Burn Baby Burn

There are an estimated 7.118 billion people on this earth. If the population keeps growing at the exponential rate that it has been in the past few years, the world we live in and the quality of life we experience may be forever changed.

The big question is, how are we going to deal with it? This is the moral and ethical issue Dan Brown explores in his newest thriller, Inferno.

As soon as I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s books, and this one is about a work of literature I really like, Dante’s Inferno, and takes place in a city I’ve always dreamed of visiting, Florence. So on a rainy day off from my job at summer camp I went to the only bookstore in town and treated myself.

Inferno is the fourth Dan Brown book that follows the adventures of Professor Robert Langdon. In this book, Langdon’s studies on Dante lead him to Florence, where he gets wrapped up in the plot of a transhumanist scientist named Zobrist who is obsessed with overpopulation and the plague. Zobrist’s plan is to release a virus that will cause sterility in 1/3 of the world’s population.

As the intricate plot unfolded, I expected Langdon to apprehend Zobrist just in the nick of time, as most protagonists do, saving the world from the virus. That was not the case, however, and that’s what I found to be the most compelling part of the book. Compared to his other books, I think this one falls somewhere in the middle in terms of storyline. However, this is the only Dan Brown book that led me to think about a real issue instead of just appreciating a well-written adventure story. The ending of Inferno leaves the reader questioning his or her morals and ethics, and asking the big questions about the very real problem of overpopulation.

Zobrist is obsessed with the idea of recreating the Black Plague, which he believes is the best thing to happen to humans, and that it was a natural population control. He is so extreme that the reader is left thinking that he’s going to release a plague that will kill a majority of the population slowly and painfully. However, I remember when I was reading and found out that the plague instead caused sterility in a portion of the population, and I thought “That’s not so bad after all.” I was immediately shocked by my own thought, but nonetheless, I could see a sliver of humanity in this solution and the logic behind it. And that’s what makes Zobrist a great villain.

Now naturally I don’t think that we need another plague to solve overpopulation. But this book did make me think about an issue that I hadn’t really given much thought to before, and that’s what I think books are supposed to do. And that, more than the historical knowledge or the plot twists, is what I liked about this book.


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2 responses to “Burn Baby Burn

  1. ou’ve written a nice review, it’s good to find a book that makes you think. Dan Brown has a questionable track record with his facts though.

    Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote a book about the problem of overpopulation in 1968. He was so certain that the world would be unable to sustain its population in the near future that he made a public bet on it (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/12/31/258687278/a-bet-five-metals-and-the-future-of-the-planet). He lost that bet nearly 25 years ago when it was settled. Ehlrich was wrong then and I think Dan Brown is wrong now. Humans are inventive and adaptive, we will make it work. There are plenty of important problems to worry about, but this is not one of them. Check out Bill Gates three myths (especially myth 3):


    B. J. Potter

    • I’ve actually read that letter and I thought it was really interesting and encouraging, and obviously more reliable than a fiction book. I think what I got the most out of thinking about overpopulation is that if we literally don’t do anything it could become a problem, but saving lives like what the letter talks about isn’t doing nothing. The biggest thing I’ve learned since reading this book is the difference education (about family planning but also for children in general) can make in curbing population growth, leading to a more sustainable future. I guess the concern is more about quality of life than just sustainability.

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