Dan Brown was born on June 22, 1964 in Exeter, New Hampshire. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Amherst College. After college, he returned to Phillips Exeter to teach English.
Although a writer of commercial fiction, Brown’s interest in the genre arose fairly late in his life. He read his first thriller, Sidney Sheldon’s Doomsday Conspiracy, after he had graduated from college. This thriller, which Brown stumbled upon by accident, inspired him to work in the same genre. Aside from Sheldon, Brown has said he admires Robert Ludlum, for his ability to plot large-scale, international thrillers; John Steinbeck, for his descriptive skills; and Shakespeare, for his wordplay.
Brown grew up in a household in which religious and academic topics were discussed openly—his mother was a professional sacred musician and his father was a math professor. This background provided Brown with the confidence to explore some of the complicated conflicts that arise between religion and science. One of his early novels, for example, Angels and Demons (2000), examines the conflict between science and religion.
Another theme frequently addressed in Brown’s work is the secret society. Brown has said that secret societies hold a special fascination for him, having grown up in New England, where Ivy League universities, Masonic lodges, and seats of governmental power all have their secret rituals and mysterious elements. Two of Brown’s novels, Digital Fortress (1996) and Deception Point (2001), deal with secret governmental organizations.
Yet it was Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code (2003), a book that combines all three of these themes, that catapulted Brown to celebrity. So staggering was its success that it inspired readers to return to Brown’s earlier novels, belatedly putting them on the New York Times bestseller list.
The idea for The Da Vinci Code, a thriller that hinges on a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, first came to Brown while he was studying art history in Spain and learned about hidden symbols in Da Vinci’s paintings. While he was researching Angels and Demons, his first book, which also has Robert Langdon as the main character and which deals with another secret society, the Illuminati, Brown was confronted with Da Vinci once again. He arranged to go to the Louvre, where he saw many of Da Vinci’s paintings and interviewed an art historian. Before writing The Da Vinci Code, Brown spent a year researching Da Vinci and reading widely about cryptography and symbology. He also studied up on, and interviewed members of, Opus Dei, a controversial organization within the Catholic Church.
Brown considers himself a Christian and has said that the issues that preoccupy the characters in The Da Vinci Code matter to him on a personal level. He has repeatedly insisted that The Da Vinci Code was meant to spark further discussion about the mission and place of the Church, not to inspire denunciation of the Church. Furthermore, Brown does not claim that everything the characters discuss is the absolute true. Nonetheless, his novel has been met with a spate of books written by outraged Christians and Catholics, taking Brown to task for his conception of everything from the Holy Grail to Mary Magdalene’s relationship to Jesus to the validity of the noncanonical Gospels. Brown has welcomed these debates, insisting that apathy is the enemy of true faith and discussion is the lifeblood of any religion. Brown has also received many letters of support from people inside the Church who appreciate his work. He says that these supporters include nuns who have thanked him for pointing out how ironic and painful it is that even women who give up their lives to serve the Church are not considered fit to serve behind the altar.
After the enormous success of his novels, Brown gave up teaching and now focuses on his writing full time. His next novels will feature Robert Langdon, the protagonist of Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.