Dan Brown,
The Lost Symbol
(Doubleday, 2009)

I'll assume you've read either The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons (or, more likely, both). With this probably being the case, you're bound to be wondering how Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol compares. The book, third in a series of novels featuring college professor Robert Langdon, has the renowned symbolist scurrying around on American soil this time around. He's on the hunt for the Ancient Mysteries, which are powerful secrets guarded by the Freemasons and believed by some to be buried somewhere in Washington, D.C.

I liken The Lost Symbol to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens and The Dark Knight. It's a great sequel. If you enjoyed Langdon's adventures in Brown's previous two novels, you'll have a ball with The Lost Symbol. Six years have elapsed since the author took the book industry by storm and raised hell with Christian fundamentalist groups. Brown took his time with The Lost Symbol, and it shows.

Unlike its predecessors, The Lost Symbol occurs over a period of about 12 hours. No chance for sleep on this one. (That goes for both you and Langdon, as events fly by, from multiple characters' perspectives, in rapid succession). In this respect, The Lost Symbol is more frantic, given that much of Langdon's decision-making must be made and finalized right away. Granted, there are a few instances where the characters break from the main action, but not many. There just simply isn't time.

Langdon is brought to the nation's capital in the first place through an invitation from a man who says he's an assistant to Peter Solomon -- Smithsonian Institution secretary, high-order Mason and Langdon's mentor/father-figure of many years. The man says Solomon would like Langdon to fly into D.C. to give a lecture that evening at the U.S. Capitol. When Langdon arrives, he isn't greeted by an audience, but Solomon's severed right hand. It's tattooed with a number of symbols and points up at "The Apotheosis of Washington," a fresco that lives on the inside of the Capitol dome.

The B-story revolves around Solomon's sister, Katherine, and her research in noetic science. Do yourself a favor and look it up. It's very real, and very fascinating. Perfect fodder for a Dan Brown book.

It probably goes without saying that Brown is a pop-fiction author. (The Da Vinci Code is, of course, one of the bestselling adult fiction novels of all time). The key "obstacle" in writing for a huge audience like Brown has is ensuring that his readers, at every turn, understand what's happening in the story. Thus, for more sophisticated bookworms, Brown's heavy repetition and italicized words will likely grow tiresome.

Brown's populist style aside, The Lost Symbol is a fun story. And like Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code that came before it, you're likely to come away from it learning interesting traditions about Freemasonry, facts about Washington's buildings and symbolism and other material. Whether or not you want to believe in the theories he calls attention to is another matter entirely.

review by
Eric Hughes

24 October 2009

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