Dan Brown

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This man has more money than you will ever see.
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Dan Brown writes sentences like 'The famous man looked at the red cup.'
—Stewart Lee[1]

Dan Brown (1964–) is a very successful American writer of action/suspense novels, including The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol. His plot-lines usually involve fact, pseudoscience, and pseudohistory mixed in such a way as to leave less aware readers totally confused.[2] How far Mr. Brown himself believes these ideas is a matter for conjecture.[3] Dan Brown has been sued twice by Jack Dunn, who claims Brown copied his story and characters from The Vatican Boys (1997) into The Da Vinci Code (2003) and Angels & Demons (2000). Dunn claims that Dan Brown has no talent and has stolen his and that the Robert Langdon series of books and movies are "The Largest Literary and Movie Crime in History" (which is probably true).[citation NOT needed]

In a 2009 interview, Dan Brown described himself as a skeptic and that he "gravitated away from religion."[4]

Robert Langdon series[edit]

My dad told me this book was good! Everybody’s dad did! Did you know they made two Da Vinci Code movies? Well, they didn't. Because, guess what, they made fucking three.
John Oliver[5]

Robert Langdon, the series' protagonist and Dan Brown's obvious self-insert character, is a world-renowned Harvard professor of history of art and "symbology", which isn't even a real thing.

Each novel follows almost one boring formula: some important guy dies from unnatural causes; Robert Langdon gets mixed up and, implicated in a conspiracy, has to go on the run looking for historical clues in an over-touristed city with a token female character who is always very beautiful and very smart (but never as smart as Langdon), while being chased by an unstoppable killer. Oh, and one of the "good guys" turns out to be a traitor with a hidden agenda. In the end, nothing is what it seems, and the explanation behind the whole thing is both "rational" and really stupid.

The Da Vinci Code[edit]

The Da Vinci Code (literally Of [the city of] Vinci Code; da Vinci is not Leonardo's last name) tells the story of a conspiracy to hide the fact that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children. The novel also depicts the Knights Templar as Gnostics who were in on the secret. The book uses footnotes to back up its outlandish claims even though they are bullshit.

This book was also made into a bad movie by Sony Pictures, starring Tom Hanks. Why, Tom?

A mercifully short summary[edit]

Jesus and Mary Magdalene got it on, went to France, and founded the Merovingian bloodline, the bloodline being considered the true Holy Grail. This conflicts with accepted Christian doctrine, and the equally realistic Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, or the rather more realistic Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Many centuries of secrecy followed. Along came the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, tasked with preserving the secret of the Grail. The Roman Catholic Church, specifically Opus Dei, were eager to preserve Christ's lifestyle as a confirmed bachelor, and thus the fun begins.

Some of those who should have been keeping the secret decided to leave odd little clues around, Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper being an example of this. A curator at the Louvre was murdered by a sinister albino monk,[note 1] but not before he managed to leave clues written in his own blood. From this follows lots of running around Europe, the sinister albino monk in hot pursuit, and finally a reading of Leonardo's secret message indicating that the Grail (Magdalene's remains) is buried beneath the pyramid in the Louvre. That's it.

If you want more crazy pseudohistory, then watch National Treasure. At least in that case, the author hasn't tried to sell it as being in any way factual.[note 2]


The book was generally derided by critics[6] and the literate,[7] but this didn't prevent it from becoming the second-best selling book of 2004.[note 3] Conspiracy theories sell — as do books with lots of implausible plot twists, plenty of action, and numerous exotic locations, all wrapped up in short and easy sentences. The Da Vinci Code became the book that simply could not be avoided, and in the same way that born again Christians feel the need to share their profound discovery with everyone, innocent dinner party participants could scarcely escape having Brown's "revelations" shared with them.

The movie adaptation became the fifth highest grossing film of 2006, behind equally realistic Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Night at the Museum, Cars, and X-Men: The Last Stand.[8]

The Catholic Church and Opus Dei were not overly impressed by Brown's book or the movie. The church urged a boycott, while Opus Dei asked that a disclaimer be added to the movie. As is often the case with religiously-motivated outrage, this probably just encouraged people to see what all the fuss was about.

