I have to admit, the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown has been a guilty pleasure of mine for years. After picking up a paperback version of Angels & Demons in the airport and reading it, I was captivated by his mix of history, art, science, and storytelling. Since then, I have read every book he has released (besides Digital Fortress and Deception Point).
I picked up Brown’s latest book, Inferno, months after its release but had been looking forward to it ever since its rumored release. Needless to say he exceeded my expectations.
Like all of Langdon’s adventures, Inferno is full of symbology, art history, and a plot line centering around a controversial subject—in this case, genetically engineering the human race and population control. The story follows Langdon and Sienna Brooks as they follow clues left by Bertrand Zobrist, a genius scientist who has threatened to release a virus on the world in order to regain control of the world’s population. Zobrist, a Dante Alighieri enthusiast, uses the epic poem Inferno as a blueprint to lead Langdon and Brooks on an art-inspired trek to locate the ticking biological time-bomb. Their chase leads the duo through the streets of Florence, Venice, and Constantinople while crossing paths with the director of the World Health Organization and a secret group called the Consortium. Like any Dan Brown novel, the action is faced as you are whisked from historical site to historical site to find the next clue to solve the puzzle. While there will be no spoilers here, suffice it to say, as in many of Brown’s novels, the twist in the plot leaves your head swirling and sets up interesting questions for novels to come.
Brown has always blurred the line between fiction and reality in every one of his novels. In interviews Brown has stated he spends upwards of three years researching and crafting the storyline of his next novel by diving deep into the world of art and—in this instance—ethics. Some of the biggest questions he raises concern the fringe beliefs of the Transhumanist movement and their claims to transform the future of the human race by genetically enhancing us intellectually, physically, and psychologically. The deepest tension Brown’s antagonist struggles with is the rising population of the earth in relation to sustainability of the planet. Up to this point in history, the human race has been held in check by natural disasters, wars, and disease. With the advances in modern medicine, many of the diseases that once slowed the growth of humanity have been cured (i.e. the black plague). The concern is there are fewer ways natural causes help control the population, therefore it is up to us to save the future by regulating the present.
The moral and philosophical dilemma Brown puts forth is where do we draw the line between whose good are we looking out for? Is our purpose to live for today and maximize our time spent on this planet, or do we prepare for our future in considering the problems of tomorrow? Is genetically modifying the human race on a macro-scale beneficial enough for the future of humanity in order to justify thinning our numbers today? These are weighty questions with impact far beyond what we can comprehend in our lifetime. Questions that begin to have a face when you look at the world’s population density around cities, distribution of food and resources, and casualties due to disease.
While Brown has no intent of solving the problems outright with a novel, he does outline two opposing ideologies in the characters of Bertrand Zobrist and Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey (Director of the World Health Organization). The tension is set up between both the characters and beliefs early in the novel and allows it to sit unresolved for much of the experience.
What is the conclusion? You will have to read it to find out. Just know, Dan Brown’s masterful storytelling and penchant flair for controversial subjects makes this thrilling, page-turner one you will not want to put down until you finish it.