Dan Brown Biography



Author

Born June 22, 1964, in Exeter, NH; married Blythe (an art historian and painter). Education: Amherst College, B.A., 1986; studied art history at University of Seville, Spain.

Addresses:

Office —c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

Career

Taught English at Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire; first novel published by St. Martin's Press, 1998; film rights to fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, acquired by Columbia Pictures, 2003.

Sidelights

Dan Brown's 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code, spent more than a year at or near the top of the New York Times best–seller list. Brown was the author of three previous techno–cryptic thrillers that received little critical attention before the runaway success of The Da Vinci Code. Its plot revolved around arcane symbology, Renaissance art, ancient religious texts, and a devious scheme involving the Roman Catholic church, and it became one of the most discussed books of the year. Even a writer for U.S. Catholic, Patrick McCormick, called it "a vastly entertaining read that mixes the thrill of a high–speed chase with the magical pleasures of a quest through an enchanted forest of art, literature, and history."

Brown was born in 1964 in Exeter, New Hampshire. His father was a respected professor of mathematics, and his mother was a musician who specialized

Dan Brown
in religious works. While earning a degree from Amherst College, Brown spent time studying art history at the University of Seville in Spain, which piqued his interest in the mysteries of the medieval Christian church. After earning his Amherst degree in 1986, Brown taught English at Phillips Exeter Academy in his hometown, and it was an event there that inspired him to write his first novel, Digital Fortress. One of his students had engaged in a political debate via e–mail with some friends, and the next day U.S. Secret Service agents came to the school to question the student. Whether or not the government might actually be able to read the ordinary e–mail of citizens, which is encrypted, became the basis of his 1998 debut novel.

Digital Fortress features Susan Fletcher, a government cryptographer, who discovers a code that the powerful e–mail monitoring government computer known as "TRNSLTR" cannot crack. The code seems to be the work of a National Security Agency programmer Ensei Tankado, who dies early on in the book, but the ingenious strategy Tankado put in place to force the government to admit the existence of TRNSLTR survives him. Interconnected intrigues at the Agency and in Seville, where Fletcher's romantic partner, linguist Dave Becker, works to solve the mystery, thicken the plot. Publishers Weekly called it an "inventive debut thriller" and a "fast–paced, plausible tale."

Brown's second novel, Angels and Demons, was the first to feature The Da Vinci Code hero, Robert Langdon. An expert in religious symbols and professor at Harvard University, Langdon is perpetually erudite, well–dressed, and a step ahead of his enemies in this 2000 novel. He is called in to help when the brilliant scientist who discovered antimatter is found murdered in his Swiss lab, and Langdon identifies the markings that were left on the man's body as the possible work of the Illuminati. The term refers to a group of 15th and 16th–century figures who claimed to enjoy direct communion with the Holy Spirit, rejecting the trappings and sacraments of the established churches as superfluous. In Brown's book, the Illuminati survived in secret until the modern era, and the action takes Langdon from Switzerland to Rome, where a potentially explosive vial of antimatter leads him to a nefarious plot at the Vatican, the holy city inside the Italian capital where the business of the church is conducted. A critic for Library Journal, Jeff Ayers, called Angels and Demons "one of the best international thrillers of recent years."

Both of Brown's novels attracted little media attention save for the standard publishing and library trade publication reviews. The same lukewarm reception occurred with Deception Point, his 2001 thriller and second for Pocket Books. Its plot centers around a mysterious meteor discovered by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists in the Arctic. The meteor apparently crashed to Earth in 1716, and allegedly contains insect fossils, which seems to provide exciting, irrefutable evidence of extraterrestrial life. Others believe the meteor to be a NASA hoax engineered to revive the space agency's declining reputation. Assessing it for Booklist, David Pitt found that Deception Point "has characters that range from inventive to wooden [and] dialogue that bounces between evocative and clichéd."