In reality, the Merovingians were some of the most ineffectual royalty in European history. The French know the end of the dynasty as rois fainéants ("do-nothing kings"). The blood of Jesus Christ supposedly in their bloodstream did not prevent the kings from losing most of their power to their majordomos, until Charles Martel claimed the throne himself and ousted the last Merovingian king of France, with claims of divine sanction, in fact.[9]

Sued for copyright infringement[edit]

The background of The Da Vinci Code is borrowed from a book named Holy Blood, Holy Grail. This book was sold as a non-fictional historical account of Christ's relationship with Magdalene and the subsequent cover-ups instituted by the Catholic Church. The authors sued Brown in 2006 for copyright infringement, but the case was decided against them. The judge ruled that history and theories are not protected by copyright law, regardless of their accuracy. He did also state, though, that Dan Brown had lied to the court in his testimony during the trial and that text from Holy Blood Holy Grail was copied.

In that same year, Jack Dunn, who is also from New England, sued Dan Brown, Random House, and Sony Pictures for copyright infringement in US Federal District Court, claiming that Dan Brown stole the entire structure and characters from his 1997 novel The Vatican Boys to create The Da Vinci Code. The judge in the case, Michael Ponsor, ruled that 'there were no similarities' between the books and 'there are no laws protecting structure' and dismissed the lawsuit without a jury trial.[10] Just after he did this, Michael Ponsor made deals with a literary agent and publisher in New York City to publish his own novels, even though he had not written any yet. In 2010–2011, Jack Dunn sued Dan Brown and Simon & Schuster, claiming Dan Brown copied text from The Vatican Boys to create his main character Robert Langdon. The same judge's court threw out this case too without a jury trial. The next year, in 2013, Michael Ponsor published his first novel through the literary agent and publisher with ties to Random House. In late November 2021, Jack Dunn and his celebrity lawyer and co-author Jonathan Coad published The Da Vinci Fraud: The True Story of Dan Brown and The World's Greatest Literary Crime with Silvertail Publishers of London, claiming, amongst many other illegalities, that Dan Brown withheld evidence in the Holy Blood Holy Grail trial, lied to the courts in the US actions in his submissions of evidence, and is one of the most successful conmen of all time.

Angels and Demons[edit]

Angels and Demons is more or less a prequel to The Da Vinci Code. In this book, the Illuminati have apparently placed antimatter (in a miraculous annihilation-proof container) somewhere in the Vatican, although it all turns out to be a dumb prank in the end. Brown seems to have decided that scientific absurdities would be a good complement to conspiracy theories.

This was made into another movie starring Tom Hanks. It was marginally better than The Da Vinci Code, largely because it didn't take itself too seriously and knew that the whole thing was a bit of a farce. In this respect, it was not like the book. Plus, the movie changed the story so that Angels and Demons was a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, because apparently only George Lucas and Peter Jackson are allowed to make prequels.

Plot summary[edit]

Brown's character and a pretty girl search Rome's most famous tourist destinations for clues to the location of a jar of antimatter stolen from CERN (by the Illuminati, of course) that will annihilate the Vatican in 24 hours when it explodes, while being chased by a literal Assassin.Wikipedia Yeah.

Scientific inaccuracy[edit]

The book features the collection of extremely large amounts of antimatter, portable containers that can hold it without being annihilated, and the main character's survival of a fall from a helicopter by using a nine square-foot tarp as a parachute. However, the most absurd suggestion of the book by far is that two people could have a fight in the fountain in the Piazza Navona without anyone noticing.

The Lost Symbol[edit]

While it contains the usual level of pseudohistory which readers have come to expect, in this novel Mr. Brown goes somewhat off the deep end with the pseudoscience — especially with its enthusiastic promotion of Noetic science, although Brown's self-insert manages to debunk crap like the Washington, D.C. street design conspiracy theory.

