Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon awakens in an Italian hospital, disoriented and with no recollection of the past thirty-six hours, including the origin of the macabre object hidden in his belongings. With a relentless female assassin trailing them through Florence, he and his resourceful doctor, Sienna Brooks, are forced to flee. Embarking on a harrowing journey, they must unravel a series of codes, which are the work of a brilliant scientist whose obsession with the end of the world is matched only by his passion for one of the most influential masterpieces ever written, Dante Alighieri's The Inferno.
Dan Brown has raised the bar yet again, combining classical Italian art, history, and literature with cutting-edge science in this captivating thriller.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 22, 1964
Place of Birth:Exeter, New Hampshire
Education:Phillips Exeter Academy 1982; B.A., Amherst College, 1986; University of Seville, Spain
Read an Excerpt
The memories materialized slowly . . . like bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.
A veiled woman.
Robert Langdon gazed at her across a river whose churning waters ran red with blood. On the far bank, the woman stood facing him, motionless, solemn, her face hidden by a shroud. In her hand she gripped a blue tainia cloth, which she now raised in honor of the sea of corpses at her feet. The smell of death hung everywhere.
Seek, the woman whispered. And ye shall find.
Langdon heard the words as if she had spoken them inside his head. “Who are you?” he called out, but his voice made no sound.
Time grows short, she whispered. Seek and find.
Langdon took a step toward the river, but he could see the waters were bloodred and too deep to traverse. When Langdon raised his eyes again to the veiled woman, the bodies at her feet had multiplied. There were hundreds of them now, maybe thousands, some still alive, writhing in agony, dying unthinkable deaths . . . consumed by fire, buried in feces, devouring one another. He could hear the mournful cries of human suffering echoing across the water.
The woman moved toward him, holding out her slender hands, as if beckoning for help.
“Who are you?!” Langdon again shouted.
In response, the woman reached up and slowly lifted the veil from her face. She was strikingly beautiful, and yet older than Langdon had imagined—in her sixties perhaps, stately and strong, like a timeless statue. She had a sternly set jaw, deep soulful eyes, and long, silver-gray hair that cascaded over her shoulders in ringlets. An amulet of lapis lazuli hung around her neck—a single snake coiled around a staff.
Langdon sensed he knew her . . . trusted her. But how? Why?
She pointed now to a writhing pair of legs, which protruded upside down from the earth, apparently belonging to some poor soul who had been buried headfirst to his waist. The man’s pale thigh bore a single letter—written in mud—R.
R? Langdon thought, uncertain. As in . . . Robert? “Is that . . . me?”
The woman’s face revealed nothing. Seek and find, she repeated.
Without warning, she began radiating a white light . . . brighter and brighter. Her entire body started vibrating intensely, and then, in a rush of thunder, she exploded into a thousand splintering shards of light.
Langdon bolted awake, shouting.
The room was bright. He was alone. The sharp smell of medicinal alcohol hung in the air, and somewhere a machine pinged in quiet rhythm with his heart. Langdon tried to move his right arm, but a sharp pain restrained him. He looked down and saw an IV tugging at the skin of his forearm.
His pulse quickened, and the machines kept pace, pinging more rapidly.
Where am I? What happened?
The back of Langdon’s head throbbed, a gnawing pain. Gingerly, he reached up with his free arm and touched his scalp, trying to locate the source of his headache. Beneath his matted hair, he found the hard nubs of a dozen or so stitches caked with dried blood.
He closed his eyes, trying to remember an accident.
Nothing. A total blank.
A man in scrubs hurried in, apparently alerted by Langdon’s racing heart monitor. He had a shaggy beard, bushy mustache, and gentle eyes that radiated a thoughtful calm beneath his overgrown eyebrows.
“What . . . happened?” Langdon managed. “Did I have an accident?”
The bearded man put a finger to his lips and then rushed out, calling for someone down the hall.
