Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Lost Symbol: My Review

Dan Brown is somehow able to put nicotine into print. His books are just like cigarettes, repetitive, predictable, bad for your brain and yet somehow incredibly addicting. His latest book The Lost Symbol continues this theme. If you’ve read any of his books you’ve read them all. He just changes a few of the specific details and sticks the same plot onto each new scene. Just like The Magnificent Seven was just a remake of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai all of Brown’s books are just remakes of the previous in slightly different settings.
Here are few of the details that you need to write a Dan Brown book:
1. A gorgeous and brilliant lead female. It is also important that she be single and have suffered a serious family loss at the expense of another character in the story. She must be deeply involved in a fringe scientific pursuit.
2. A professorial type male lead character to run around and explain what’s going on to the female lead. Once he describes this character in his turtleneck, chinos and Harris tweed flip to the dust jacket and look at the picture of Brown in his turtleneck, chinos and Harris tweed.
3. A loner psychopathic killer who has some disturbing physical characteristics, full body tattoos, self mutilations albinism, etc.
4. A fatherly mentor to the main characters who has some serious skeletons in his closet.
5. A treasure hunt that involves running around a famous city while being chased by government entities that do not quite agree with each other.
6. An obligatory page at the front stating a few things about the book that are fact. It helps if you imply that even more things are fact. So you could say that a group called The Flat Earth Society actually exists and then push the bounds of this statement my insinuating that their claims are also true.
7. Throw in a couple horrendous torture scenes of old men. This is a very common theme too.

I could go on for quite a while but I think you get the point. His books are hardly original from one to the next. I was barely introduced to the bad guy in this book before I’d figured out who he was and what his motivation was. The rest of the book was just an exercise to get it over and see if I was correct. I really enjoyed reading the first couple of his books but now they have gotten so repetitive that I just don’t want to bother with them anymore. I’m actually upset with myself for taking so much time out to read it. I’ve put other, much better books on the back burner to get this one back to the library sooner and I wish I hadn’t.
Brown did manage to throw in a few things to annoy me even more than normal. The factual and continuity errors were completely over the top in The Lost Symbol.
Most glaring was his full moon. As an astronomy geek this was particularly annoying. He describes the full moon as being directly overhead and shining straight down through a window in the middle of a ceiling and lighting up an alter in the middle of the floor. This can only happen if that building were in the tropics or very close to it, not in Washington D.C. Then he describes the same thing happening three weeks later. Never in history has a full moon followed the previous one by only three weeks. This takes, by definition one month.
In another scene he describes how the light from the moon breaks into a dark room and was so bright it was about to reveal a characters position to the enemy. Yet when they get outside a few seconds later he describes how dark it is and the difficulties they have even walking across a parking lot. Which is it Dan? Is it bright or not?
Brown takes a whole chapter to describe the construction of a special lab that is electrically, magnetically and every other possible way shielded from outside energy sources so they could study Noetic science. Yet countless times characters make and receive cell phone calls in the same lab. Go figure. I thought all the talk about shielding was foreshadowing and building up suspense for a later scene when the cell phones wouldn’t work, but he seems to have forgotten about shielding the lab. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I had a hard time enjoying a book that has science as a major theme if he wasn’t even going to try to get the science correct.
I recently heard a lecture given by Jennifer Ouellette. She is a science advisor to Hollywood. She acts as a liason between script writers and the actual science that they are writing about. I find it very refreshing that with the success of show like NCIS, Bones and House that actual fact-based science is marketable. Getting the science right actually sells better than having to make things up or rely on psudeoscience. Its too bad that Brown hasn't caught on to this trend yet and makes no attempt to understand how our universe really operates and yet has to rely on Noetic science and other hocus pocus to tell his story.

The Lost Symbol was a disappointment. Brown has gotten lazy. He knows that people will buy and read it either way so why take the effort to make it a really good book. He just pasted his standard plot onto a new city and a different secret society.


  1. I'll stick to my books about dust, ants, cake decorating and biographies. Thanks for the review.

  2. The dust book that you recommended was the one I put on a back burner to read this glorified re-run.

  3. I really enjoyed reading "The Da Vinci Code" so I read "Angels and Demons" immediately after that. It too was fascinating, albeit predictable given the similarity to the latter novel. Then I started reading "Digital Fortress" realized it was exactly the same and didn't finish it, and haven't bothered picking up another Dan Brown book again. We're it not for the controversy sparked by "The Da Vinci Code", I think he'd be a relatively unknown author.

  4. I completly agree. The Christian outrage to The DaVinci Code is the only reason most are even aware of him. Ironic.

  5. My take on Dan Brown's use of ancient symbolism and mystical cults is a bit different than most. In my view, there is great truth to be found in studying ancient symbols and traditions. Shoot, our LDS temples, like the temples of ancient societies, are filled with the stuff. So are our scriptures. The tragedy is that Brown distorts and treats lightly that which is profoundly important, leading most to discard it as so much odd and useless information. The truth in these things is far more fascinating and enlightening than most Saints imagine. But only when examined soberly and with real intent. Admittedly, his standard plot line is good, even when used as a rubber stamp. I wish I could put the truth into a compelling fictional setting. Perhaps then people would be more willing to listen.