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- The depiction of Seville has been criticized by Spanish-speaking readers, among other things. [Spanish] Is Dan Brown a compulsive liar?
- This one was simply insulting: Brown portrayed the Spanish health care system as useless and incompetent; in fact, it is ranked 7th in the World by the WHO (for comparison, the USA's is 37th).
- The whole issue is summed up by Brown's claim that he studied Art History in the University of Seville for a year. Not only does the University deny this, Brown also gets his Art History wrong every single time in the book. The 15th century cathedral is said to be from the 11th century and to have only one door (and another little, hidden one), when it actually has seven; the 10th century Alcazar is said to be from the 15th; and the Giralda's dangerous steps constitute a critical plot point despite the real building being notorious for not having any steps, only ramps. Digging deeper in the wound, Brown repeats his "I studied Art History in Seville" story in the Foreword of the Spanish version and claims that Seville is one of his favorite cities in the world before proceeding to rip it to shreds in the actual novel.
- The main character rents a room in Hotel Alfonso XIII, "a little four-star hotel." The real thing was built in 1928 with the express aim of being the most luxurious hotel in Europe, and it retains its five-star rating. When coupled with the mention of tourist-trap Triana neighborhood as a crime-ridden Wretched Hive full of prostitutes and drug dealers, it is obvious that Brown is simply borrowing the names from a tourism brochure (probably printed for the 1992 World Exposition, given the continuous references to Columbus and the New World) and trying so really, really hard to make everything dangerous that it becomes an unintended parody instead. Spanish buses? They are dangerous because they drive around with the gates open. Why? To cool patients without having to turn on the air cooling system to save money. So money is invested in making buses with air cooling systems in the first place but that are never put to use to save money, and the same drivers who don't care to turn it for the benefit of their passengers do care enough about them getting too hot to open the gates, but they don't care if the passengers fall off and break two legs and an arm so they keep driving at racing speed regardless of traffic and Seville streets being described as twisted little alleys elsewhere in the book. The setting is just one logic bomb like that after another.
- David Becker speaks Spanish so well that he can fool a native Spaniard into thinking that Becker is a Burgos native just from hearing his voice over the phone. People in Burgos speak the standard Castilian dialect spoken by most Spaniards and used by default in Spanish media. It is simply impossible to recognize someone as being from Burgos from his accent alone.
- The book states that the etymology of "sincere" is a combination of two Latin works "sine" and "cera", meaning "without wax". A popular, but entirely wrong, urban legend. Storied Words by Jeff Jeske
- The book confuses the number of bits in a key scales; specifically it states that a 64 bit key has twice as many combinations as a 32 bit key. It actually has 4,294,967,296 (2^32) times as many possibilities. You would only need 33 bits to have twice as many combinations as 32. WordLingo
- The book also confuses the purpose of a public key with that of a private key.
- Not to mention his claim that a 64-bit key would have 64 characters, "too many for anyone to remember." In hexadecimal, a 64-bit key has 16 characters; in base 36, only 13 characters.
- The atomic elements made to create the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were different (plutonium and uranium) and not just two different isotopes of uranium. That doesn't fit with the story of course...
- Additionally, of the two isotopes given, only one is actually fissile. Uranium-238 would not be used to create an atomic bomb.
