Books

bibliophiles

Picking books with an eye toward the future

Markus Schreiber/AP FILE

Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, as readers of the mega-bestseller “The Da Vinci Code” know, solves mysteries by finding clues in ancient texts and religious paintings. He’s probably the only sleuth in American thrillers who has a PhD in symbology. Now Brown, who lives in New Hampshire, ups the ante in the newest book in the series, “Origin,” which is out Tuesday. In it Langdon must make sense of modern art if he’s going to save the future. Brown will discuss his book Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Portsmouth Music Hall. General admission, which includes a book, is $42.

BOOKS: What have you been reading?

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BROWN: Having just come through a rather lengthy editing process, not a lot. But I am really enjoying Max Tegmark’s “Life 3.0.” I’m just fascinated by artificial intelligence, which I researched for my book. This book, which is nonfiction, captivated me because the opening 30 pages is an account of a super computer. Then you realize it’s hypothetical. It’s a wonderful little trick.

BOOKS: Did you read anything else on A.I. that you’d recommend?

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BROWN: Ray Kurzweil’s “How to Create a Mind.” The premise is that the human mind is not that complicated; it just has a lot of connections. If we get to a point where we can build a computer with essentially as many brain synapses maybe we can start to imitate the functions of a human mind.

BOOKS: What other subjects do you like to read about?

BROWN: Philosophy and religion. It amazes me that we live in 2017 and have congressmen who will state that the earth is 6,000 years old. I just read Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain,” which is about why we believe what we believe. I love that. We believe some crazy stuff. As religion and religious extremism has more of an effect on our lives, it becomes more important to look at religious thinking as a psychological phenomenon.

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BOOKS: When you read about philosophy, newer or older works?

BROWN: Newer. For example, Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation.” It’s a terrific little book that should be read over and over. I consider [scientist] Richard Dawkins’s work philosophy. I would consider Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” philosophy. That inspired me to write Langdon, a character who understands the dangers of reading myth as fact. To write “Origin” I finally read Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” which is not an easy read.

BOOKS: What else did you read for research for “Origin” that you liked?

BROWN: Some fun books on modern art: Will Gompertz’s “What Are You Looking At?” and Susie Hodge’s “Why Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That.” I read a lot about Franco. I knew Franco was bad, but I didn’t realize how awful he was. The thing that chilled me the most is that he rose to power on a wave of nationalism that felt eerily relevant.

BOOKS: Are you much of a fiction reader?

BROWN: I write fiction, but I read almost no fiction. When someone asks, “Have you read any good fiction?” it’s like John Steinbeck jumps to mind. I often read the opening 50 pages of whatever is hot, such as the opening of Paula Hawkin’s “The Girl on the Train.” One novel I’m dying to read is Omar El Akkad’s “American War.”

BOOKS: What are you going to read now that you can read what you want?

BROWN: This book changed my interest. I want to read about the future. I’d love to read Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus.” I’ve recommended Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s “Abundance,” a science book about the future that is optimistic rather than terrifying. Futurists are split on whether A.I. will save us or kill us. “Abundance” paints a much more optimistic picture. One of the reasons I wrote “Origin” is that I think the future will be brighter than the present.

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