Best-selling Dan Brown Novel Calls Worldwatch “Influential People”

Robert Engelman, President of the Worldwatch Institute, reacts to the mention of the Institute in Dan Brown's new book Inferno.

Robert Engelman
Robert Engelman is President of the Worldwatch Institute.
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At Worldwatch, we like to think we’re pretty good at selling books and being well known for our research and outreach aimed at speeding the transition to a truly sustainable world that meets human needs.

Then, just to keep us humble, there’s Dan Brown. He’s the author of The Da Vinci Code and other best-selling thrillers in which symbologist Robert Langdon puzzles through esoteric history to battle the forces of evil. Brown’s new novel Inferno is the #1 best-selling book on Amazon (at least at this writing) and, like others in the series, is all but certain to become a movie.

So it makes for quite a pleasant surprise to encounter ourselves in the pages of Brown’s new book—even if the praise is a bit mixed. Not having read the novel, I can only give a sense of the plot. But it seems that one character, Bertrand Zobrist, is anxious to find a “real solution” for the “impending crisis” of “overpopulation.” In his efforts to “engage with influential people” to discuss his concerns about human population, Zobrist “visited organizations that he believed could effect change—Worldwatch Institute…” and three other think tanks (pp. 448–49). It’s nice Brown mentions us first. Or maybe not so nice, as Mr. Zobrist ultimately “never found anyone who dared engage in a meaningful conversation about a real solution” for the crisis that worries him.

Which, as it happens, makes me wonder if the character met with a fictional version of myself, since I’m the main researcher on population issues at Worldwatch. I’ve racked my brain and recall no visitor to my office named Zobrist—and not even one named Bertrand. (I’d remember.) But the idea that I have a fictional doppelgänger out there is intriguing—even if he’s not very daring when it comes to meaningful conversations on population.

That part rubs me wrong, but I’m looking at the bright side. I’m imagining millions of Dan Brown readers reading about Worldwatch as “influential people” who “could effect change.”

We’re planning to send Brown a copy of our latest book, State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? (itself doing pretty well in its categories on Amazon).And we’ll ask him, just as we’re asking you, to be influential and change-effecting along with us, by supporting Worldwatch right now, in June—when two generous donors are matching each dollar given with two more, up to a campaign total of $45,000.

The treatment in Inferno of Worldwatch (and, I suspect, of population) leaves a bit to be desired. But Dan Brown and his fictional character Zobrist are onto something. Worldwatch is influential and we do effect change. But at least until we sell as many books as Brown does, we’ll keep needing friends who will help us continue our mission and work. I hope you’ll be one.