The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code front cover

It’s been a few (well…maybe six) months since I read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and even longer since it was published in 2003, but it still seems to be popular train reading and I am sure it experienced another surge in sales over Christmas. Every Australian needs a book to read at the beach this summer – preferably one where the author’s name is larger than the title.

I received “the Code” as a gift last Christmas and it sat on my bookshelf for six months before I set aside my intellectual snobbery and deigned to read the first page.

Once I got started, I found that it was a quick and enjoyable read, powering through it in two nights, and only managed to successfully predict about half of the plot twists and puzzles. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for some light fiction that they don’t want to take too seriously (as opposed to all the light fiction that people analyse thoroughly?).

My one real concern with this book is how the author has presented his work as fiction set in the real world. Where places are reproduced faithfully and historical background is all true. When my brain is in a state of suspended disbelief, how much of this dubious “historical fact” is polluting my store of general knowledge? Am I going to be caught spouting some interesting, but completely untrue, titbit to a real historian at a party? Are people going to subject me to half-remembered factoids about Da Vinci coming, ultimately, from the highly speculative book that Brown culled his Da Vinci background from?

As background colour, Brown’s characters travel through “the heavily forested park known as the Bois de Boulogne…a purgatory for freaks and fetishists”. Sounds kind of interesting…I wonder if it is true. Five minutes with Google suggests that Brown is not so much guilty of untruth, but rather of massive exaggeration.

The second of Brown’s factoids I decided to follow up were the claim that Da Vinci invented public key cryptography.

“Da Vinci had been a cryptography pioneer, Sophie know, although he was seldom given credit. Sophie’s university instructors, while presenting computer encryption methods for securing data, praised modern cryptologists like Zimmerman and Schneier but failed to mention that it was Leonardo who had invented one of the first rudimentary forms of public key encryption centuries ago. Sophie’s grandfather, of course, had been the one to tell her all about that.”

My bullshit detector was going off wildly when I read this, and there is no way I can see for this one to be true. Others have assumed that Brown is referring to a “a tube with lettered dials” that is used later in the story, where the correct code must be entered or opening the tube will destroy the message inside. This has nothing to do with public keys.

Others have dissected the facts in The Da Vinci Code more thoroughly and certainly more convincingly than I have. Treat it as the light holiday reading it is, and try to ignore the author’s aspirations to be seen as someone who writes “serious” novels (garnished with gunfights and explosions).

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

One Response to “The Da Vinci Code”

  1. Scott Says:

    Do you know where I could buy a tube with letterd dials? I’d really like one