The novel got a belated screen adaptation in the form a mediocre TV series (pompously titled Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol), starring Ashley Zukerman as a younger, pre-Da Vinci Code Robert Langdon. It was canceled after one season.

Plot summary[edit]

Dan Brown's hero has to race around a capital city solving strange enigmas while being pursued by a homicidal maniac and showing how clever he is to a pretty girl — so it's really the same as the last two.[note 4] The only change in this one is that the Masons are really really Good Guys, and the CIA is responsible for security in Washington.

Anthropological usefulness[edit]

If a conspiracy theory is even alluded to in this book, then it has conclusively jumped the shark.


It's just plain fucking awful.[11]

Plot summary[edit]

A mad scientist obsessed with overpopulation, The Divine Comedy, and transhumanism kills himself, setting off a convoluted chain of events in which the protagonist and a hot girl must run around Florence solving puzzles while being chased by the authorities, yadda yadda yadda. It was also adapted into a Tom Hanks movie.[note 5]


Another dumb pseudo-intellectual mess, which deals with the origin of life (spoiler: it's physics). Brown set the novel in Spain, perhaps as an apology for inaccurately painting the country as a corrupt, impoverished dump in Digital Fortress.

Plot summary[edit]

After the assassination at the Guggenheim Museum BilbaoWikipedia of a brilliant Elon Musk-Steve Jobs hybrid that supposedly discovers the secret of where and how life started, the protagonist and a pretty girl (who also happens to be the love interest of the Crown Prince of Spain, because of course she is) run around avoiding a hitman and searching for mystical clues for the fifth fucking time. There is also a talking supercomputer. And the King of Spain and a Catholic Bishop are secretly gay lovers. And apparently the people who run conspiracy theory forums have journalistic integrity.

Other novels[edit]

Digital Fortress[edit]

Brown's first attempt at writing a techno-thriller is more of the same. Most notably a lot of fails in what refers to Spain (cranberry juice being very popular there when said plant in Spain grows only in very localized zones[12]) and especially the city of Seville,Wikipedia that for him is basically a third-world hellhole with a very poor healthcare system.[13]

Written in 1998, the book is unerringly in favor of the NSA. One of the main villains is an ex-NSA employee who became disgruntled over the agency's intrusion on privacy, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that spoke out against various NSA initiatives in real life, are portrayed as a swarm of evil hackers who are one point compared to sharks. There's a part where an NSA cryptographer mocks the then recent controversy over the Clipper chipWikipedia and claims that, contrary to critics, the NSA's mass surveillance program has prevented a few terrorist incidents, but the government inexplicably wants to keep such successes secret.

Deception Point[edit]

Inspired by the ALH84001Wikipedia fiasco, Brown's last book outside the Robert Langdon series (despite following the same formula) deals with a dumb and convoluted political conspiracy behind the discovery of a meteorite that supposedly contains proof of extraterrestrial life. It makes The X-Files look like Cosmos in terms of realism and scientific accuracy.

Postscript: Mountains of dreck[edit]

An Oxfam bookshop in Swansea, Wales pleaded for people to stop donating copies of The Da Vinci Code because no one wanted to buy them anymore. The shop teamed up with artist David Shrigley to create a "Pulped Fiction" limited edition of George Orwell's 1984 from pulped copies of The Da Vinci Code because 1984 is always in demand.[14]


External links[edit]


  1. An actual albino person explains the problems with this, including the symptoms of albinism, in detail here for the curious.
  2. Though a bunch of National Archives employees were likely diagnosed with self-induced concussions after they left the theatre.
  3. Then again, when was the last time an actually good book became a best-seller?
  4. Well, if you're a Christian and learn the true identity of the love interest in The Da Vinci Code, it's… kinda creepy.
  5. It's anyone's guess why they decided to skip The Lost Symbol, a book dealing with Freemasonry and set in Washington. Probably because National Treasure was more entertaining.