Langdon turned his head, but the movement sent a spike of pain radiating through his skull. He took deep breaths and let the pain pass. Then, very gently and methodically, he surveyed his sterile surroundings.
The hospital room had a single bed. No flowers. No cards. Langdon saw his clothes on a nearby counter, folded inside a clear plastic bag. They were covered with blood.
My God. It must have been bad.
Now Langdon rotated his head very slowly toward the window beside his bed. It was dark outside. Night. All Langdon could see in the glass was his own reflection—an ashen stranger, pale and weary, attached to tubes and wires, surrounded by medical equipment.
Voices approached in the hall, and Langdon turned his gaze back toward the room. The doctor returned, now accompanied by a woman.
She appeared to be in her early thirties. She wore blue scrubs and had tied her blond hair back in a thick ponytail that swung behind her as she walked.
“I’m Dr. Sienna Brooks,” she said, giving Langdon a smile as she entered. “I’ll be working with Dr. Marconi tonight.”
Langdon nodded weakly.
Tall and lissome, Dr. Brooks moved with the assertive gait of an athlete. Even in shapeless scrubs, she had a willowy elegance about her. Despite the absence of any makeup that Langdon could see, her complexion appeared unusually smooth, the only blemish a tiny beauty mark just above her lips. Her eyes, though a gentle brown, seemed unusually penetrating, as if they had witnessed a profundity of experience rarely encountered by a person her age.
“Dr. Marconi doesn’t speak much English,” she said, sitting down beside him, “and he asked me to fill out your admittance form.” She gave him another smile.
“Thanks,” Langdon croaked.
“Okay,” she began, her tone businesslike. “What is your name?”
It took him a moment. “Robert . . . Langdon.”
She shone a penlight in Langdon’s eyes. “Occupation?”
This information surfaced even more slowly. “Professor. Art history . . . and symbology. Harvard University.”
Dr. Brooks lowered the light, looking startled. The doctor with the bushy eyebrows looked equally surprised.
“You’re . . . an American?”
Langdon gave her a confused look.
“It’s just . . .” She hesitated. “You had no identification when you arrived tonight. You were wearing Harris Tweed and Somerset loafers, so we guessed British.”
“I’m American,” Langdon assured her, too exhausted to explain his preference for well-tailored clothing.
“My head,” Langdon replied, his throbbing skull only made worse by the bright penlight. Thankfully, she now pocketed it, taking Langdon’s wrist and checking his pulse.
“You woke up shouting,” the woman said. “Do you remember why?”
Langdon flashed again on the strange vision of the veiled woman surrounded by writhing bodies. Seek and ye shall find. “I was having a nightmare.”
Langdon told her.
Dr. Brooks’s expression remained neutral as she made notes on a clipboard. “Any idea what might have sparked such a frightening vision?”
Langdon probed his memory and then shook his head, which pounded in protest.
“Okay, Mr. Langdon,” she said, still writing, “a couple of routine questions for you. What day of the week is it?”
Langdon thought for a moment. “It’s Saturday. I remember earlier today walking across campus . . . going to an afternoon lecture series, and then . . . that’s pretty much the last thing I remember. Did I fall?”
“We’ll get to that. Do you know where you are?”
Langdon took his best guess. “Massachusetts General Hospital?”
Dr. Brooks made another note. “And is there someone we should call for you? Wife? Children?”
“Nobody,” Langdon replied instinctively. He had always enjoyed the solitude and independence provided him by his chosen life of bachelorhood, although he had to admit, in his current situation, he’d prefer to have a familiar face at his side. “There are some colleagues I could call, but I’m fine.”
Dr. Brooks finished writing, and the older doctor approached. Smoothing back his bushy eyebrows, he produced a small voice recorder from his pocket and showed it to Dr. Brooks. She nodded in understanding and turned back to her patient.
“Mr. Langdon, when you arrived tonight, you were mumbling something over and over.” She glanced at Dr. Marconi, who held up the digital recorder and pressed a button.