- The book has a short description involving decrypting a code that is wrong on several levels. The code was thought by the characters to be "Mandarin symbols" but is later discovered to be the "Kanji language". First, Mandarin is a spoken language that shares its written symbols with many other Sinic languages. Assuming that by "Mandarin characters" he meant Classical Chinese or Standard Written Chinese (which is likely), there is no way to tell from the writing whether the writer spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, or any other dialect; it's all just written in Chinese.note Second, kanji is one of three symbol sets used by Japanese speakers; it is not a language of its own. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Chinese zi and Japanese kanji are the same symbols, written the same way and carrying the same meaning, but pronounced differently when spoken aloud. This would be tantamount to looking at the word 'tomato' and determining whether it should be "to-MAY-to" or "to-MAH-to"—or more to the point, whether the character "8" should be understood as saying "eight" in English or "huit" in French when looking at the "phrase" "8+7=15." Finally, the code is decrypted out of sequence, for security purposes. Translating Chinese or Japanese out of sequence would be just as impossible as reading English words scrambled by a randomizer. Hanzi Smatter
- That's not even to mention the central conceits of the book, which are that 1. the NSA has a computer that can carry out successful brute-force attacks on modern cryptographic systems (which is basically theoretically impossible within the lifetime of the user, unless they've gotten new technology from Sufficiently Advanced Aliens), and 2. some person invented a cryptosystem that is immune to brute-force attacks, and yet is not simply a one-time pad, which is theoretically impossible due to the fundamental nature of information.
- One plot point is that the magical algorithm is publicized, but encrypted with itself, and everyone acts as if anyone who got the key can decrypt and use it. This ignores the fact that a cryptographic key is useless without also knowing the algorithm. Reverse-engineering an algorithm when one got a key and a ciphertext sample (but no cleartext sample) might be theoretically possible when the algorithm isn't very complex, but when the algorithm is as sophisticated as claimed, this would be anything but trivial.
- It's a major plot point that the NSA's (fictional) supercomputer cannot decrypt a particular ciphertext which it received recently. This is taken as absolute proof that the ciphertext was encrypted with some sort of Ultimate Encryption Technique which is tough enough to beat the supercomputer. Absolutely no one mentions the obvious alternative: the supposed ciphertext is simply random data, and it can't be decrypted simply because it's random and therefore it contains no actual information.
- In the book, the aforementioned ciphertext turns out to be a virus. It was quickly decrypted and subsequently infected all sorts of critical computers. This makes no sense at all. The only way a virus can attack a machine is if the machine executes the file (this may happen with a standalone virus file, or with a virus that's embedded into a larger executable file somehow), but there is absolutely no reason why the supercomputer should attempt to execute every file which it has decrypted! Most of the time you'd only want to read the file. If you did want to execute it, there would surely be another step where somebody has to click "OK", and even then there'd be sandboxing and whatever other protections in place to prevent attacks—if the NSA had a policy of running every file it decrypts (without protection!), anyone in the world could just encrypt a common virus, email it to the NSA, and the NSA would be screwed.note
Angels and Demons
- A bomb made by anti-matter to blow up the Vatican? There hasn't been enough anti-matter produced in the world to boil a cup of coffee. Also, to make a bomb out of anti-matter they would have to have several huge and very, very rich backers. It's been estimated that to produce even one gram of anti-matter would cost $25 billion. Anti-matter is far too expensive to make, and then there's the problem of transporting the stuff to the Vatican without it blowing up along the way. It'd be much easier and cheaper (even for CERN) to just use regular bombs.
- Improper use of the Italian language was noted by Italian readers, along with generally being wrong about things pertaining to Rome. (Italian) Thriller Reviews
- Contrary to what the book claims, anti-matter can't be used as a source of limitless energy due to it taking more energy to create than it produces. CERN
- Although, if it could be produced efficiently and stored safely, it would be the densest energy storage medium of all.
- No, CERN can't blow up the world whenever it wants like in the book. It doesn't have enough anti-matter, for starters. History.com
- Although a major plot device was that two scientists at CERN secretly developed a method for collecting bomb-level amounts of anti-matter, and one was killed to get it. It was stated in the book that they could not achieve such levels until the characters discovered the fictional method.
- A news commentator says that Ventresca was elected pope by "Adoration" when the crowd and cardinals cheered him after they thought he had saved Vatican City from the anti-matter. First, the proper term is "Election by Acclamation". Second, although Election by Acclamation hadn't been used since 1676, it became impossible in 1996 by Papal decree. Wikipedia
- The film version has the Cardinals discussing electing the Camerlengo in this manner, since he wouldn't be eligible otherwise. Again, a requirement of Acclamation was spontaneity. As in, the electors had to proclaim the election without negotiation or consultation. This was based on the belief that the Holy Spirit moved the electors to declare that God had chosen the person.
