Born June 22, 1964, in Exeter, NH; married Blythe Brown (an art historian and painter). Education: Graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, 1982, and Amherst College, 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Hiking, playing tennis or squash, listening to and composing music.
Writer. Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH, English instructor.
Digital Fortress, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Angels and Demons, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Deception Point, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
The Da Vinci Code is being adapted for a movie by Columbia Pictures.
Work in Progress
Currently at work on another novel featuring Professor Langdon, the protagonist of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, in a tale about the Freemasons.
Dubbed a "new master of smart thrills" by Samantha Miller in People magazine, Dan Brown broke into the realms of bestsellerdom with his fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, a "riddle-filled, code-breaking, exhilaratingly brainy thriller," as Janet Maslin described the book in the New York Times.Brown already had three popular thrillers to his credit by the time he published The Da Vinci Code in 2003, but with that book Brown and his publishers experimented with a new marketing strategy, creating word-of-mouth among booksellers and reviewers with an "advance-copy bombardment …often thousand free books," according to Nick Paumgarten writing in the New Yorker. The promotion gamble worked; Brown, until then a largely "unheralded writer," according to Paumgarten, hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list in the first week of publication of Da Vinci, a most uncommon publishing phenomenon. For Brown, an English teacher turned author, the smell of success—the novel was also optioned for a film by Columbia Pictures—means that he can continue writing full time. "I am fascinated with the gray area between right and wrong and good and evil," Brown told Edward Morris in a Bookpage interview. "Every novel I've written so far has explored that gray area."
From Teaching Literature to Making It
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1964, Brown was brought up in close proximity to the world of the prestigious prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy, where his father, a Presidential Award-winning math instructor, taught. His mother was a professional sacred musician; Brown thus grew up influenced by both traditions. As he noted on his author's Web site, he was raised "surrounded by the paradoxical philosophies of science and religion." He also grew up wanting to write, as he explained on Oprah.com. "I published my first book when I was five years old," Brown noted. Instead of actually writing it, he dictated it to his mother. "I remember the excitement I felt to see my story expanding across sheet after sheet of white paper," the author further recalled. He was able to sign the finished version, in Crayon, with a hastily scrawled version of his name. Titled "The Giraffe, the Pig, and the Pants on Fire," this early effort and the writing dream it inspired was largely forgotten by Brown for over two decades, however. Attending Phillips Exeter Academy, he graduated in 1982 and then went on to university at Amherst College, focusing on the classics of English literature. He thereafter followed family tradition and became an instructor at Phillips Exeter.
Vacationing in Tahiti in 1994, a beach discovery changed the direction of his life. As he noted on his author's Web site, he found a copy of Sydney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy on the beach. He had little exposure to commercial fiction at the time, but began reading this one. "I read the first page… and then the next … and then the next," he commented on his Web site. "Several hours later, I finished the book and thought, 'Hey, I can do that.'" Returning from vacation he began work on his first novel.
Tales of Conspiracy
This first book was further inspired by an incident that happened at Phillips Exeter the following spring. Agents from the U.S. Secret Service showed up one day investigating a student at the academy who they claimed might be a national security risk. As it turned out, one of the students had joked in an e-mail that he was so angry at the politics of the time that he wanted to kill President Clinton. This silly hyperbolic statement had brought out the Secret Service. In an interview with Claire E. White for WritersWrite.com, Brown recalled, "That incident …really stuck with me. I couldn't figure out how the Secret Service knew what these kids were saying in their e-mail. I began doing some research into where organizations like the Secret Service get their intelligence data, and what I found out absolutely floored me." What Brown discovered was that the National Security Agency (NSA) was at the heart of such electronic surveillance in this country. This secret agency is as large as the CIA but is little known by most Americans. "The more I learned about this ultra-secret agency and the fascinating moral issues surrounding national security and civilian privacy, the more I realized it was a great backdrop for a novel," Brown further explained to White. "That's when I started writing Digital Fortress. "
Brown's first novel is about a female cryptographer who works for NSA at its eighty-six-acre compound at Fort Meade, Maryland. Susan Fletcher, the NSA's head cryptographer—who is not only brainy but also beautiful—is called in to crack a code that even the super computer TRNSLTR cannot break. What she uncovers is the fact that NSA is being blackmailed by a former NSA programmer, Ensie Tankado, who has paralyzed the supercomputer with his unbreakable code, Digital Fortress. Tankado wants the NSA to admit the existence of the eavesdropping computer or he will sell access to the spy agency's information database to whoever pays the most. When Tankado dies, it is up to Fletcher to somehow decode Digital Fortress, and to do so she must travel from Tokyo to Spain in a desperate chase to find the programmer's decoder ring.
