Review of “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown

My commute gives me time for listening to ChinesePod, APM Marketplace, and audiobooks. The most recent, and unabridged, audio I listened to was The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Symbol continues the story of Dr. Robert Langdon, whose previous adventures were chronicled in Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. Dan Brown has also written Digital Fortress and Deception Point. I have read them all.

Brown specializes in formulaic thrillers that reference history, technology, culture, and science. Brown’s work are most enjoyable when you already have a grounding in the field, so when he references it the feeling is like unexpectedly seeing an old friend in the news. Brown is not much of an educational writer, though, so while you will learn neat trivia about cool things like, say, Kryptos

It was totally invisible hows that possible? They used the Earth’s magnetic field X information was gathered and transmitted undergruund [sic] to an unknown location X does Langley know about this? They should its buried out there somewhere X Who knows the exact location? Only WW This was his last message X Thirty-eight degrees fifty seven minute six point five seconds North seventy seven degrees eight minutes four second west X layer two

… don’t expect a history lesson.

Dan Brown’s work often has a tone, that few reviewers pick up on, that I think is reflective of a frightening strain in American political life. There is a sort of authoritarian iconoclasm, a distrust of known authority and blind trust in hidden authority, that reminds me of populism and strikes me as strange.

The Lost Symbol is a fun and easy thriller. It emphasizes the romance of Washington, DC, and is the race for a ‘hidden’ location that was obvious to me at Chapter 50 (about 2/5ths of the way thru the book). Fun if empty stuff — cotton candy for the brain.

Update: Thanks to Mark Shea for the link!

6 thoughts on “Review of “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown”

  1. I’m almost done with the book, I read it on my bus commute. I agree though, cotton candy for the brain, for me it’s also a guilty pleasure.

    Isn’t it amazing though that so little time is covered in 500+ pages? This fact and the short chapters make the the Lost Symbol a good one to read in short bursts.

  2. My problem with “The Da Vinci Code” was also not that it was pulpy, but that I had the “mystery” solved about ten pages in, as I’m sure was the case from anyone who took an undergraduate course in medieval European history.

  3. The Rule of Four [1] is an example of a Robert Langdon-style thriller done with intellectual honesty and weight

    Until then, I just need to wait for Dan Brown’s future books: Publish in Paris, set during the last months of Robert Langdon tenure race, as his attempts to revise and resubmit his latest to American Symbology Review and The Journal of Symbological Research is suddenly erupted by when a faction of regicidal huguenots seize Louis XX [2], the heir of the last Dauphin, and threaten to reveal a secret that would forever discredit the Bulgarian Old Calendarists [3]… Clearly, quite distracting!

    [1] http://www.amazon.com/Rule-Four-Ian-Caldwell/dp/0385337116
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Alphonse,_Duke_of_Anjou
    [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthodox_Church_in_America_Bulgarian_Diocese

  4. Anyone who took an undergraduate course in medieval European history would have thrown the book across the room. I am told Art History types had the same reactions. As did particle physicists regarding the later book.

  5. If his accuracy with medieval European history is at the level of his accuracy of computer technology, I can see why. He uses all the right words, and you can often understand what he is getting at, but I would hate to be the tech whose asked what an IP6 address that looks nothing like any other IP6 address would look like…

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