- Also, unlike the film claims, any Catholic man can be elected as pope, even a layman. (If a layman is elected, he has to be first ordained deacon, then priest, and then consecrated as bishop, after which he can take office.) Wikipedia
- The book maintains that CERN created the Internet, which was created by the USA's Department of Defense's DARPA military technology research organization. CERN created the World Wide Web, which is not the same thing. This is exceptionally odd since Brown got it right in Digital Fortress. Pages 7 & 20–21 of Angels & Demons, Niels Brügger's Web History (2010)
- The book describes Langdon as a professor of Symbology at Harvard. Symbology is not a department at Harvard (or at any university for that matter)—the real-life discipline is called Semiology (as in "semantics", not "half"). Slate
- Later books seem to retcon this one by having him refer to himself as an Art History professor, though "and Symbologist" tends to get tacked on.
- The book claims that the church Santa Maria della Vittoria is located at the Piazza Barberini, while in fact it's a bit to the west in one of the streets leading to it. Wikipedia
- Langdon wonders whether the second altar of science could be located in St. Peter's Square, because it's part of Vatican City rather than Rome and all the altars are supposed to be found within the boundaries of the city of Rome. It's explained to him that St. Peter's Square has been contested territory between the authorities of Rome and those of Vatican City for centuries. A better answer would be that the Vatican is the remnant of a Papal State which for centuries extended across Italy to the Adriatic Sea; the Pope lost control of Lazio (Rome's province) only in 1870, and the present boundaries of the Vatican were fixed by treaty in 1929.
- The novel mentions special "improvised munitions"—weapons that are capable of firing water at sufficient speed to shatter bones or turn sand or ice into bullets. In reality, "Improvised Munitions" in military technical language means something else entirely, and of those possibilities mentioned, only the first one is possible; water bullets are used in bomb disposal since it is incompressible and a poor conductor of electricity. Turning sand into glass bullets, however, would require a power source too big to conveniently carry and ice bullets were shown to be ineffective. Mythbusters.
- Director Pickering addresses Rachel as "Agent Sexton". Intelligence analysts are not law enforcement officers and the NRO does not have clandestine field operatives. Wikipedia
- NASA sets up a huge camp in Ellesmere Island and does all its business unhindered. Not only is Ellesmere Island part of Canada, who would presumably also want to take part in this, they already have a base there: Canadian Forces Station Alert (Wikipedia).
- Not to mention that CFS Alert is a military signals intelligence intercept facility run jointly by the Canadian military's intelligence division and CSEC (the Canadian equivalent of the NSA) Wikipedia so chances are they would have at least noticed a strange radio transmission, like the one made by the murdered geologist.
- Japan's Seven Gods of Good Fortune (Shichi-fukujin) are misidentified as Shichigosan, which is something completely different. Wikipedia 1&Wikipedia 2
The Da Vinci Code
- Right in the fraking title. "The from Vinci Code" should be a red flag to Leonardo da Vinci studiers of the Dan Browning from the very title. SF Gate Article
- It was fixed in some of the translations of the novel, such as Bulgarian, Czech, and Polish, all of which included the name Leonardo in their titles. The Polish translation goes) replaced basically all of the "Da Vincis" found throughout the novel with the much more accurate "Leonardos."
