TITLE: Angels and Demons
SERIES: The Robert Langdon Series, Book 1
AUTHOR: Dan Brown
FORMAT: Kindle version
PAGES/LOCATIONS: 448 pages/8,943 locations
GOODREADS’ AVG. RATING: 3.79 out of 5 stars; 1,290,984 ratings
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is shocked to find proof that the legendary secret society, the Illuminati–dedicated since the time of Galileo to promoting the interests of science and condemning the blind faith of Catholicism–is alive, well, and murderously active. Brilliant physicist Leonardo Vetra has been murdered, his eyes plucked out and the society’s ancient symbol branded upon his chest. His final discovery, anti-matter, the most powerful and dangerous energy source known to man, has disappeared–only to be hidden somewhere beneath Vatican City on the eve of the election of a new pope. Langdon and Vittoria, Vetra’s daughter and colleague, embark on a frantic hunt through the streets, churches and catacombs of Rome, following a 400-year-old trail to the lair of the Illuminati, to prevent the incineration of civilization.
This isn’t the first time I have read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, though the last time I read it was many years ago. While the story felt familiar to me, I also felt as if I was reading the book for the first time – it had just been that long since I had read it. Regardless, there are three points I want to discuss in this review in regards to this book. I want to discuss: Character development specifically in regards to Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca, matters of history regarding interpretation and plausibility, and the questions raised regarding ethics and morality.
The Character of Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca
I truly commend Dan Brown for his characterization of Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca, the manner in which we are originally introduced to this character and the proceeding development of him is just wonderfully well done. We are introduced to the Camerlengo as a faithful and pious priest of the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to serving as the chamberlain to the recently deceased Pope. We observe his actions through the preparation and administration of conclave, during which the next Pope is chosen by the College of Cardinals. We always see him acting in what is seen as the best interest of not just the church as a whole, but the individual people involved as well. We observe through his history that the Camerlengo had always thought himself to have a special relationship with God, considering God to be his father as he had been raised by his mother alone. Brown goes into great detail discussing and exhibiting how the Camerlengo came about having such a deep rooted faith, yet when his world shattered at the thought of the Pope breaking one of the tenets of his position by fathering a child, it would stand to reason how the Camerlengo would be able to justify his later actions as the will of God – as God speaking directly to him. Great evil can occur even when laced with good intention – I think that is an important point to keep in mind in regards to the Camerlengo because in his mind he saw what he was doing to be just, to be the will of God, to be in the interest of the greater good for the Catholic faith.
Matters of History – Interpretation and Plausibility
I want to first make mention that I don’t read a lot of historical fiction – at least, I haven’t read a lot of it recently. Yet, I feel that it is incredibly important for any novel which is going to have some sort of focus on history to ensure that their interpretation of historical events is entirely plausible. I have spoken before on the importance of immersion when it comes to books – that feeling of being part of another world, another time, another situation. It is important that what you are suggesting in your book seems plausible to the reader. If it doesn’t, then you are only going to end up with frustrated readers. One thing which is incredibly interesting about history is that there will always be multiple sides to any occurrence. For example, in manners of war you have the perspective of the winner, the loser, and observers where each individual could author their own version of what happened based upon their own interpretation of the events they witnessed. So, when we read a novel which deals in interpretation of history it is incredibly important to factor in the idea of plausibility. After all, if we are unable to even consider what is being suggested as a possibility, then why would we want to continue to read the book? Personally, with my preference of immersion I need plausibility otherwise there are just too many questions and the immersion becomes broken by reality – and reality is what we attempt to escape when we read fiction.
Matters of Science and Religion – Questions of Ethics and Morality
One of my favorite subjects of study through my college years has been the study of philosophy – specifically, studying subjects regarding ethics and morality (I know, an odd subject choice for an accounting major). I think that Brown’s Angels and Demons raises a very excellent point regarding the question of where is the moral framework which guides science. To directly quote the text:
“Who is this God science? Who is the God who offers his people power but no moral framework to tell you how to use that power? What kind of God gives a child fire but does not warn the child of its dangers? The language of science comes with no signposts about good and bad. Science textbooks tell us how to create a nuclear reaction, and yet they contain no chapter asking us if it is a good or a bad idea.”
With regards to this quote though comes a very important fact which must be touched on and that is – religion and science are both tools of man. Religion and science are not able to act of their own volition, rather, people utilize these ideas, these processes, these tools in order to achieve their goals.
Religion is a tool – a shared ritualized belief or idea among individuals which attempts to answer questions of humanity’s existence while also providing an acting moral framework. I am not a religious person, I was raised with religion but in my adult years I have chosen to not continue partaking in organized religion – that isn’t to say that I don’t believe in the idea of the divine. While I was studying in junior college, I took a class called Advanced Composition and Critical Thinking. One of the books we read and discussed was Is Christianity Good for the World?—A Debate by Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson, which I highly recommend this book to everyone! The most important idea that I came away with from reading this book in regards to my understanding of religion was that all religions provide a code by which we should live that is based upon “the golden rule,” the idea that we should treat others as we would want to be treated. It is one of the most simple ideas, one of the most simple tenets of faith and religion! Yet, religion is a tool which can be manipulated to evil just as easily as science. There are many instances of this littered across our history and it is still seen to this day in recent memory. How is it that religion, even with its commandments and tenets laid bare for its followers can still be used as a justification for the slaughter of other human beings? It is through the freedom of choice that is human will; the choice and interpretation of the individual in question and not of religion itself.
Science is also a tool, a process which has been developed over many years in order to objectively look at and study the world around us, the world that we live in. Science itself isn’t inherently good or evil – science is merely a tool! Instead, the focus should be upon the scientist and this is where the ethical and moral questions should fall – the scientist should question the ethical and moral ramifications of what they are about to do. However, the results or products brought about by science also aren’t inherently good or bad and are in themselves also just tools; the motivations of the end user are what will ultimately decide whether a certain piece of scientific technology is bad or good. It is important that we as individuals instill ethical and moral values into our children, into our students, etc. so when they are faced with dilemmas such as these they are able to make the right choice, the ethical and moral choice.
Dan Brown does an excellent job of showing that it isn’t religion or science as a whole which is good or evil, rather it is the choices and motivations of the individual utilizing them.
TL;DR REVIEW: 3.75 out of 5 stars. This novel is a great introduction to Robert Langdon’s academic world, a world which includes crime involving the world of ancient symbols and history thought to be long forgotten. I look forward to continuing these adventures in the novels to come.