The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

lostsymbolTitle: The Lost Symbol

Author: Brown, Dan (Author’s Website)

Genre: Thriller, suspense

Bibliographic: Doubleday, 624 pages, Hardcover List Price $29.95, Paperback List Price $16.00, Unabridged Audiobook $39.93, Abridged Audiobook $23.93, Audiobook CD List Price , Mass Market Paperback List Price $9.99, ISBNs

Publication Date: September 15, 2009

Rating: ★★☆☆☆/♥♥♥♥♥ (The rating scale is here).

Appeal Factors: Intricately plotted, plot-driven, fast-paced, atmospheric, suspenseful, descriptive, jargon-filled

Why I picked it up: I spent the last six years working as a tour guide in the Capitol, and people often asked questions about it (and got mad when I told them most of the historic and logistical information in the book is not true.)

Annotation: Robert Langdon must solve a series of clues to save his friend’s life.

Summary: One morning, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon gets a call from his old friend Peter Solomon’s secretary asking him to fly from Boston to DC that evening to give a speech in National Statuary Hall. When he arrives at the Capitol, he finds out that there’s no speech, that Peter Solomon has no idea he’s in town, and that someone has a quest for him. He hears a scream in the Rotunda, and when he arrives there he finds Peter’s severed hand on the floor, tattooed to resemble an ancient symbol inviting the viewer to partake in the Ancient Mysteries. As the Capitol Police are clearing the room, the director of the CIA’s Office of Security, Inoue Sato,  shows up and demands to speak to Robert Langdon, claiming that there is a crisis of national security. Langdon, Sato, and the Chief of the USCP decipher the message on Solomon’s hand and find a small secret room in the Capitol’s subbasement set up as a Chamber of Reflection and containing a mysterious stone pyramid. Just as Sato starts to suspect that Langdon is involved in her national security crisis, Warren Bellamy, the Architect of the Capitol, arrives on the scene and helps him escape arrest through the Library of Congress.

Meanwhlie, Peter Solomon’s sister Katherine is in her lab at the Smithsonian Annex just outside of town, waiting for Peter to show up for their weekly meeting. She is a scientist, studying Noetics — her work will prove that the human soul exists, that thoughts have the power to change physical matter, and that many of the miracles in which the ancients believed are explainable and within the laws of physics. Katherine is worried because of a phone call from earlier in the day from who she thinks is her brother’s doctor.

Mal’akh is the mastermind behind all of tonight’s events: he will destroy Katherine Solomon’s research, use Robert Langdon to discover the truth behind the Ancient Mysteries, and make an ultimate sacrifice to complete his transformation into the divine. Mal’akh is the one who arranged for Langdon to be in DC. He’s taken Peter Solomon hostage and cut off his hand. He tries to kill Katherine, but she gets away — and heads straight to the Library of Congress, where she meets up with Robert Langdon and goes on the run to protect the pyramid, save Peter, and stop Mal’akh.

Evaluation:  I don’t think I can honestly call this book well-written, because the quality of the writing isn’t especially high. That said, it is absolutely a page turner — I’ve read it several times, I already know what’s going to happen, and somehow while I was reading it this time I still found myself postponing things to read just one more chapter (which is fine, if it really is just one, because the chapters are incredibly short). I think the plot is a little bit forced, and the big reveal at the end is disappointing.

I think The Lost Symbol would work for thriller fans, conspiracy buffs, people who like to read the new hot thing. I would not recommend it to history buffs or native Washingtonians, at least without telling them to take it with a grain of salt. It is the perfect airplane book, I think, because it’s compelling enough to keep you from getting distracted but the chapters are short so there’s always a good stopping point coming up soon. The characters are a little bit flat, and Robert Langdon’s personality isn’t well-developed at all, but that could be because it’s the third book in a series and Dan Brown thinks that most of his readers will be familiar with Robert Langdon (probably a fair assumption given the success of The Da Vinci Code).

Significance: This is the third book in the Robert Langdon series, which is immensely popular due to The Da Vinci Code.

Readalikes:  The Book of Fate, by Brad Meltzer. The Jefferson Key, by Steve Berry. The Devil Colony, by James Rollins.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. The Freemasons, as described in The Lost Symbol, are very concerned with managing the flow of information and preventing certain people from accessing it. Do you think some information should be kept from most people? Why or why not?
  2. Have you ever been to Washington, DC? How does the city as described in The Lost Symbol differ from the city as you recall it? Do the book’s factual inaccuracies change your opinion of it? Why or why not?
  3. What did you think about Katherine’s research into Noetics? How would it change the world if there were abundant scientific proof of spiritual beliefs, such as the existence of the soul?
  4. Were you surprised to learn the truth about Mal’akh’s journey? What drove him to seek the transformations he sought?
  5. Do you believe in hidden mysteries, or something similar?

Lists and Awards:  None found.

Professional Reviews:  New York Times. Wall Street Journal. Washington Post. LA Times. The Guardian.

Leave a Reply