- Brown claims that Rosslyn Chapel has the same layout as the Temple of Solomon. According to real experts: "Rosslyn Chapel bears no more resemblance to Solomon's or Herod's Temple than a house brick does to a paperback book." Rosslyn and the Grail
- No, Leonardo da Vinci was not "flamboyantly homosexual". No law-abiding citizen was 'flamboyantly' anything besides heterosexual due to the laws of the time. Also, the standard of acceptable casualty between genders has fluctuated greatly over the centuries, and the terms "homosexual" and "heterosexual" themselves only date to the last century or so. The terms, and almost certainly their standards, would be alien to Leonardo. Leonardo was accused of sodomy as a young man in 1476. However, he was acquitted. His writings in later life indicate that if anything, he was asexual and was simply uninterested in either sex. The Da Vinci Hoax
- The Knights Templar didn't do anything besides conquer and maintain territory in the Levant. They were also largely illiterate and likely uneducated, thus making it improbable that they passed down any kind of geometry from Egyptians or the like. The Knights Templar: A New History., p.2
- Louvre Pyramid is composed of 673 panes of glass, not 666 panes of glass as in the book. GlassWeb
- If there are any descendants of Jesus, it'd be a sizeable group, not a select few. Slate
- In the description of Madonna Grotto◊ Brown says that John the Baptist is on the right, blessing Jesus on the left and being threatened by Virgin Mary. Aside from the... weird interpretation of this protective gesture, here◊'s another version of Madonna Grotto. A staff with a cross on it is John the Baptist's symbol. Which kid has it?
- Brown claims that counting the number of hands in "The Last Supper" leads to the discovery of a disembodied hand holding a knife. However, this hand clearly belongs to Peter. It being pointed away from Jesus is thought to symbolize Peter's willingness to defend Jesus; indeed, in the Gospels, Peter cuts off somebody's ear during Jesus's arrest (and Jesus puts it right back on).
- What about that monk from Opus Dei? Opus Dei was specifically founded for people who live "in the world"? (In other words, people who aren't members of religious orders.)
- Dan Brown did absolutely no research whatsoever on albinism. Silas has red eyes, shoots people from a far distance, and drives a car at high speeds at night. As outlined here by Dennis Hurley, writer and star of the parody film The Albino Code and an actual person with albinism, human albinos do not have red eyes (that's bunnies◊); their eyes are blue or slate gray but may appear to be red-tinged due to the reflection of blood vessels in the eye, caused by a lack of pigmentation in the iris. Furthermore, most albinos have very poor vision and are often legally blind as the result of abnormal development of the retina and abnormal patterns of nerve connections between the eye and the brain. In fact, vision impairment is the main aspect of the diagnostic criteria for albinism. All in all, definitely not the best candidates for that assassin position. (More information here.)
- Constantine the Great and the First Council of Nicea in AD 367 had nothing to do with making Christianity the official religion in the Roman Empire. Constantine simply legalized it as a religion, and the Council decided on questions like the divinity of Christ. It was Emperor Theodosius, 65 years later, in AD 432 who declared Christianity to be the state religion.note
- Brown is also responsible for a false meme which has spread throughout popular culture: that the Council of Nicaea "set" the Biblical canon, the books which are considered official scripture (according to Brown, thereby suppressing those Gospels that contained the "truth" about Jesus' descendants yadda yadda yadda). In fact, Nicaea had absolutely nothing to say about the canon; on the one hand the four Gospels had been agreed upon as the only legitimate ones as early as 175note and the other 23 books were universally recognized by the mid-3rd century.note on the other hand no Council officially decreed the canon as set until that of Trent in 1546 — after Leonardo's death.
- Brown cites the Gospel of Philip as saying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. The text actually says no such thing; while it does say Mary Magdalene had special insight into Jesus's teachings, she is only referred to as Jesus's 'companion'. Wikipedia
- The idea that papyrus or vellum could easily be destroyed by vinegar. Papyrus is sturdy enough to hold itself together for 2-3 millennia, and vellum can survive for hours sunken in concentrated hydrochloric acid. A few drops of vinegar would just make some stains.
