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The Da Vinci Code: A novel

Why it is such a incredible financial success

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Dan Brown, "The Da Vinci Code," Doubleday, (2003)

Read reviews or order this book in hardcover safely from Amazon.com online book store. It is also available in paperback and many other formats.

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It is the best-selling novel of all time. By early 2006-APR, the hardcover edition of the Da Vinci Code had been on the New York Times top ten list of hardcover fiction for three years! On 2006-APR-10, it was #3 among the top hardcover fiction books, and #1 among the top paperback fiction books. 1 Over 40 million hardcover copies had been sold in at least 44 different languages since its release in 2003-APR. It has spawned a series of books by other authors who attempt to separate fact from fiction in The Da Vinci Code. On MAR-28, it became available in paperback format, and sold over a half million copies in its first week. It is also available in large print hardcover, abridged and unabridged audio CD, abridged and unabridged audio cassette, digital download, and audio download. Over 3,000 individuals have posted personal reviews of the book on Amazon's web site.

Why has this particular book been so successful?

bullet A prime reason is that the book is a superb thriller-mystery. Some New York Times best-selling authors commented:
bullet Nelson DeMille: "Dan Brown has to be one of the best, smartest, and most accomplished writers in the country. The Da Vinci Code is many notches above the intelligent thriller; this is pure genius."
bullet Clive Cussler: "Intrigue and menace mingle in one of the finest mysteries I’ve ever read. An amazing tale with enigma piled on secrets stacked on riddles."
bullet Vince Flynn: "The Da Vinci Code sets the hook-of-all-hooks, and takes off down a road that is as eye-opening as it is page-turning.  You simply cannot put this book down.  Thriller readers everywhere will soon realize Dan Brown is a master."
bullet Robert Crais: "I would never have believed that this is my kind of thriller, but I'm going to tell you something--the more I read, the more I had to read. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown has built a world that is rich in fascinating detail, and I could not get enough of it. Mr. Brown, I am your fan." 2
bullet Reporters at the Chicago Tribute comment on the pace of the book, as measured by their CPP count ("Cliffhangers Per Page"). It "...is off the charts, as the book barrels along at a breakneck pace. Each chapter ends with events very much up in the air. Clever escapes, midnight flights, desperate chases down dark corridors proliferate." Donna Seaman, associate editor of Booklist, said: "It just has amazing momentum... We love a good story." 3
bullet Another reason may be that the author has mixed in with the mystery thriller aspects of the novel portrayal of what he describes as sinister religious groups: the Priory of Sion, and Opus Dei. The reader's fascination with conspiracies and secrets is fed with Brown's description of Temple Church, Rosslyn Cathedral, Saunière, Rennes-le-Château, codes hidden in the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and other works by Leonardo da Vinci, etc.
bullet Still another reason may be related to the public's fascination in religious matters:
bullet Professor Eric Plumer at the Catholic University of Scranton, PA has been delivering lectures about the book. He said:
"The turnouts have been mainly standing room only. Some want to know how to refute the book; some want their belief in it strengthened.... Even if people can't wholly accept what Dan Brown has to say, they feel he has touched on something they want to discuss."
bullet Lynn Garrett, religion editor at Publishers Weekly, said:
"Americans love a conspiracy theory. It also tapped into people's disillusionment with the Catholic Church following the sexual abuse scandals."
bullet Nuala O'Faolain, the Irish memoirist and novelist, says that the novel's popularity grows organically from "the scandals" within the Roman Catholic Church. She said:
"The reading public has always loved stories that chip away at establishments."
bullet Timothy Beal, professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, referred to the the origins of the story in Jesus and Mary Magdalene's relationship:
"One reason it works so well on readers is that he tends to begin with a kernel of something historical and then quickly spins off into fiction - or you could say falsehood, since he represents it as something researched." 4

We have a hunch that some of the public's fascination with The Da Vinci Code may be motivated by a disillusionment with organized religion and a desire to return to the beliefs and practices of the primitive Christian movement. Some would like to cut through stifling layers of dogma, ritual, rules restricting the roles of women, suppression of the human rights of gays and lesbians, oppression of people's sexual expression, etc.  and reach the simple message of Jesus. Any new information source that attempts to demonstrate that modern-day Christianity is based on a questionable foundation is liable to be welcomed by a growing segment of the population. This includes:
bullet Analyses casting doubt on the accuracy of the Bible, such as in Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus"
bullet Speculation about the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the German Nazi movement, as in John Cornwell's "Hitler's Pope"
bullet Suggestions that the "original Jesus" was a Pagan God as in Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy's "The Jesus Mysteries"
bullet Studies of the extreme diversity of the early Christian church before religious minorities were exterminated, as in Bart Ehrman's "Lost Christianities"

This religious unease is aggravated by:

bullet Increasing rejection of the existence of miracles,
bullet Accumulating evidence of the ineffectiveness of prayer,
bullet Abundant evidence from around the world (Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, India, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Macedonia, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, etc.) that religion can motivate people to committing violence, mass murder and genocide.
bullet New theories about the nature of God.
bullet The decrease by about 0.8% percentage points per year in Christian affiliation by North American adults, and an increase in the numbers of adults who are not affiliated with any religious group.

With all of these religious trends in North America, one can expect considerable interest in books like the Da Vinci Code which suggest that Christianity may have deeply buried secrets in its past that affect is current credibility.

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References used:

  1. "Best Sellers," The New York Times, 2006-APR-10, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  2.  "The Da Vinci Code," book review, Reading Group Guides, at: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/
  3. By Julia Keller and Patrick T. Reardon, "Why the world loves 'The Da Vinci Code'," Chicago Tribune, 2006-MAR-27, at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/
  4. Jane Lampman, "Christians ready to refute 'Da Vinci Code' movie," Christian Science Journal, 2005-MAR-22, at: http://www.csmonitor.com/

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-APR-10
Latest update: 2006-APR-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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