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86 of 101 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2000
Harvard professor Robert Langdon and CERN scientist Vittoria Vetra have just one night to prevent the Vatican from being destroyed by an antimatter bomb. Can they do it? Of course. But the fun lies in how and why.
A sample of antimatter has been stolen from physics center CERN by the Illuminati -- the all-powerful group made so famous by Robert A. Wilson's books. Here, they are represented as being an ancient order of scientists upset with the way the Church has treated science and scientists. (Me, I always liked the bankers-as-secret-force or blood-relatives-of-Jesus explanation of the Illuminati, but this will do.) This provides for plenty of science vs. religion conversations, and Brown does a good job with them.
ANGELS AND DEMONS is a fast, but satisfying read. It rolls along unstoppably, not the least of which because the action takes place over a 24-hour span. Even if -- as I did -- you guess what's really happening half-way through the book, you'll never guess what happens in the last 40 pages.
The book is laced with fun facts about electing a pope and the Vatican, like that St. Peter's bones are not in the golden casket in St. Peter's Basilica, but two stories under it. Brown knows the layout. And that the artist Raphael's last name was Santi. He also knows how marble statues were carved. Brown's no Irving Stone (THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY), but he does manage to inform without being pedantic.
As Vittoria and Langdon race around Rome, we get quite a tour, with great descriptions. (Pick up a paperback copy next summer and bring it to Rome. Take the Brown tour.) What's interesting is that all the places and pieces of art in this book really exist. So Brown has played a version of the Sherlockians' Great Game by linking them all with his "history" of the Illuminati and their doings. No small feat.
Several of the plot elements have to be taken with a grain of salt. First, there is the fact that everyone in this book is absolutely amazed by amibgrams (these are words which can be ready the same upside-down as right-side up -- the book's dust jacket has the title in ambigram). They play an important role in the story, and everyone who encounters them is practically struck dumb the fact that even exist. They "seem utterly impossible." I guess no one else in the story (including symbol expert Langdon) remembers that OMNI magazine ran an ambigram contest in the 1980s and published dozens of the thousands of entries they received, I imagine that by now there must be a software program or web site that can make them for you (and make an acrostic that spells out your girlfriend's name). In short: they aren't that amazing. Then there are things like the fact that Vittoria (a physicist) isn't familiar with the classical four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Come on.
Great literature? No, but you sure keep turning the pages to see what happens next.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
I read "Angels & Demons" after reading Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," and I have to say that I do not think it matters what order you read the two books although there are clear indications this book was written first (Brown does several examples of blatant foreshadowing, including early on the idea that one square yard of drag will slow a falling body's rate of descent by twenty percent). The two books are similar in that Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon deciphers clues to try and solve one murder while trying to prevent others in a mystery that involves the secrets of the Catholic Church. In this book a physicist is murdered at CERN, the Swiss research facility, and branded will a symbol representing the Illuminati, the centuries old underground organization of scientists who have a vendetta against the Catholic Church. The ancient secret brotherhood has acquired a devastating new weapon of mass destruction and intends to bring down the Vatican (literally).
Which book is better? My initial reaction would be that I liked "The Da Vinci Code" a bit more because so many of the clues were written out. When Langdon has to look over paintings, statues and other visual clues I find myself wishing Brown had supplied photographs in his book so that I could play along looking for clues (he does provide most of the requisite images at his website, but I did not know this until after the fact and I suspect most readers will not want to stop and go online to call up the photographs). Not that I had much success in my endeavors, but I did know that Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his journals backwards so that I was ahead of Langdon for a half a page at one point. "Angles & Demons" is played out on a larger and more public stage than "The Da Vinci Code," and when you get to the conclusion of this novel you might find it a bit much, but that is one of the reasons they call it fiction.
The biggest question in the debate over these books seems to be whether Brown is attacking the Catholic Church in his novels, which strikes me a bit odd after reading "Angels & Demons" since the Vatican is the target this time around. This novel is more about the long struggle between science and religion than anything else, and the position Brown takes seems to be that the two are ultimately compatible. I did my dissertation on the Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925 and in the spectacle of Clarence Darrow cross-examining William Jennings Bryan that is codified by the fictional "Inherit the Wind," history has forgotten that the original position of the Scopes defense was that there Genesis and evolution were compatible. Consequently, I have a lot of sympathy for Brown's position and I think a careful reading of the text offers as strong a critique of science as it does of religion. Certainly that ideal is represented by the man who is murdered to start off the story and whatever faults in the history and theology of the Catholic Church might be discussed, there are just too many men of devout faith in the narrative to support the idea Brown is out to get the Church.