A recording began to play, and Langdon heard his own groggy voice, repeatedly muttering the same phrase: “Ve . . . sorry. Ve . . . sorry.”
“It sounds to me,” the woman said, “like you’re saying, ‘Very sorry. Very sorry.’ ”
Langdon agreed, and yet he had no recollection of it.
Dr. Brooks fixed him with a disquietingly intense stare. “Do you have any idea why you’d be saying this? Are you sorry about something?”
As Langdon probed the dark recesses of his memory, he again saw the veiled woman. She was standing on the banks of a bloodred river surrounded by bodies. The stench of death returned.
Langdon was overcome by a sudden, instinctive sense of danger . . . not just for himself . . . but for everyone. The pinging of his heart monitor accelerated rapidly. His muscles tightened, and he tried to sit up.
Dr. Brooks quickly placed a firm hand on Langdon’s sternum, forcing him back down. She shot a glance at the bearded doctor, who walked over to a nearby counter and began preparing something.
Dr. Brooks hovered over Langdon, whispering now. “Mr. Langdon, anxiety is common with brain injuries, but you need to keep your pulse rate down. No movement. No excitement. Just lie still and rest. You’ll be okay. Your memory will come back slowly.”
The doctor returned now with a syringe, which he handed to Dr. Brooks. She injected its contents into Langdon’s IV.
“Just a mild sedative to calm you down,” she explained, “and also to help with the pain.” She stood to go. “You’ll be fine, Mr. Langdon. Just sleep. If you need anything, press the button on your bedside.”
She turned out the light and departed with the bearded doctor.
In the darkness, Langdon felt the drugs washing through his system almost instantly, dragging his body back down into that deep well from which he had emerged. He fought the feeling, forcing his eyes open in the darkness of his room. He tried to sit up, but his body felt like cement.
As Langdon shifted, he found himself again facing the window. The lights were out, and in the dark glass, his own reflection had disappeared, replaced by an illuminated skyline in the distance.
Amid a contour of spires and domes, a single regal facade dominated Langdon’s field of view. The building was an imposing stone fortress with a notched parapet and a three-hundred-foot tower that swelled near the top, bulging outward into a massive machicolated battlement.
Langdon sat bolt upright in bed, pain exploding in his head. He fought off the searing throb and fixed his gaze on the tower.
Langdon knew the medieval structure well.
It was unique in the world.
Unfortunately, it was also located four thousand miles from Massachusetts.
Outside his window, hidden in the shadows of the Via Torregalli, a powerfully built woman effortlessly unstraddled her BMW motorcycle and advanced with the intensity of a panther stalking its prey. Her gaze was sharp. Her close-cropped hair—styled into spikes—stood out against the upturned collar of her black leather riding suit. She checked her silenced weapon, and stared up at the window where Robert Langdon’s light had just gone out.
Earlier tonight her original mission had gone horribly awry.
The coo of a single dove had changed everything.
Now she had come to make it right.
I’m in Florence!?
Robert Langdon’s head throbbed. He was now seated upright in his hospital bed, repeatedly jamming his finger into the call button. Despite the sedatives in his system, his heart was racing.
Dr. Brooks hurried back in, her ponytail bobbing. “Are you okay?”
Langdon shook his head in bewilderment. “I’m in . . . Italy!?”
“Good,” she said. “You’re remembering.”
“No!” Langdon pointed out the window at the commanding edifice in the distance. “I recognize the Palazzo Vecchio.”
Dr. Brooks flicked the lights back on, and the Florence skyline disappeared. She came to his bedside, whispering calmly. “Mr. Langdon, there’s no need to worry. You’re suffering from mild amnesia, but Dr. Marconi confirmed that your brain function is fine.”
The bearded doctor rushed in as well, apparently hearing the call button. He checked Langdon’s heart monitor as the young doctor spoke to him in rapid, fluent Italian—something about how Langdon was “agitato” to learn he was in Italy.
Agitated? Langdon thought angrily. More like stupefied! The adrenaline surging through his system was now doing battle with the sedatives. “What happened to me?” he demanded. “What day is it?!”