Reviewers responded warmly to this debut novel, with Booklist's Gilbert Taylor calling it an "exciting thriller" that would "rivet cyberminded readers." A contributor for Publishers Weekly also commended this "fast-paced, plausible tale." The same reviewer went on to note that Brown "blurs the line between good and evil enough to delight patriots and paranoids alike."
Brown next turned his hand to more cryptic thrills with his year 2000 Angels and Demons, which introduces the world-famous Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon. In his initial outing, Langdon is called to a Switzerland research facility where a physicist studying antimatter has been murdered. Emblazoned on the dead man's chest is a cryptic symbol that it is thought only Langdon can decipher. In addition to the murder, a sample of the antimatter the murdered scientist recently discovered has been stolen. Joining in the search for this dangerous material, Langdon soon comes across further crime scenes, all of which lead him to a terrible secret involving a very deadly vendetta that the Illuminati—a centuries old secret organization that stands for science over religion—has against the Catholic Church. Langdon soon learns that the Illuminati, long believed disbanded, have made a resurgence, and in fact have planted a time bomb of the missing antimatter at the very center of Vatican City on the eve of a holy meeting there. The Harvard symbologist, working in concert a beautiful Italian scientist, Vittoria Vetra, must scramble through cata-combs and crypts on their search for the secret location of the Illuminati, which is the only hope for saving the Vatican.
Once again, Brown scored high points with critics. Jeff Ayers, writing in the Library Journal, called the novel "one of the best international thrillers of recent years." Ayers felt Angels and Demons was not only "literate" but also "extremely well researched, mixing physics and religion." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also found that this "well plotted thriller" was "crammed with Vatican intrigue and high-tech drama." The same reviewer thought, however, that the premise of the book does "strain credulity," yet the story is "laced with twists and shocks that keep the reader wired right up to the last revelation." Brown wrote on his Web site that the novel draws on actual scientific research taking place at Switzerland's CERN research center, and that his novel thus plays on the question of whether or not technology will save or destroy us. Brown noted that he believes "science will save us…although I tend to be an optimist. Obviously, science has wonderful potential to control disease, create new fuel supplies, engineer efficient food sources, and even allow us to migrate to new worlds. The problem, of course, is that every technology is a double-edged sword."
With his first two titles, Brown demonstrated his interest in cryptography. As he noted to Morris, he has long been interested in such things, developing a love of math from his father, and he thus "grew up around codes and ciphers." With his third novel, Deception Point, however, Brown leaves cryptography behind for a tale of scientific duplicity and trickery. A NASA satellite makes a rare find in the Arctic wastes: a meteor that crashed to earth two centuries earlier carries proof of extraterrestrial life. NASA touts this as a major victory in its fight to save funding for the space agency. The incumbent president, a supporter of the agency, wants to make political hay of this, as well, for his opponent in the upcoming election has been criticizing NASA, and as the vote draws near the president needs all the help he can get. He sends an intelligence analyst, Rachel Sexton, who happens to be the daughter of the president's opponent, and the scholar Michael Toland, to Antarctica to verify the finding. Once there, things are much different than they seem—the two discover that the meteor is a deception. However, before they can warn the president, they have troubles of their own: a team of assassins is after them, and Rachel and Michael must run for their lives across the Arctic.
Reviewing this novel in Library Journal, Ayers was again full of praise, noting that Brown "proves once again that he is among the most intelligent and dynamic of authors in the thriller genre." David Pitt, writing in Booklist, however, was less positive. Though Pitt felt Brown "certainly does have a knack for spinning a suspenseful yarn," he also thought that "those looking for a little artistry, a little panache, are likely to be disappointed." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews noted that the story, "which has an initial rush to it, bogs down once it starts plodding through all the government shenanigans and secret plots." On the other hand, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that Deception Point is an "excellent thriller—a big yet believable story unfolding at breakneck pace, with convincing settings and just the right blend of likable and hateful characters."
The Da Vinci Code
Brown returned to his Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon, for his fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, "a murder mystery set against a religious conspiracy theory involving Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, their child and the Holy Grail," according to Ayesha Court on USA Today. com. Court went on to note that Brown's novel "mixes page-turning suspense with art history, architecture and religious history." In the novel, Langdon is called in to investigate another suspicious murder, this one at the Louvre, while he is visiting Paris. An elderly albino curator has been murdered, but was able to arrange an arcane symbology around him before he died. Solving this cipher puts Langdon onto the trail of a sequence of clues that have been hidden in the works of the painter Leonardo Da Vinci. Joining forces with a French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, Langdon follows the clues to the Priory of Sion, a secret society in which the dead curator was involved, and whose members once included Da Vinci. It turns out that the curator sacrificed his life rather than giving away the secret location of a hidden religious relic. Soon Langdon and Neveu are involved in a life and death chase against the representatives of another secret society, the Opus Dei, who have been trying to steal the Priory's secret for generations, and to cover up a Church-shattering secret in the process. At the heart of Brown's story is the conjecture—long held and many times written about before—that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene and that she gave birth to a child by him, creating a bloodline that leads back to Christ.
