About Dante, the Divine Comedy, Heaven and Hell, Florentine History, the Late Medieval Era, Dan Brown, Dante’s Inferno and Dan Brown’s Inferno, the Adventures of Robert Langdon in Florence, Venice, and Istanbul, the Population Explosion, Viruses, Biotechnology, Transhumanism, and a Few Other Small Topics like the Future of the Human Species and Planet Earth
2013 has been a banner year for Dante, the late medieval poet who wrote the Divine Comedy seven centuries ago. In April, Mad Men launched its new season with the famous opening words from the Divine Comedy about midlife crisis intoned by actor Jon Hamm. Then, critic/translator/super-intellectual Clive James released his new translation of Divine Comedy. Next, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei issued a musical recording using the Divine Comedy title–perhaps an allusion to his own sense of being in the inferno of Chinese politics. Ultimately, the new blockbuster novel by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown was published in May and spent the summer at or near the top of bestseller lists all over the world. Brown’s book, Inferno, utilizes Dante, the Divine Comedy, and Dante’s native city of Florence, Italy, as key elements of its plot — as well as a whole host of issues about the future of the planet and humanity’s survival on it.
I have been intrigued with Dante since my childhood, and I have also managed, over the last decade, to become an expert on the fiction of Dan Brown. I have written and edited a variety of guidebooks to Dan Brown’s novels, starting with Secrets of the Code in 2004 (which was about the Da Vinci Code). And so I relished the challenge to create a new book addressing Brown’s Inferno. Thus was born our Secrets of Inferno (co-created, co-written, and co-edited with my writing partner for all the Secrets books, Arne de Keijzer).
Regardless of how you feel about Dan Brown — and admittedly many people love his fiction and many despise it — his books are great jumping off points for much wider inquiries and deeper discussions. In Secrets of Inferno, our work took us down three paths:
First, Dan Brown’s actual plot, characters, and narrative in Inferno: Our book tells you what’s fact and what’s fiction, where Brown enlightens us with really interesting and important things most people are not likely to have known before, and where he is completely out to lunch. Read the essay by philosophy professor Glenn W. Erickson, for example, for a totally new way to understand Dan Brown’s Inferno, including a surprising guide to many of Brown’s character names and hidden literary allusions.
Second, Secrets of Inferno surveys some of the best of 21st century scholarship on Dante and the Divine Comedy. A number of Dante scholars from major universities have contributed their ideas, analysis, and path breaking theories to our book, including Teodolinda Barolini (Da Ponte Professor of Italian, Columbia), Steven Botterill (Associate Professor of Italian Studies, U.C. Berkeley), William R. Cook (SUNY), Alison Cornish (Professor of Italian, University of Michigan), and Giuseppe Mazzotta (Sterling Professor in the Humanities, Yale).
Third, we follow Dan Brown’s plot into discussions and debates about the many other issues he mixes into the Inferno mélange: population explosion, demography, viruses, modern plagues, genetic engineering, technology for enhancing human capabilities and elongating life spans, and the transhumanist movement. In addressing each issue, we bring leading thinkers in these fields into our story.
Putting together Secrets of Inferno was a fantastic personal experience for me. From dissecting the intricacies of Dan Brown’s plot, to walking the streets of Florence where Dante walked, to having the opportunity to interview and work with world-class scholars, every aspect was eye-opening in terms of history, philosophy, poetry, art, science, and politics.
Secrets of Inferno is published by The Story Plant. It is available in print and in e-book formats from all major booksellers. I hope readers will find it as interesting to explore as we found it to write.