Amherst College will be hosting two of its best-known alumni authors on Thursday, in two separately scheduled lectures that happen to be occurring within a few hours of each other.
First up will be Charles C. Mann, ’76, who will deliver Amherst College’s annual Hugh Hawkins lecture, titled “1493: Entwining Ecology and History” at 4:30 p.m. in Paino Lecture Hall of the Beneski Building.
That lecture will be followed by “An Evening of Codes, Symbols and Secrets” with bestselling novelist Dan Brown ’86 at 7:30 p.m. in Johnson Chapel. Both talks are free and open to the public. Mann’s speech is sponsored by the History Department, while Brown’s is sponsored by the Office of the President. (Both authors have also been featured in the Amherst Reads online book club. Click here for a conversation with Brown and Rick Griffiths, professor of classics and women’s and gender studies; click here for a conversation with Mann and Jan Dizard, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor in American Culture.)
A 1986 graduate of Amherst, and an alumnus and former English teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, Brown is the author, most recently, of Inferno, his sixth novel and the fourth to feature protagonist Robert Langdon. In the new book, the Harvard symbologist is drawn into a mystery surrounding the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem The Divine Comedy. Like the first three Langdon thrillers—Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol—Inferno explores the interplay between religion, art, history, science and cryptography. Brown attributes his fascination with some of these subjects to growing up as the son of a mathematics teacher and a church organist.
Several of Brown’s works—most notably The Da Vinci Code—have reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. His novels have been published in 52 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons have been adapted into major motion pictures starring Tom Hanks as Langdon; a film version of Inferno is planned for release in December 2015.
Brown’s phenomenal success led Time to name him one of its “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2005. “He has been credited with nothing less than keeping the publishing industry afloat,” wrote Michele Orecklin. “Brown has been held responsible for renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci, Gnostic texts and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris, Rome and a 15th-century church outside Edinburgh, Scotland; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; [and] a flood of historical thrillers…. It’s perhaps worth noting that one of the very few books to sell more copies than The Da Vinci Code in the past two years is the Bible.”
A 1976 graduate of Amherst College and an Amherst resident, Mann’s most recent books are 1493, a New York Times best-seller in 2011, and 1491, which won the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Keck award for the best book of 2005. Both have been translated into 12 languages.
A correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, Science, and Wired, Mann has covered the intersection of science, technology, and commerce for many newspapers and magazines here and abroad, including BioScience, The Boston Globe, Fortune, Geo (Germany), National Geographic, The New York Times (magazine, op-ed, book review), Panorama (Italy), Paris-Match (France), Quark (Japan), Smithsonian, Der Stern (Germany), Technology Review, Vanity Fair and The Washington Post (magazine, op-ed, book review). In addition to 1491, he has co-written four other books: The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1986; rev. ed., 1995); The Aspirin Wars: Money, Medicine, and 100 Years of Rampant Competition (1991), Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species (1995), and @ Large: The Strange Case of the Internet’s Biggest Invasion (1998).
A four-time National Magazine Award finalist, he has received writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Margaret Sanger Foundation and the Lannan Foundation (a 2006 Literary Fellowship). His three-part graphic novel, Cimarronin, based in part on 1493, will appear late this year. It is co-written by Mann, science-fiction novelists Neal Stephenson and Mark Teppo, and Ellis Amdur, a master of classical East Asian martial traditions.
The annual Hawkins Lecture, sponsored by the History Department honors Hugh Hawkins, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Amherst. A distinguished scholar of American higher education, of the American South and of cultural and intellectual history, Hawkins retired in 2000 after teaching for more than 40 years at Amherst, where he helped build both the history and the American studies departments.