NESFA Members' Reviews

Angels and Demons

by Dan Brown

Pocket Books, 2000, ISBN 0-671-02735-2

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is a near-future thriller about an Illuminati plot to destroy the Vatican, or maybe something else entirely is going on, but saying anything else would be a spoiler. The plot is exciting, the characters are very good; indeed, it's a tribute to how good these things are that I kept reading despite all the times I got kicked out of the plot by the author's own startling ignorance on things that could have been easily checked--some of them in any decent desk dictionary, such as the meaning of the word "canonization". At some points, Mr. Brown appears to think that it means "ordination". At other points, that's not a possible reading of his usage of it, but neither is the correct meaning a possible reading. He has notions about how papal elections work which are wrong, and which are clearly wrong just from an examination of the results of the last few, and which are important to the plot. There are other instances where he's assuming a general ignorance that seems improbable to me, although, given that Mr. Brown clearly has no clue what "canonization" means, I may be overly optimistic. The instance of this that hit me over the head at the beginning of the book: Our Hero, Robert Langdon, is a Harvard professor, who has written a book that makes him a magnet for conspiracy theorists whose obsessions center around the Illuminati. He has a website on which he has no contact information, in the interest of making it a little bit harder for the kooks to find him in the real world. He gets a phone call from someone who has found him through his website and wants him to come immediately to consult on a matter relating to his specialty, religious symbology--but the caller doesn't say where he's calling from. He does say that he has already sent a plane to pick up Langdon, and he can be at the destination in about an hour. He also says that he located Dr. Langdon through his website, and when Langdon says that's not possible, he says that he's from the laboratory where the Web was invented.

At this point, of course, a little bell went "ding" and I said, "But CERN is a lot more than an hour away from Boston."

Dr. Langdon does not say this, or think it, or anything similar. He does not realize until he's disembarking from the spiffy new space plane that the mysterious caller sent that he's not in North America anymore. (The space plane is a CERN invention, too.) There follows a discussion of how Americans all think that the Worldwide Web is American technology. Unfortunately, the content of the discussion leaves me in some doubt as to whether Mr. Brown realizes that there's a difference between the internet and the web, and that the internet is American technology.

The yawning factual errors in this book left me wondering how many yawning factual errors I was missing because I don't know enough about, say, anti-matter, or Renaissance art. Don't read it if you're feeling at all sensitive to such errors. If you're in the mood for a good brain-candy thriller, though, and prepared to slide over the factual errors, it's great fun.

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