Nor do I have any real concerns with the extent to which Brown is playing with historical "facts." The whole idea here is to create a sense that the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I do not think for a second that these novels are true; all I need is to believe that they are plausible, so telling me that some statue's finger is pointed in the wrong direction if you go to Rome and see it for yourself is not going to matter to me because I understand how far the rules of the game apply to the real world. Even so, I think that Brown's factual foundation is more substantial than we will usually find under such circumstances, which would end up being a plus rather than a minus. Besides, I like all of the flashbacks to Langdon's discussions with his students (more classroom scenes in the future, please).
Solving the puzzles is the key enjoyment of these novels and that part of the creative process makes up for Brown's tendency to overplay his red herrings and to hide his true villains in plain sight. Ultimately the game matters more than the characters or the plot. As soon as you know that there will be four more murders you realize that at least three of them have to happen because the game has to be played out to the end, so it is not until the frantic end game that your attention really perks up and it is at that point that Brown starts unloading a whole lot of really big surprises on his characters and his readers. In the final analysis the point here is neither history nor theology, but to tell an exciting adventure yarn where the hero gets by mainly on his intelligence rather than good looks and/or weaponry. This is a hero I can actually identify with for once and that is fine with me too.
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318 of 390 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2003
Next to Britt Gillette's "Conquest of Paradise", this is the best book I've read in a long time. I'm a first time Dan Brown reader but I'm hooked! I stayed up all night and didn't quit until I finished, blurry eyed and sleepy. I found myself believing every word and had to stop and remember that it's just fiction! I was amazed at the inside information about the Vatican (especially the library), and I finally got out a map and books from my trip to Rome to see if I could find all the churches. Anti-matter, illuminati, choosing a pope - all of it was fascinating. When I finished, I had to laugh thinking about the fact they never ate, slept or made comfort stops and neither could I. The ending was a total surprise! Anyone who enjoys non-stop action and information shouldn't miss this one.
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121 of 147 people found the following review helpful
My first introduction to Dan Brown was through his incredible thriller, 'The Da Vinci Code' and figured that I had missed out on his previous works, so I picked up 'Angels & Demons' the day after I finished TDVC. This is in every way it's equal. Every bit as compelling. Every bit as entertaining. Every bit as FUN. If you enjoy solving puzzles -- especially REAL ones, than Dan Brown is an author you NEED to get to know and F-A-S-T.
One of the things which made this book so instantly enjoyable was one of the main characters I already knew, Robert Langdon, world famous Symbologist from 'The Da Vinci Code'. Set aside some time to completely absorb this amazing tale, because once you start it, you will instantly be captured up in this highly addictive story. Robert is suddenly awakened early in the morning by the Director of the worlds leading science center, CERN located in Switzerland asking for advice. Robert is less than interested and hangs up when his fax machine spits out a picture which makes his blood run cold. Within a few hours, he is on a quick trip to Europe (heavy emphasis on the word 'Quick'). A murder has been committed. The victim, one of the most gifted scientist in the world has been brutally killed and the mysterious brand of the secret brotherhood of the Illuminati is left on his chest. NOT just ANY brand either, an Ambigram, a word which can be read the same right-side-up as well as upside-down. But Robert is convinced that the Illuminati have been disbanded for the better part of a century. Even so, his curiosity leads him on a quest which will take up the rest of the day and open up secrets long forgotten and better left buried.
Somehow Dan Brown has introduced the element of Antimatter into the story in such a way as to be totally believable. The substance in actuality has been manufactured in microscopic quantities. It's a power source if harnessed could benefit mankind in untold ways -- however with most things the opposite is also true. In this case Antimatter can also be a weapon of catastrophic proportions. Just a tiny half-a-gram of Antimatter if it came in contact with literally ANYTHING, even air, would create an annhialation equal to a 5 kiloton nuclear explosion. When some of this material is stolen from a lab in Geneva and turns up hidden somewhere inside the walls of the Vatican, the chase is on to find it before it decimates the headquaters of the worlds largest Christian Religion. Oh, and to throw a little curve ball to the plot, the Pope has recently died and the worlds senior Cardinals have gathered for Conclave, to decide who will be elected Pontiff. Along the way, we find out the Illuminati's ultimate goal of destroying the Catholic Church, and suddenly it all seems possible -- frighteningly possible. When 4 of the Senior Cardinals are kidnapped and threatened to be murdered one-by-one until the Antimatter goes critical, the stakes suddenly are as serious as the Church has ever faced.
Let me tell you this: NOTHING is as it seems, and NOBDY is safe from suspicion. I was absolutely convinced that one character was involved in the conspiracy and BOY was I WRONG. The surprises are fast and many, and the trip was one well worth taking. Catholics take note: You MAY be a little unsettled at how the Church is portrayed in 'Angels & Demons' but ultimately I believe the basic idea the author conveys is one of hope, and the Church provides that in many ways. I will be recommending this book (as well as 'The Da Vinci Code') to ALL my friends. HIGHLY recommended, and absolutely INCREDIBLY fun.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2004
Given that there are over 1,000 reviews, this one will likely get lost in the shuffle. However, while never having written a review before, I feel like I have to speak out on _Angels & Demons_.

