherst, from which he received his B.A. in 1986.  He moved out to Hollywood to pursue a career in music.  He released a few albums by 1994.  In 1993, he moved back to New Hampshire with Blythe Newlon, whom he married, and taught English at Philips Exeter.  He and his wife co-wrote his first book: 187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman.  Brown was credited under the pseudonym Danielle Brown. He quit teaching to work full time in 1996 and published his first novel,Digital Fortress, in 1998.  Angels & Demons (2000) was his first novel starring Robert Langdon.  His fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code (2003) was the bestselling novel of the year it was published and the following year.  His next two novels, The Lost Symbol (2009) and Inferno (2013) were the bestselling novels in the year they were published.

The Book:

Length: 611 pages
Subject/Genre: Conspiracy/Conspiracy theory

Inferno starts with Robert Langdon waking up in a hospital room in Florence, a bullet wound having caused some short term amnesia.  Except all but one of those things turns out to be a lie.  Robert Langdon has to find out what he was working on that almost got him killed, why he's in Italy, and what's happened over the last couple days, with the help of genius doctor/actor/polyglot/prodigy Sienna Brooks. All he has are dreams of a woman predicting doom and an altered version of Botticelli's Mappa dell Inferno.

There's a lot of withholding information going on, often to absolutely no result.  For a long time, everyone avoids naming the bad guy, which would make sense if the bad guy were a character we knew of.  Even characters who have no reason to avoid using his name awkwardly avoid using it until Langdon figures it out.  Likewise, there's plenty that is so blatantly obvious that when the 'secret' is revealed, the only possible response is a resounding, "Yeah, I got that two hundred pages ago." To top it off, there are so many twists we just end up with a story that is convoluted.  After the fourth time you say, "All along you assumed it was X, but really it was Y!", I'll stop assuming X is X and I won't be surprised when it turns out to be Y (again).

To be fair though, Inferno was a step up from The Lost Symbol.  Since Brown wasn't dealing with a secret society (real or imagined), he stuck closer to facts.  A mad scientist obsessed Dante uses clues based on The Divine Comedy, rather than finding some secret code Dante hid in his own poetry.  Brown also starts to shy away from calling Langdon a symbologist, only using the phrase a couple times, at one point even referring to Langdon as "an art historian who specialized in iconography."  While this may seem like a trivial point, imagine if Indiana Jones went around calling himself a Treasurologist.  It just makes the character sound stupid.

Don't get me wrong, I still don't recommend Inferno.  The plot is convoluted, the characters are boring, many characters do things solely to advance the plot, etc.  It's far more tolerable than any of his earlier books, but you won't miss anything by skipping it.

Bestsellers of 2013:

Publishers Weekly's list for 2013 is separated by format, includes fiction and non-fiction, and no hard numbers.  Since Inferno was #2 on one list and #1 on the other, while Hard Luck was #1 on one list, and didn't appear on the other at all, I went with Inferno.


1. Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney
2. Inferno by Dan Brown
3. Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (non-fiction)
4. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (non-fiction *cough* bull shit *cough)
5. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
6. Divergent by Veronica Roth
7. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (non-fiction)
8. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
9. The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney
10. Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson (non-fiction)

Kindle top 10:

1. Inferno by Dan Brown
2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
4. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
5. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
6. Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
7. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
8. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
9. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (pseud. for J.K. Rowling)
10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Also Published in 2013:

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
Tenth of December by George Saunders
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


  1. I tell everybody that Dan Brown is a much better travel writer than novelist. This book makes me want to go to Istanbul very badly as I have already been to Venice and Florence.

    1. Same here. I actually went to the Dante House when I was in Florence. It was pretty disappointing. "Here's a piece of metal that Dante might have been in the same room as! Here's a recreation of what we think some of Dante's things might have looked like!" Suffice it to say, the Shakespeare stuff in Stratford is much better.