Dan Brown Biography

Home > Notables > B > Brown, Dan > Biography

Birth Name: Dan Brown
Born: 06/22/1964
Birth Place: Exeter, New Hampshire, USA

The eldest of three children, Dan Brown was born on June 22, 1964 in Exeter, NH to parents Richard G. Brown, a mathematics teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, and Connie, a church organist. While his parents' love of music greatly influenced Brown and his younger siblings Valerie and Gregory, his father's fascination with secrets and puzzles also became a keystone of Dan's developing interests. Already a crossword puzzle enthusiast from a young age, Brown and his siblings frequently had their deductive skills put to the test as their father created intricate treasure hunts in which they would ultimately locate their gifts on birthdays and Christmas. Not surprisingly, Brown attended Phillips Exeter (the family's home was located on campus), from which he graduated before attending Amherst College in nearby Massachusetts. As part of his studies, Brown spent the 1985 school year studying art abroad at Spain's University of Seville then returned to Amherst where he earned his degree the following year. Intent on pursuing a career in music, Brown soon set about self-producing an album of children's songs, entitled SynthAnimals. Although the CD sold only a few hundred copies - most out of the back of Brown's car - the aspiring musician was motivated enough to self-publish a follow-up of adult targeted material under his own label in 1990. It, too, sold poorly, but by this time Brown had determined he would need a change of venue.

Accordingly, Brown made the move to Los Angeles in 1991. Needing a source of income while he pursued his music career, the newly arrived songwriter-composer found work teaching classes at Beverly Hills Preparatory School. At about the same time, he also joined the National Academy of Songwriters, where he first met Blythe Newton, the organization's director of artistic development. The pair immediately hit it off and before long, Newton was helping Brown put together a new self-titled album, writing press releases and trumpeting him as a burgeoning major talent. Eventually Newton officially announced herself as Brown's manager and shortly thereafter, acknowledged that she and Brown - 12 years her junior - had become romantically involved. Despite Newton's guidance and connections, it appeared that things were not going as hoped on the West Coast, so in 1993, Brown convinced her to leave her post and return with him to Exeter. Despite taking a teaching job at his alma mater, Brown continued his musical pursuits, releasing the 1994 album Angels & Demons, the cover of which featured a ambigram (a word or words that can be read from more than one perspective) by famed typographer John Langdon. By this time, however, writing also became an area of professional experimentation for Brown, who in 1995 co-wrote with Newton the comical advice book 187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman under the pseudonym Danielle Brown. Both projects would herald specific aspects of things to come in Brown's future endeavors. Brown married Newton in 1997 and the following year he published his first novel, Digital Fortress, a thriller involving government surveillance, Internet technology and civil liberties.

It had been after reading a Robert Ludlum thriller while on vacation years earlier that Brown had been struck by the idea that he could fashion something similar. An appearance on the campus of Phillips Exeter by the U.S. Secret Service who were investigating a suspicious email sent by a student subsequently inspired Brown to write the book he had been pondering. Published by St. Martin's Press, Digital Fortress sold only moderately well, but did attract the attention of an editor at Simon & Shuster, who signed the author for two more titles under the company's Pocket Books imprint. Published in 2000, the second novel was Angels & Demons and featured the same John Langdon ambigram on the cover as had Brown's earlier music album. The typographer's name also inspired the name of the thriller's protagonist, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who is brought in to foil a plot by the Illuminati to destroy the Vatican. Although Angels & Demons was not a runaway bestseller, it established the literary elements Brown would employ with massive success in his later works - secret societies, intricate puzzles, ancient history, religious sects, art and a 24-hour time frame in which the mystery is solved. Another recurring theme - one that actually began with Digital Fortress - was the inclusion of a strong female heroine, an element likely inspired by his own personal muse, Blythe.

Brown followed with another middling performer in 2001 - Deception Point, a techno-thriller about a meteorite that could potentially prove the existence of extraterrestrial life and a government conspiracy to cover it up. It was, however, Brown's 2003 offering The Da Vinci Code that changed everything for the writer, suddenly catapulting him into the upper echelon as one of the most successful authors in publishing history. The return of Robert Langdon, The Da Vinci Code was a murder-mystery wrapped around a bigger puzzle involving secret sects battling for the soul of the Catholic Church and an age-old conspiracy connected to the legendary artist of the book's title. Rife with hidden messages, alternative histories and shocking revelations, it was also the subject of criticism over its myriad factual inaccuracies and a number of lawsuits alleging Brown had stolen material covered in previously published books. Such controversy only served to fuel the firestorm of publicity surrounding the book, which became the subject of innumerable articles, book clubs and talks show segments. By 2004, sales of Brown's breakout novel were exceeded only by those of the latest Harry Potter installment and before the end of the decade The Da Vinci Code had sold over 80 million copies - much to the consternation of the many literary critics who decried Brown as one of the worst popular writers of the decade.

Tailor-made as it was for the screen, it was inevitable that Brown's mega-seller would be adapted into a feature film. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as the intrepid symbology professor, "The Da Vinci Code" (2006) opened to mixed-to-negative reviews, but like its literary progenitor, seemed impervious to criticism, ultimately ranking as the fifth highest-grossing film of the year. After a five-year absence - during which time speculation of writer's block ran rampant - Brown returned to the bestseller list with The Lost Symbol in 2009. Set in Washington, D.C., it featured Langdon racing against the clock to unlock the ancient secrets of the Freemasons and to save an old friend. As the book broke all previous adult market sales records upon its release, Langdon returned to movie screens in "Angels & Demons" (2009), once more featuring Hanks in the lead and Howard behind the camera. Only slightly better received by critics than its predecessor, "Angels & Demons" still managed to place within the Top 10 of the highest-grossing films of 2009. Once again retreating into a strict work regimen over the course of several years - always alongside Blythe, who reportedly played a key role in the research, development and editing of his novels - the reclusive Brown eventually delivered Inferno in the spring of 2013. Another Langdon thriller thematically connected to the iconic Dante text, it was the latest in the dozen or so adventures Brown claimed to have in mind for the Harvard symbologist.

By Bryce P. Coleman