Review: Dan Brown’s “Origin”

Origin is another Dan Brown novel featuring Robert Langdon. Brown really hit a home run with the creation of this great character. Langdon is everyone’s favorite professor (which gives Brown the opportunity to pontificate), the voice of reason in situations that are usually very unreasonable, and even as he ages (Brown doesn’t tell us how old Langdon is), he’s a bit of a babe magnet. He’s also the kind of physically fit even young guys dream about.

In Origin, Langdon’s former student and friend Edmond Kirsch has announced to the world a new scientific discover that will produce a paradigm shift. But, of course, unexpected events intervene (I can’t tell you without giving an important plot point away), leaving Langdon and the beautiful Ambra Vidal, director of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the fiancé of the Spanish heir to the crown, in a race against time to find Edmond’s secret and release it to the world. Langdon and Vidal are aided by Kirsch’s associate, Winston, whom readers will no doubt love.

The entire release of Kirsch’s spectacular announcement is made on the Internet stage—millions of viewers around the world are watching. As Landon and Vidal urgently seek the password to Kirsch’s specially designed phone in order to release his discovery to the world, they are plagued by a constant stream of information leaks posted on a conspiracy network. The leaks endanger their lives by leading the press, police, and protesters to follow them, but which multiply viewership across multipole platforms.

There are Brown’s trademark switcheroos—bad guys are good guys, and good guys are bad guys, a bit more clumsily handled than usual. There is also a conspiracy that is a little much to swallow, but if you’re reading Dan Brown, you’re probably willing to overlook this.

Brown is often at his best when his characters are arguing for or against religion—or both—and Langdon is occupying the middle ground. This, too, in this novel, were a bit ponderous, slowing the story down, but fascinating in and of themselves.

But what I found most intriguing about this story is Brown’s examination of the way humans now live their lives in public and online, how fake news rivets our attention, how we have become more willing to accept those stories—and the outrage they often provoke—rather than wait for—and weigh–all the facts. Brown also reminds us to ask ourselves where are we going with artificial intelligence, and urges us to bear in mind that computers are amoral. He asks readers to consider the place of religion in developing or instilling a moral compass in humans, how science and religion can coexist and why they should.

My favorite line in the book comes near the end. Ambra Vidal, has had her trust in her fiancé shattered. She doubts she can regain that trust. But Langdon in his clear headed way, urges her to wait until she has talked to him, and has his side of the story. When she is skeptical, Langdon in the gravel of a garden walk, scrapes out between them the Roman numeral equation: I + XI = X. He asks if it’s true or false. She says it’s absolutely false. He asks if there is anyway it could be made true. She says no. He gently tugs her to his side so that she is looking at the equation from the opposite direction: X =  IX + I. “Sometimes, all you have to do is shift your perspective to see someone else’s truth,” he tells her.

Something we all should remember.

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