“Everything is fine,” she said. “It’s early morning. Monday, March eighteenth.”
Monday. Langdon forced his aching mind to reel back to the last images he could recall—cold and dark—walking alone across the Harvard campus to a Saturday-night lecture series. That was two days ago?! A sharper panic now gripped him as he tried to recall anything at all from the lecture or afterward. Nothing. The ping of his heart monitor accelerated.
The older doctor scratched at his beard and continued adjusting equipment while Dr. Brooks sat again beside Langdon.
“You’re going to be okay,” she reassured him, speaking gently. “We’ve diagnosed you with retrograde amnesia, which is very common in head trauma. Your memories of the past few days may be muddled or missing, but you should suffer no permanent damage.” She paused. “Do you remember my first name? I told you when I walked in.”
Langdon thought a moment. “Sienna.” Dr. Sienna Brooks.
She smiled. “See? You’re already forming new memories.”
The pain in Langdon’s head was almost unbearable, and his near-field vision remained blurry. “What . . . happened? How did I get here?”
“I think you should rest, and maybe—”
“How did I get here?!” he demanded, his heart monitor accelerating further.
“Okay, just breathe easy,” Dr. Brooks said, exchanging a nervous look with her colleague. “I’ll tell you.” Her voice turned markedly more serious. “Mr. Langdon, three hours ago, you staggered into our emergency room, bleeding from a head wound, and you immediately collapsed. Nobody had any idea who you were or how you got here. You were mumbling in English, so Dr. Marconi asked me to assist. I’m on sabbatical here from the U.K.”
Langdon felt like he had awoken inside a Max Ernst painting. What the hell am I doing in Italy? Normally Langdon came here every other June for an art conference, but this was March.
The sedatives pulled harder at him now, and he felt as if earth’s gravity were growing stronger by the second, trying to drag him down through his mattress. Langdon fought it, hoisting his head, trying to stay alert.
Dr. Brooks leaned over him, hovering like an angel. “Please, Mr. Langdon,” she whispered. “Head trauma is delicate in the first twenty-four hours. You need to rest, or you could do serious damage.”
A voice crackled suddenly on the room’s intercom. “Dr. Marconi?”
The bearded doctor touched a button on the wall and replied, “Sì?”
The voice on the intercom spoke in rapid Italian. Langdon didn’t catch what it said, but he did catch the two doctors exchanging a look of surprise. Or is it alarm?
“Momento,” Marconi replied, ending the conversation.
“What’s going on?” Langdon asked.
Dr. Brooks’s eyes seemed to narrow a bit. “That was the ICU receptionist. Someone’s here to visit you.”
A ray of hope cut through Langdon’s grogginess. “That’s good news! Maybe this person knows what happened to me.”
She looked uncertain. “It’s just odd that someone’s here. We didn’t have your name, and you’re not even registered in the system yet.”
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Inferno, the thrilling new novel by Dan Brown, internationally bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol.
WARNING—THIS GUIDE CONTAINS SPOILERS
1. WARNING: THESE QUESTIONS CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL
What features does Inferno share with Dan Brown’s other Robert Langdon novels: The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol? In what ways is it different from those earlier works?
2. Why has Brown used these lines from Dante as an epigraph to Inferno: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”? How does that statement illuminate the novel? What is the particular danger of maintaining moral neutrality in Inferno?
3. What accounts for the frenetic narrative pace of the novel? How does Dan Brown use chapter endings to create suspense? What other devices create a narrative tension that pulls the reader along?
4. What are some of the most surprising twists and turns in Inferno?
5. What role does the setting play in Inferno? In what ways are Florence, Venice, and Istanbul integral to the plot of the novel?