Even before publication, Brown's fourth thriller was causing a stir in the publishing world, with foreign and film rights sold for high figures. An initial printing of over two hundred thousand had to be quickly added to; within a half year of publication in early 2003, the hardcover edition had well over two million copies in print. A summer beach read suddenly had turned into an international sensation. Reviewers responded with equal enthusiasm. Booklist's Frank Sennet noted that "Brown's intricate plot delivers more satisfying twists than a licorice factory," while a contributor for Publishers Weekly called the book an "exhaustively researched page-turner," and a book with a "whopper of a plot that will please both conspiracy buffs and thriller addicts." Ayers, writing in Library Journal, dubbed the book a "masterpiece [that] should be mandatory reading." David Lazarus, reviewing the novel in the San Francisco Chronicle, felt that The Da Vinci Code is a "smarter, more compelling yarn" than Angels and Demons. For Lazarus, the novel was "good fun—Umberto Ecco on steroids."
If you enjoy the works of Dan Brown, you might want to check out the following books:
The book also had its detractors, however. Writing in the New York Times, Bruce Boucher noted that Brown's "grasp of Leonardo is shaky," and that the book is "written like a screenplay and cuts cleverly from crisis to crisis in a manner that seems designed for film." But for Boucher, the book was suited better for "opera" than film. Similarly, Charles Taylor, writing in Salon.com, felt that the novel "doesn't offer the kind of solid descriptive writing you find in the world of the best practitioners of crime fiction." Taylor further commented, "Brown appears to be the kind of writer who hits on a snazzy gimmick and then mines it for all it's worth. And it's one hell of a gimmick." Further criticism came from a critic for Kirkus Reviews who observed that the "narrative pace remains stuck in slo-mo," and from the Guardian's Mark Lawson, who found the novel "preposterous" and "sloppy." A threatened lawsuit for plagiarism also cropped up when writer Lewis Perdue noted a number of similarities between Brown's book and his own 2000 title, Daughter of God.
But on whole, readers—who bought the book in the millions—seem to have agreed with Maslin in the New York Times, who called the book a "gleefully erudite suspense novel." Brown, meanwhile, was hard at work on the further tales of his hero Robert Langdon in an adventure featuring another secret society, the Masons.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of Digital Fortress, p. 780; September 15, 2001, David Pitt, review of Deception Point, p. 198; March 1, 2003, Frank Sennet, review of The Da Vinci Code, p. 1148.
Bookpage, April, 2003, Edward Morris, "Explosive New Thriller Explores Secrets of the Church," p. 11.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of Deception Point, p. 1232; January 1, 2003, review of The Da Vinci Code, p. 5.
Library Journal, November 15, 2000, Jeff Ayers, review of Angels and Demons, p. 124; October 1, 2001, Jeff Ayers, review of Deception Point, p. 139; February 1, 2003, Jeff Ayers, review of The Da Vinci Code, p. 114.
M2 Best Books, June 17, 2003, "Author Claims Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code Is Similar to His Own Book."
Newsweek, May 26, 2003, Jerry Adler, "Deciphering Code," p. 13; June 9, 2003, Seth Mnookin, "Page-Turner: A Stolen Da Vinci—or Just Weirdness? It's a Real-Life Mystery," p. 57.
New Yorker, May 5, 2003, Nick Paumgarten, "Talk of the Town," p. 36.
New York Times, March 17, 2003, Janet Maslin, review of The Da Vinci Code; April 21, 2003, Bill Goldstein, "As a Novel Rises Quickly, Book Industry Takes Note," p. C11; August 3, 2003, Bruce Boucher, "Does The Da Vinci Code Crack Leonardo?," Section 2, p. 26.
People, March 24, 2003, Samantha Miller, review of The Da Vinci Code, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, December 22, 1997, review of Digital Fortress, pp. 39-40; May 1, 2000, review of Angels and Demons, p. 51; September 10, 2001, review of Deception Point, p. 56; January 27, 2003, Charlotte Abbott, "Code Work: Breakout," p. 117; February 3, 2003, review of The Da Vinci Code, p. 53.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 2003, David Lazarus, review of The Da Vinci Code, p. M4.
Sojourners, July-August, 2003, Jo Ann Heydron, "Literary Art," p. 58.
Dan Brown Official Web site,http://www.danbrown.com/ (September 9, 2003).
Guardian,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (July 26, 2003), Mark Lawson, review of The Da Vinci Code.