The good: a real page turner. The novel is like a drawn out Schwarzenegger action film with a lot of over-the-top science and twists. It is certainly a fun ride, as long as you leave your brain disengaged.

The bad: I worked at CERN for 6.5 years. My daughter was born as the Hopital de La Tour about 3/4 mile from the main campus. I know the area well. Dan Brown has apparently never been to CERN, even though it plays a very important role in the novel. There were so many impossibilities involving just *travelling* to CERN in the first several chapters that my wife and I were howling with laughter. (e.g. Driving 170 kph to get from Geneva's airport to CERN is a near impossibility, given that it is mainly urban streets with a LOT of traffic! I bought my second car at a dealership right next to the airport ... providing an idea of how urban this area truly is. Plus CERN is only 10 minutes from the airport anyhow, driving at normal speeds.) The CERN that is portrayed in the novel is far more exotic and enticing (and full of money) than reality. Frankly, the real CERN with its budget problems, old industrial buildings, and eccentric scientists is much more interesting.

It really struck me as if Mr. Brown got all his CERN "facts" from a web site, and did very little in the way of checking these (such as making a simple trip to visit or at least talking to some high-energy physics professors, grad. students, or post-docs to sanity-check his portrayal of the very famous research facility).

Given such big slip-ups on CERN, I can only wonder on the other "facts" that are presented in the novel (and are displayed prominently on Dan Brown's web site). Mr. Brown seems to have taken basic, isolated "facts" and then presented them as far far more than they truly are. Most worrisome is how many readers seem to believe in Mr. Brown's extrapolations, and Mr. Brown's own discussions of the implications of these "facts" in interviews.

In the end: definitely a very fun book to read, even with the questionable research. Note that this sort of novel (big historical conspiracies) has been done much better by Umberto Eco in _Foucalt's Pendulum_, which has much more philisophical discussion (ala P.K.Dick!) on the nature of history and reality.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2005
Let me first say: Angels & Demons is an entertaining book. The story will keep the average reader engaged--and that's the reason for its immense popularity.

However, it's just not that well written. I read the DaVinci Code before Angels & Demons (admittedly) and remembered thinking at the time that it was a "beach read for the 'intellectual' set." Angels & Demons is no exception--it's a page-turner, although the material is nothing new, and is decidedly "light".

A few thoughts:

1. The actual prose is awkward and choppy. Phrases like "a fond love for" shouldn't show up in a published work of such caliber. Dialogue is lazy, and feels like it was written for a screenplay (hmm.... then again, perhaps it was).

2. Deus Ex Machina--God in the Machine. Yes, this book has religion. Yes, it talks about God. However, plot devices and plot logic should not rely on acts of God. There are jumps in logic here that would rival the Grand Canyon. Entertaining, yes. Conceivable, logical and possible? Not always.

3. Ah, the female character--Vittoria Vetra. You know, I hope that when my father figure dies (sorry, it's revealed in the first pages of the book anyway) I'll feel like hopping in bed with a man and flirting as normal after 24 hours (and a few obligatory moments of pained reflection). Of course in any semi-clichéd detective story the guy always has to get the girl, doesn't he?

4. Predictability. Perhaps a reason that this book is so popular is that it always keeps you one (or two, three, or four) steps ahead of the protagonist. Knowing what's going to happen before the author reveals it has a tendency to give one a feeling of smug self-satisfaction. That is, unless the book never ceases to let you know what is going to happen FAR before the protagonists figure it out. I got tired of always knowing what was coming next.