6. The brilliant biochemist Bertrand Zobrist asserts some unsettling ideas. He argues that the Black Plague, which killed one-third of Europe’s population, was one of the best things that ever happened to humanity and ushered in the Renaissance. He also believes that the human race won’t survive unless we have another mass extinction event, similar in scale to the Black Plague. In his confrontation with Dr. Sinskey, he rails, “We are on the brink of the end of humanity, and our world leaders are sitting in boardrooms commissioning studies on solar power, recycling, and hybrid automobiles.... Ozone depletion, lack of water, and pollution are not the disease—they are the symptoms. The disease is overpopulation” [p. 139]. Is Zobrist right about these issues? Is his solution the lesser of two evils or is it too morally repugnant even to consider?
7. How does Langdon use his knowledge of literature, art, and symbology to decipher the clues that lead him to the location of Zobrist’s virus? In what ways is Dante’s great poem, The Inferno, central to the novel?
8. The Consortium, which allows Bertrand Zobrist to do his work on the virus undetected, has a philosophy of "Provide the service. Ask no questions. Pass no judgment" [p. 75]. Is that a dangerous philosophy, and if so, why? Why does the Provost, by the end of the novel, realize that "For the first time in his life, ignorance no longer felt like the moral high ground"? [p. 444]. How disconcerting is it to learn that the Consortium really does exist, though under a different name, with offices in seven countries?
9. Sienna Brooks is perhaps the most complex character in the novel. What kind of woman is she? How has her past influenced who she has become? How does she change over the course of the novel? Why does she feel that she has finally found a purpose at the end of the book?
10. In what ways do issues of trust and betrayal play out in Inferno?
11. Sienna explains one of the fundamental tenets of Transhumanism: "We as humans have a moral obligation to participate in our evolutionary process . . . to use our technology to advance the species, to create better humans-healthier, stronger, with higher-functioning brains. Everything will soon be possible" [p. 453]. Do an internet search on "Transhumanism" and discuss/debate the motivations and philosophical assumptions of the movement. What does Dan Brown's use of a real-life contemporary movement like Transhumanism add to Inferno? Does Transhumanism offer valid solutions to some of the essential problems that confront the human species?
12. In an emotional speech to Dr. Sinskey, Sienna says, "Bertrand died all alone because people like yourself refused to open your minds enough even to admit that our catastrophic circumstances might actually require an uncomfortable solution. All Bertrand ever did was speak the truth . . . and for that, he was ostracized" [p. 449]. Does Bertrand go from villain to hero by the end of the book? Do the ends (saving the human species) justify the means (releasing a virus that will dramatically limit population growth) in this case?
13. Why doesn't Robert Langdon give up on Sienna, even after he realizes what her motives are?
14. At the end of the novel, Dr. Sinskey invites Sienna to accompany her to a conference where they will address world leaders about the virus Bertrand Zobrist has released and discuss the issue of population control. Is there a significance to having two women, rather than two men, assume this role?
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Dan Brown
The Barnes & Noble Review: You've said you first read the Inferno in high school. When did you first realize that Dante's work would be the basis for a novel?
Dan Brown: I've known for at least a decade that I would one day write a novel incorporating the world of Dante Alighieri. While researching Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, I was immersed in church history and philosophy. One of the byproducts of that research was my coming to understand that Dante's popularized vision of the afterlife deeply influenced our modern Christian perceptions of hell. The notion of hell certainly existed long before Dante, and yet only in vague terms. The Bible described hell as an underworld of unquenchable fire. Classical mythology was a bit more specific, describing various realms and monsters, but it wasn't until Dante published The Divine Comedy that humankind was given a vivid, codified vision of the underworld. Dante described a multi-layered pit of misery where sinners endured specific punishments for specific sins, and this horrifying concept helped solidify hell as the deterrent to sin.
BNR: You researched Dante and the mysteries surrounding his life and work in Florence. What was your most surprising discovery?
