Gene Expression

Reading the Dumb Vinci Code

Conservative Christian Pollster George Barna has an interesting report out on those who have read the book, The Da Vinci Code. Some results:

* Catholics more likely to have read it than Protestants

* “Upscale” individuals are four times as likely to have read it than “downscale” ones (household income greater than $60 K & college degree vs. vs. less than $30 K & no college degree)

* The novel shifted the religious thinking of Hispanics, liberals, women (vs. men) and the upscale to a greater extent than other groups

I haven’t read the book and to a great extent have checked out of “pop culture,” so I don’t get the fuss. But, a friend who was a graduate student at MIT while he was on the singles scene said that reading the book was essential to having conversations with many of the women he was trying to date. In any case, my objection to the movie & the book are mostly based on the fact that it is bad history.


  1. #1 GrrlScientist
    May 22, 2006

    i just finished reading the book yesterday and, even though i don’t like dan brown’s writing style (it’s very amateurish and excessively dramatic), i am curious to know how you think it is “bad history” (i agree, the history is .. different from what i’d been formally taught .. but in view of the fact that many things are not taught to us that did happen, i am curious; which examples in the book constitute “bad history”, and why?)

  2. #2 Matthew
    May 22, 2006

    Agree with GrrlScientist, Brown can’t write. I am reading it for the pop culture relevance. Put it down after 20 pages, I’ll get back to it sooner or later. . .

  3. #3 Janne
    May 22, 2006

    Tried to read it but gave up partway when the potboiler clichés became too thick on the ground (we need a villain of course, but did he _have_ to be a two-meter albino secret society monk assassin?).

    That said, it’s a novel; it’s perfectly fine to distort, invent and even falsify historical points to make a plot work. You know, the grail is very likely not hidden in Petra, is unlikely to be guarded by a 1200 year old knight, and would, if drunk from, give you nothing more transcendental than dysentery after being unwashed for so long.

  4. #4 paul
    May 22, 2006

    I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail (the book on which it is based) years ago. One theme that is important in that book is the Priory of Sion, an organization that is supposed to be in custody of the secret. An important document concerning the Priory, which was found in the Bibliotheque Nationale, is in fact without provenance (i.e., nobody knows how it got there). There is reason to think some hoaxters were involved.

    Incidentally, I read one other of Brown’s books last summer, while on vacation. Same type of plot, same (rather irritating) style. But totally different subject, except that once again codes and code-breaking are at the center. So at least he comes by his intrigues honestly.

  5. #5 Rob Knop
    May 22, 2006

    I read lots of for-fun books, and Dan Browns books are fine thrillers– there are many better written, but I didn’t find them so terrible I couldn’t get through them.

    What I *did* find terrible, though, was his research. In the first incarnation of my blog (which I took down because I didn’t have a good way to deal with comment spam), I wrote a few posts on this, but that’s all gone now. Basically, though, if there was a topic I knew something about, I could see that Dan Brown had done just enough research to throw around buzzwords to make it sound like *he* knew what he was talking about… if the reader knew absolutely nothing.

    “Digital Fortress” was all about codes and intelligence agencies and so forth. I’m not an expert, but I know enough to have been annoyed by the glaring technical flaws in what Brown wrote. One petty example was that he listed a whole bunch of cryptography buzzwords as if they were all algorithms, but included software packages and other non-comparable things in there. A more glaring example was the notion that something put out on the internet and mirrored without control could be taken down and replaced….

    I also read “Angels and Demons”, and he lost me before the first page with a little historical note that antimatter was created at CERN for the first time in the last couple of years. Given that Carl Anderson got a Nobel prize for discovering (experimentally) the positron in 1932, that kind of suprised me…. There were other plot-essential technical bits in there that simply didn’t make sense. And I’m not even talking about jumping out of an airplane with a small tarp and surviving.


  6. #6 Agnostic
    May 22, 2006

    a friend who was a graduate student at MIT while he was on the singles scene said that reading the book was essential to having conversations with many of the women he was trying to date.

    Another reason to date down on the social ladder…

  7. #7 Hinschelwood
    May 22, 2006

    “he lost me before the first page with a little historical note that antimatter was created at CERN for the first time in the last couple of years”

    This is presumably because he does his research by reading the newspaper. I vaguely remember this a few years ago. What they did at CERN was to put together a clutch of anti-atoms and look at the spectra or something. Getting a positron to orbit an anti-proton is a bit trickier than waiting for the correct cosmic ray to appear. That’s why it was hyped up in the press.

  8. #8 pconroy
    May 22, 2006


    I too read “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” years ago, but haven’t touched “Da Vinci Code”. The former was quite well written history. I saw an expose on this book some time back on Discovery channel or similar, and they said that the document that references the “Priory of Sion” in the Bibliotheque Nationale, was only placed there at the turn of the 20th centuary, and the Priory itself dates to only 1885 or so. Much later than Leonardo’s time or anyone elses.

  9. #9 pconroy
    May 22, 2006

    BTW, Dan Brown has as much as admitted that he just read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and wrote a work of fiction based on it – almost all his material is from this book.

  10. #10 GrrlScientist
    May 22, 2006

    i read angels and demons and HATED it. at the time, i was planning to write a diatribe about that book for my blog, but by the time i finished it, i was so disgusted with it (and myself) that i figured NO ONE would know what i was ranting about, since all of my readers would (presumably) have already thrown the book in the trash, long before they reached the end because it was SO F*CKING STUPID.

    but according to the dan brown awful-o-meter, the davinci code was less terrible.

  11. #11 matoko_tranhumanist
    May 22, 2006

    grrlscientist, i took one look at the books and couldn’t even force my self to buy them.
    i find that big type offensive, it reeks of padding your book with pablum to make a page count.

    on the other hand, by blacklisting the movie the RCC probably just drove up the number of people who will see it.
    tremendous publicity. 😉

  12. #12 razib
    May 22, 2006

    Another reason to date down on the social ladder…

    where you meet fundamentalist xtianity. pick your poison.

  13. #13 Agnostic
    May 22, 2006

    where you meet fundamentalist xtianity. pick your poison.

    Nah, just find a hair stylist or something. They’ve got enough brains & skills to carry a conversation, but aren’t so overly educated that they think they’re an expert on everything / think they’re morally superior to the rubes.

  14. #14 razib
    May 22, 2006

    suit yourself 🙂 i have no need of some stop-gops, i gotz me an atheist & materialist.

  15. #15 Boknekht
    May 22, 2006

    My beautiful sister even bought a copy of this nonsense. At first, she couldn’t put it down. Now, she won’t pick it up because she feels it a waste of time, seeing it as fakery & nonsense now.

    btw, she isn’t religious, she just doesn’t want to read mis-historical stuff, even mixed w/ fiction. She was expecting it to be a *fun* read, but now she’s just put-off from the whole thing.

  16. #16 Iorwerth Thomas
    May 23, 2006

    ‘Angels and Demons’ read like how I imagine 19th Century anti-Catholic propaganda to read. Apart from all the awful science, I could only rationalise the dire ‘theology of antimatter’ bits by suggesting to myself that the guy in question was a worshipper of Azathoth…

    I haven’t bothered with the ‘Da Vinci Code’. I prefer it if people who are going to include Gnostic stuff in their work actually get the contents of the Nag-Hammadi libraries correct (or at least correct enough that I won’t notice the difference).

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