Book Reviews

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown – Freemasons, Symbologists, and the CIA – OH MY!

After the success of The DaVinci Code, fueled by controversy over some of the religious beliefs he turned on its ear, writer Dan Brown has reached a point where he can probably write about almost anything and garner attention.  Not content to shake up just Roman Catholic beliefs, in his newest book The Lost Symbol, Brown takes a swing at many of the tenets of most modern religions as well.  That’s not all, though.  It seems you can’t flip through the television dial at all nowadays without finding some pundit vociferously asserting that he somehow has a better bead on what the Founding Fathers wanted for this nation of ours.  For some, we already knew a lot of what Brown brings up here, but others just will not believe what they read.  They haven’t believed it until now – why would they start believing it when it’s couched in a work of fiction?

Like his other books, Brown has taken historical facts as well as actual locations and some true science and woven them together in a work of fiction.  Robert Langdon, the symbologist readers met back in Angels & Demons, is back.  He’s enjoying a leisurely Sunday when it’s interrupted by his being summoned to Washington DC, ostensibly by an old friend to deliver a lecture.

When Langdon arrives in the Capitol Building, he’s surprised to find the place nearly deserted with no sign of the gathering he was to deliver his speech to.  The truth is soon revealed as his friend, Peter Solomon, has asked Langdon to protect something years earlier.  Langdon has brought that with him and together with his symbologist background, he is quite valuable to someone who seeks to unlock the truth of what the Freemasons have hidden in Washington DC.

Depending on who you speak to, Freemasons are either a bunch of nice old guys who do a lot of silly rituals and service to the community or a secret cabal set on controlling the world and protecting its secrets.  You can guess pretty easily which perspective this is written from.  Throughout less than ten hours, Langdon travels throughout the nation’s capital, trying to solve the mysteries that some people allege have existed for ages.  He and Peter’s sister Katherine fight to elude not just the man who claims to have Peter captive, but the CIA as well.  All the while, help seems to be coming in the form of Peter’s brothers in the Freemasons… or is it?

I have to admit, The Lost Symbol did keep me engrossed and I burned through the just-over-500-page book in about 36 hours.  The main drive was to figure out what happened and why.  There’s plenty of action, although to many it might seem that 500 pages are a lot of time to spend on such a short period of time.  Brown does flashbacks to earlier times to give background details in the story necessary to keep the reader in the loop.  Rather than present all of his cards at once, he does this at intervals throughout the book, making it interesting to see the revelations at hand.

However, that doesn’t negate my main complaint about The Lost Symbol.  Brown plays his hand quite obviously early on as to the true identity of the man who is holding Peter Solomon hostage and pressing Langdon to solve the mystery for him.  It’s not overt, and Brown doesn’t actually say who it is, but it was pretty obvious to me.  This also led to frustration in that other people in the story, who should have known the man’s identity well before they learned it in the story, don’t seem to be as swift as the person reading the novel.  Yet they are alleged to be some of the greatest minds in our country…

The best suspense came with the involvement of the CIA.  The Director of CIA Security is heavily involved in the plot.  It’s not clear whose side Sato is on for quite some time and I found myself vacillating as to the motive for their involvement.  However, in the end, I was somewhat disappointed as to the revelation of why they were there.  It seemed somewhat anti-climactic.

At the time this was published, it was said that Washington DC needed to prepare for an influx of tourists as people would want to see the locations Brown describes.  Many of them are off-limits to tourists, but I can see issues with people trying to see them anyway.  Brown describes them quite well and brings a renewed interest in our nation’s capital.  Langdon himself makes the point early on that his college students have traveled to major European cities but have virtually ignored the history right here in our own nation.  I suspect The Lost Symbol will change that to a certain degree for a period of time.
 
In addition to all of that, Brown brings in the concept of Noetic Science.  What is it you ask?  In simple terms, mind over matter but then again it’s so much more. I found the description of Katherine’s work with this science to be well done and compelling.  This was in direct contrast to some of the other descriptions in the novel which became tedious after a while and I was tempted to skip past them.  Brown has a tendency to leave clues in there, though, that will be necessary to know later on to put all of the puzzle pieces together.

I also remembered hearing a radio show about one of the experiments Katherine does with trying to weigh a person’s soul. The coincidence made me wonder if someone has a vested interest in trying to negate some of the ideas Brown has presented here before they take hold.  Even though it’s a novel, in the beginning, Brown alleges that “All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.”  How he has learned so much about Freemasonry when they have gone to such great lengths through the ages to shelter those rituals from outside scrutiny is a mystery, and how “real” they really are might be debatable to some.  There are already Masons out there saying the information is false, but if they are sworn to protect these secrets, wouldn’t that be a likely tactic?  I suspect most people will believe what they want to believe about the line between fiction and reality in The Lost Symbol.

As much as The Lost Symbol seemed to negate some major religious beliefs, I felt this was less climactic than the revelations at the end of The DaVinci Code.  Even not being Roman Catholic, I can understand why what Langdon discovered there might be upsetting to them, even though it really didn’t feel like if it were actually true it would really have an impact on my faith.  In The Lost Symbol, so much of what’s detailed seems so far out and new-agey that I suspect it’s much easier to dismiss these alleged revelations as just a work of fiction.  Others will embrace it as has happened with other books that stir up controversy and challenge our beliefs.

There were a number of issues with The Lost Symbol.  Parts were tedious, the CIA connection was a let-down, and the identity of the villain was no real surprise.  At the same time, I have to say I enjoyed reading it.  Brown’s descriptions are excellent and made me feel like I was right there, even if I’d only been to Washington DC once.  The story moves along very well and there are some good moments of suspense, if only because I wanted to figure out how Langdon was going to make his way out of the situation.  I have some misgivings, but I recommend it.  3.5 stars.





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