DB: For me, one of the most surprising themes of Dante's Inferno is the portrayal of pride as the most serious of the seven deadly sins a transgression punished in the deepest ring of hell. The notion of pride as the ultimate sin dovetails perfectly with Greek mythology, in which hubris is responsible for the downfall of the archetypal hero. In mythology, no man is more prideful than he who considers himself above the problems of the world-for example, the person who ignores injustice because it does not affect him directly. This notion is reflected in a famous paraphrasing of Dante's text: The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. This is a recurring theme of the novel.
BNR: Dante's Divine Comedy is composed in an intricately braided poetic style as it tells the story of a poet's passage through hell, purgatory and paradise. What aspects of his style most influenced you in the writing of Inferno? Did you rely on a particular translation or translations?
DB: The rhythm of Dante's poetry and his use of anaphora (repetition of phrases) does indeed find its way into the novel's "shade? sections and influences the way my villain speaks and writes. Additionally, Dante's use of physical motion to keep his action moving is something I've always tried to do in my novels, and I certainly continued that in Inferno. Regarding translations of Dante's original Italian, one of the great luxuries of writing this book in the digital age was that I was able very quickly and easily to compare multiple translations. At times, I was stunned by how greatly those translations differed. In the end, I found myself relying primarily on two the translations by [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow and [Allen] Mandelbaum.
BNR: The images of punishment throughout the Inferno are based on medieval conceptions of sin and its onsequences. Do you find them still relevant to themes of good and evil in today's world?
DB: Dante's vision of justice relies on the concept of contrapasso (literally, suffering the opposite) in a sense, the punishment precisely fits the crime. For example: a fortune teller who sins by seeing the future is punished by having his head placed on backwards so he can only see in reverse; a ruthless man who left another to starve to death is doomed to have his own bloody skull gnawed upon by the man he let starve; an adulterous couple who succumbed to lust is punished by being fused together sexually for all eternity without ever being satisfied. Today, in most cultures, the notions of contrapasso and "an eye for an eye? have disappeared, which may be one of the reasons that modern readers find Dante's brutal punishments so fascinating.
BNR: Although Dante wrote his epic hundreds of years before Leonardo da Vinci, the two men are connected by their shared Florentine heritage. Do you see any similarities between the two?
DB: Beyond being fellow Florentines, Dante and Leonardo share an elite spot in the pantheon of artistic giants. Both The Divine Comedy and Mona Lisa are examples of those rare human achievements that transcend their moments in history and become enduring cultural touchstones. Both masterpieces continue to speak to us centuries after their creation and are considered examples of the finest works ever produced in their respective fields. Like Leonardo, Dante had a staggering influence on culture, religion, history, and the arts. In addition to codifying the early Christian vision of Hell, Dante inspired some of history's greatest luminaries Longfellow, Chaucer, Borges, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Monteverdi, Michelangelo, Blake, Dalí and even a few modern video game designers.
BNR: Dante placed himself at the center of his poetic epic but he also called upon a figure from the classical world, the poet Virgil, as a trustworthy guide on his journey into darkness. Have you provided Robert Langdon with a Virgil?
DB: Over the course of Langdon's adventure, he encounters numerous characters that have counterparts in Dante's Inferno. Some of these characters are overt. Others are more obscure. I'm hoping that some of the fun will be debating the parallels between Virgil's descent and Langdon's.
BNR: The opening of Inferno leaves us with tantalizing references to places and ideas that one hopes will be illuminated as the novel unfolds. Do you begin writing with the notion of implanting mysteries for your readers, or does that come later, as the story develops?
DB: Before I begin writing any novel, I complete an extensive outline (the outline for The Da Vinci Code was over one hundred pages). Once I have a clear sense of the arc of the novel, I begin each chapter by deciding not what I'll offer the reader, but rather what I'll withhold. A reader's desire to guess what I've hidden is always more exciting than anything I can show.
BNR: When we first encounter Robert Langdon in Inferno, he's in a place his work has made very familiar to him, but he's been plunged into truly unknown waters. When first you planned your new book, did you know you'd be making life this difficult for your hero?
DB: Absolutely. Only by placing Langdon in a difficult position does he have a chance to be a hero.
May 14, 2013