5. Forgettable. A smattering of theories and an average thriller-like plot line does not a good book make. I LIKED this book in a guilty sort of way, I really did. However, it's just not that good. Another reviewer mentioned that it felt like a recycled version of the DaVinci Code--and it does (right down to the unlikely "bad guy", the fanatical assassin, the paltry feminine sidekicks, and the glorification of the main character).
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2005
The first sentence tells you much of what you need to know about Brown's writing: "High atop the steps of the Pyramid of Giza". What's the problem? There is no pyramid that is referred to as "the Pyramid of Giza". There are three large pyramids at Giza (6 total). There are also no steps on the Giza pyramids, although I could forgive Brown for his poor word choice in that respect if he were not consistently guilty of poor word choice throughout the book.

People who are poorly educated enjoy Brown's writing because he introduces them to concepts and places with which they are unfamiliar. They do not know that his descriptions of these concepts and places are often inaccurate. They're not aware that Brown, despite allegedly having been an English teacher, is not always comfortable with the English language. On the other hand, if you're a college grad with rudimentary English skills and some familiarity with basic historical themes and scientific concepts, you might find Brown's writing somewhat annoying.

Fifty years ago we had popular writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote exciting escapist potboilers. Brown appeals to many of the same readers with the distinction that Burroughs was a far better writer than Brown.

I do give Brown two stars rather than one because he does have some story telling ability.
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47 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2005
To my chagrin, I bought this book in CD format...OUCH! That'll teach me to try a new author in anything but paperback. I made a valiant attempt to suspend belief as Our Hero, who has more lives than the proverbial cat, races around Rome narrowly excaping from all manner of deadly situations...all in less than 24 hours. The poor man apparently had no opportunity to eat, drink, or use the toilet. And just how many guns does he lose before the bitter end? The rope suspending belief, never robust, dwindled to a thread and finally broke after the helicopter scene on Disk 13. Judging from the Amazon.com reviews, this scene seems to have finished off a number of people, but, miraculously, not Our Hero. After taking a few days to locate and soothe my bruised and battered belief, I will find a stronger suspension material (maybe one of the steel cables holding up the Golden Gate Bridge) and see if I can make it through the last 2 CDs. Upon successful completion thereof, my book CD will be zipping on its way to a friend who likes "Angels and Demons" and I will be avoiding Dan Brown's work like the plague.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2005
I'll concede this to Dan Brown and his fans: Angels and Demons is a page-turner, but the writer's heavy-handed foreshadowing quickly becomes irritating. In addition, the book is sloppy. Mr. Brown's Italian is atrocious. I believe that he also handles the "truth" he mixes into his fiction with the same lack of precision. There are errors in about half of the Italian phrases he throws in for, I presume, authenticity. Is Mr. Brown too arrogant to ask an Italian to proof-read it? Or is he in a rush to publish and get the money rolling in.

But linguistic inaccuracy and clumsy page-turner techniques are minor irritations. The book is simply badly written. The characters are two-dimensional. They do not live on in the mind like the characters of great novels. The reader is supposed to accept at one point that the cameralengo is a truly godly man with great spiritual insight. He disposes with the problem of omnipotence and benevolence-the most puzzling question at the heart of most religions-quite simply and, we are to believe, brilliantly. He compares God to a loving father who lets his child skateboard even though he might fall and skin his knees. God allows us pain so that we will learn. And this is the great spiritual maturity that makes this priest the closest man to the Pope? What is the child who is raped at the age of 2 supposed to "learn" from God by this experience? What are starving people to "learn" before they die of starvation? Do all the poor, starving, sick people all over the world need to learn more than we do...more than a wildly successful novelist needs to learn from God?

OK, I know it isn't a theological work, it's a mystery novel. But Mr. Brown shouldn't address the big themes if he can only do so in such a pathetic way. It's an insult to the reader.

What a contrast between this book and the last one that I read: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Delightful and deceptively simple, I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel that Precious Ramotswe is a living, breathing, big, beautiful African woman. Reading that book was like eating a fine meal...very satisfying. Reading Angels and Demons was more like consuming an entire can of Cheese Whiz.
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141 of 181 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2003
I don't mind suspending disbelief if a story is well written and ANGELS AND DEMONS fit nicely in that category. What makes Dan Browns's books spectacular (in my humble opinion) is the attention to detail and the research that he incorporates into his stories. I was fascinated by Brown's telling of the secrets of the Vatican and the Illuminati and the parts played by Galileo and Bernini.
Also recommended: IN HIS IMAGE (The Christ Clone Trilogy, Book 1) by James BeauSeigneur
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