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16 July 2013

Book Review: *Inferno* (mild spoilers)

I recently read Dan Brown's latest installment of the Robert Langdon chronicles, Inferno. It follows the Harvard "symbologist" around Europe for yet another action-filled adventure. As usual, I find myself conflicted by Brown's writing. On the one hand, his books are quite fun to read, but on the other hand, I get frustrated at Brown's insistence that he's true to "history" and the "facts," when he's actually quite liberal with both. Brown unapologetically masquerades his fiction as history, confusing uncritical readers. For example, in Inferno, with its amalgam of demography, theology, and genetics, Brown would have us pessimistically and incorrectly believe that humankind is headed inevitably toward a Malthusian apocalypse. In reality, most demographers predict a leveling off of population in the near future, not permanent and geometric (i.e. exponential) growth. We have every reason to believe that as women become more educated throughout the global South that population growth will slow and, in the not-so-distant future, reverse. In a world in which people increasingly get their news from comedians and their science from sitcoms, I worry that popular fiction like that of Dan Brown has the potential to be a stumbling block to healthy understanding and dialogue.

Now, to take a step back from the hyperbolic. It's a fun read. Nothing wrong with a temporary distraction.

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