- Teabing and Langdon explain that English is the preferred mode of communication by the Priory of Sion as it is the "Lingua Pura", the pure tongue, the only European language unadulterated by the Papist Latin. While there really is no European language that was not influenced by Latin to some degree, the choice of English is particularly stupid. While it is a Germanic language (as opposed to Latin, which is in the Romance language family), it has borrowed heavily from French (a Latin-derived language) due to the Norman Conquest and later from Latin directly during the Renaissance. There is really no reason for the Priory to communicate in English when there are so many other languages that fit the criteria better like Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, or Greek (all of which Renaissance scholars, but obviously not Brown, were very familiar with, particularly Arabic,note Hebrew,note and most especially Greeknote ). The Real History Behind the Da Vinci Code
- Teabing and Langdon explains the whole idea of upward pointed arrows representing a lance, or penis, while a downward pointing arrow is a chalice, or vulva. Teabing then tries to connect this to military insignia, claiming that "the more penises a soldier has, the higher his rank." A quick glance at American and British Army ranks, to provide two examples out of the whole world, will show that the lower ranks use both symbols, and officer ranks use neither.
- According to the book the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Christian gospel. In reality, they were created by the Essenes sect of Jews and don't contain any gospels. University of Chicago
- Brown describes a nefarious Vatican conspiracy to hide the truth of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the world. This would be quite a feat, since the Dead Sea Scrolls have never been under the control of the Vatican.
- Brown insists that the Priory of Sion, the secret society whose Grand Masters supposedly include Leonardo, Isaac Newton and Victor Hugo, is "...a European society founded in 1099, a real organization". In actual fact, it was founded by a French con man in 1956. Wikipedia
The Lost Symbol
- Langdon states that the word "Abracadabra" means "I create as I say" and is based on the word "Abrahadabra". The translation is more or less correct; however, he reverses the origins. Abrahadabra is from a 20th century new age religion called Thelema, while Abracadabra was used by 2nd century Romans. Wikipedia
- Brown repeats the urban legend regarding the etymology of "sincerely" from Digital Fortress. Storied Words by Jeff Jeske
- While its true that many of the experiments done by Katherine Solomon have been done in real life, they're hardly the conclusive truth as presented in the book. Masaru Emoto did do experiments on how thoughts could change the structure of water crystals, but they've been highly criticized — Emoto did not have controls on his experiment and has not given out his technique for others to attempt to repeat, and he's acknowledged that he just chose the pictures he liked best. The triple blind study conducted to try to replicate the effects failed to get significant results. Wikipedia
- Misquoting Robert Oppenheimer as saying "I have become Vishnu, destroyer of worlds". Actual quote: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Vishnu is the Preserver; if he were to invoke a Hindu god, Śiva the Destroyer would be more appropriate. Wikiquote on this
- The opening quote, "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis", is not found anywhere in Inferno. In fact, it is several centuries more recent than Dante, being said by John F. Kennedy on West Germany Peace Corps (change from "darkest" to "hottest"), and later used by Martin Luther King, Jr. with reference to the Vietnam War. Dante did despise those who tried to remain neutral and claims that the damned would consider themselves superior to the undecided since they at least chose something. To avoid giving the damned even that pleasure, the would-be neutral are not punished in Hell proper but on the shores of the river Acheron, where they're condemned to chase an endlessly elusive banner while being stung by wasps and hornets. In Dante, Hell's worst place, its ninth circle, is not for the neutral but for traitors, and is not the darkest but the lowest and coldest. The darkest place in Dante's hell is the second circle, which is for the lustful. JFK Library
- Claiming "unplanned births" are a problem in the western world in context of overpopulation, even though the average fertility rate in Europe and America is around 1.9 babies per woman: below replenishment rates. In fact, the global average fertility rate has come down from about 5 babies per woman in 1965, to about 2.4 babies per woman in 2015 and it's still dropping. Brown built the entire main plot for Inferno around the "mathematical certainty" of exponential population growth, but the world population is actually mathematically projected to stabilize between 10 and 12 billion people. Gapminder visualization