Brown's editor at Pocket Books had more faith in his talents, however, and took the writer and an as–yet–unpublished manuscript with him when he was hired at Doubleday. In the fall of 2002, the publishing house handed out advance review copies of The Da Vinci Code to booksellers and publishing insiders at book–industry trade events, and word came back that many could not put the book down. The early buzz caused Brown's novel to debut at the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best–seller list in mid–March, and it would remain there for more than a year.

The Da Vinci Code opens with a presentation of two crucial "facts," one of which roused the ire of religious scholars and historians. The first fact declares the existence of a secret society dating back to 1099 called the Priory of Sion, and notes that "in 1975, Paris's Bibliothèque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, " which listed the society's roster of famous members throughout the ages. Those same documents were exposed as a hoax in a 1996 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary. The second "fact" presented was subject to less dispute, and involved the existence a conservative Catholic organization known as Opus Dei. Each group figures prominently in the plot, which begins with the imminent death of Louvre Museum chief curator Jacques Saunière, the current leader of the Sion order. A malevolent albino monk is the culprit, and leaves Saunière to die a painful death in the darkened museum—but in his last moments Saunière manages to arrange enough tantalizing clues on or around his body to point to a much wider conspiracy involving Opus Dei.

Langdon is summoned to the scene to help read the clues, but had been scheduled to meet with Saunière and instead finds himself the prime suspect. He teams with the slain curator's granddaughter, Sophie—a cryptologist with the Paris police—and they go underground to find the true killer, partly with the help of clues found in Da Vinci's works. "Together the intrepid investigators use their talents to move through a maze of artistic, linguistic, and mathematical codes and puzzles," noted McCormick in the U.S. Catholic article, "unraveling the mystery of [Saunière]'s murder and uncovering the greater mystery of his identity as the head of an ancient secret society entrusted with a secret about Christianity's founder and origins." Supposedly the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci also belonged to the Sion group, whose ostensible mission was to guard the Holy Grail. In medieval times, lore surrounding this alleged chalice claimed it was used by Christ at the Last Supper (when He dined with His apostles before the crucifixion) and possesses healing and restorative powers. It figures into both Arthurian legend and the lengthy series of battles to secure Christian domination in the Middle East known as the Crusades.

In Brown's book, Opus Dei wants to eliminate the Sion group and the secret surrounding the chalice forever. "Though for many readers the notions about Christian history in The Da Vinci Code seem new and startling, the novel introduces to a popular audience some of the debates that have gripped scholars of early Christian history for decades," noted New York Times writer Laurie Goodstein. These involve the true identity of Mary Magdalene, the follower of Christ once touted by Church teachings as a reformed prostitute, and the suppression of gospels written by the Gnostics, members of a spiritual movement that may have predated Christianity. The rest of The Da Vinci Code takes on several other provocative theories, including the idea that Christ did not die on the cross, that Mary Magdalene was pregnant with his child, that she—perhaps even both of them—settled in the south of France, and that their descendants created France's early–medieval Merovingian dynasty. This "secret" is the Holy Grail guarded by members of the Priory of Sion in Brown's book.

Even the most resolute of literary critics commended The Da Vinci Code for the sheer inventiveness of its author as he wove together so many disparate yet intriguing elements. The New York Times ' Janet Maslin called it a "gleefully erudite suspense novel.… Not since the advent of Harry Potter has an author so flagrantly delighted in leading readers on a breathless chase and coaxing them through hoops." Maslin liked the book's well–plotted pace and cliffhanger at the close of nearly every chapter. "As Langdon and Sophie follow clues planted by Leonardo, they arrive at some jaw–dropping suppositions, some of which bring The Da Vinci Code to the brink of overkill," she conceded. "But in the end Mr. Brown gracefully lays to rest all the questions he has raised."

