Review of Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Angels & Demons
by Dan Brown
Right, so, I don't really want to write this review. In fact, re-reading this book was a bad idea, but I chose to do it for reasons that will soon become clear (that, and I wanted to give it a more accurate rating on Goodreads).
I love to tear into bad books—and make no mistake, Angels & Demons is a very badbook, and not in the naughty sense. But the problem with bad, popular books published ten years ago is that most of the witty deconstructions have been done. Bashing Dan Brown is like bashing That Vampire Series: yes, I could do it, and I could do it well. But what would be the point? It's passé.
I could take my time to detail the many factual errors present in this book, but TV Tropes has already taken care of that for me. Also worthy of note is this blog post, which mentions the absurdity of the claim that Vittoria "disproved one of Einstein's fundamental theories" by observing fish.
Say what you will of Angels & Demons; dismiss it as "light entertainment" that should be celebrated because it's a well-paced thriller with a pseudohistorical, pseudoscientific plot and a hot yoga-practising Italian physicist. All those inaccuracies, they're just artistic license, right? It doesn't matter that the facade on St. Peter's Basilica is travertine instead of marble. Who cares about minor details? I'm just being a downer nitpicker!
Were it not for the depressing overabundance of nits to pick, I might agree with my straw man opponent. The sheer number of errors and oversights on Dan Brown's part, however, means he is either too lazy to do research or wilfully neglecting the fact-checking. In either case, it sends the message that he doesn't think his readers are worth the time to produce a book that's more accurate. That's condescending, and I don't like condescending.
Responsible authors, particularly authors of historical fiction, write historical notes that mention where they've deviated from, you know, actual history. Dan Brown claims it's 99 per cent true. Angels & Demons has a nice little "fact" preface that warns us all about antimatter. I don't know if you've spotted the trend yet, but it turns out the "fact" is not much of a fact. So Dan Brown is portraying his (poorly researched) fiction as non-fiction. And that's not what writers do; that's what politicians do.
The whole "science versus religion" debate is a worthy motif for any story. Far better books have done it more justice than Angels & Demons does, mostly because Dan Brown doesn't even try to do the subject any justice. I'm sure there are many people who feel that science is destroying religion much the same way the camerlengo does in this book. Television and the Internet (which may be biased, I guess) inform me that none of them has faked the attempted destruction of a religious site using a new and highly-destructive weapon created by science in order to restore people's faith. I guess they're all waiting on that antimatter.
My point is: subtle and nuanced Dan Brown is not. His villains are caricatures of caricatures. His hero … well, I feel only pity for Robert Langdon, to be trapped in such a poorly-researched world. And he's played by Tom Hanks in the movies, so he's not all bad.
But Angels & Demons is bad. Even if we label the bad writing and incoherent plot as subjective elements, the fact remains that Dan Brown is feeding us a shit sandwich like it's made of edible gold—and charging us for the gold too.
It's still better than The Art Thief.