Salon reviewer Charles Taylor made a similar claim, noting that Brown "falls into the danger that always awaits a thriller writer so adept at twists, by supplying so many last–minute surprises he nearly twists the plot into total implausibility." Taylor had high praise for the end result, however, noting that its minor flaws fail "to ruin the pleasure of this hugely entertaining book. As a thriller writer, Brown is like a showboat academic, using facts to spin one grand theory after another. It may be an inch deep, but it has the thrill of a terrific performance." Writing in U.S. Catholic, McCormick predicted the book had tremendous film potential. "Brown has crafted a great thriller with the sort of smart, resourceful hero who could easily go Hollywood.… With the breakneck pacing, serpentine plotting, and conspiratorial tone of the best of Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton, The Da Vinci Code has all the stuff for a major blockbuster," McCormick asserted.

As these and other laudatory reviews, plus word–of–mouth, helped keep the book at the top of the New York Times best–seller list and selling at a rate of 100,000 copies per week, some scholars took umbrage with its recounting of the 325 C.E. Council of Nicaea, which declared Christ's divine nature as Church doctrine and spelled the end for the Gnostic movement. Other analysts contended that part of the appeal of Brown's best–seller could be attributed to recent revelations that Church hierarchy had covered up sexual–abuse cases by its priests for decades. A U.S. News & World Report article noted that Brown's book "owes part of its popularity to impeccable timing. Published at a moment when doubts about institutional integrity were running high, the book confirms many readers' worst suspicions."

Given such theories, some sensed an anti–Catholic bias in The Da Vinci Code. A National Catholic Reporter essay by best–selling novelist and Roman Catholic priest Andrew M. Greeley found several factual errors, and termed it merely the latest in a long list of slightly veiled novelistic jabs at the Church and Vatican hierarchy over the decades. "As usual in such stories, the Roman curia is pictured as smooth, sophisticated schemers who will stop at nothing to preserve the power of the church," Greeley wrote.

The Da Vinci Code aroused so much debate that it spawned an entire subgenre: ABC television aired a special in November of 2003 that featured a panel of experts who clarified some of the book's assertions. Several books were published in the spring of 2004, including Secrets of the Code: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind the Da Vinci Code, a collection of critical essays, and Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everybody's Asking. In addition to the mainstream books, both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations sponsored workshops and lectures refuting some of the book's claims, or issued pamphlets and study guides.

In early 2004, Brown's book became the all–time best–selling work of fiction in hardcover, with sales of 6.2 million and nudging out the previous record–holder for hardcover fiction, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Film rights to The Da Vinci Code were acquired by Columbia Pictures, and Ron Howard was reportedly interested in directing. Brown had declared an informal media quarantine so that he could concentrate on writing his fifth novel. He is married to Blythe, an art historian and painter.

Selected writings

Digital Fortress, St. Martin's Press (New York City), 1998.

Angels and Demons, Pocket Books (New York City), 2000.

Deception Point, Pocket Books, 2001.

The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday (New York City), 2003.

Sources

Books

Brown, Dan, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday, 2003.

Periodicals

Booklist, September 15, 2001, p. 198.

Christian Century, March 9, 2004, p. 13.

Entertainment Weekly, December 12, 2003, p. 39.

Independent (London, England), March 18, 2004, p. 6.

Library Journal, November 15, 2000, p. 124.

M2 Best Books, March 1, 2004.

National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003, p. 18.

Newsweek, June 9, 2003, p. 57.

New York Times, March 17, 2003, p. E8; February 22, 2004, sec. 7, p. 23; April 27, 2004.

Publishers Weekly, December 22, 1997, p. 39; May 1, 2000, p. 51; September 10, 2001, p. 56; January 27, 2003, p. 117; February 9, 2004, p. 18.

U.S. Catholic, November 2003, p. 36.

U.S. News and World Report, December 22, 2003, pp. 45–49.

Online

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004.

" The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown," Salon.com , http://archive.salon.com/books/review/2003/03/27/da_vinci/ (April 30, 2004).

Carol Brennan



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