The Corner

Book Report

My first impression of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown wasn’t positive. Unfortunately, the book — one of the year’s top sellers — didn’t improve as time went on. It was a big disappointment. Within a few chapters, I had correctly guessed the identity of the supposedly mysterious villain and also knew where the book’s climactic scene would take place. This was no Sherlockian feat on my part. Brown telegraphs it all, apparently without realizing it.

I thought Brown’s previous novel, The Da Vinci Code, was theologically ridiculous. Yet when I read it a few years ago to see what all the fuss was about, I found myself engrossed. It was a real page turner. I wanted to know what would happen next. (I also found occasions to write about it here and here.)

The Lost Symbol, however, was a slog. For a book that emphasizes architecture, it made several mistakes that any Washingtonian would notice. When you cross the Memorial Bridge into D.C., the Jefferson Memorial isn’t on your left (pg. 13). The Metro Center subway station isn’t at Freedom Plaza. In fact, there’s no Metro station at all at Freedom Plaza (pg. 281). The King Street Metro station isn’t below ground (pg. 292). Also, I’m pretty sure the Redskins never have participated in a playoff game that started on a Sunday night. But those are relatively little things. The Lost Symbol just gets Washington wrong — not merely in terms of architecture and geography, but in its depictions of how public officials behave, what motivates the media, and what constitutes an actual national-security crisis. It’s inauthentic.

An even bigger problem is that The Lost Symbol is deadly dull. Its plot twists are predictable, its puzzles are lame, and its new-agey philosophizing is tiresome. I wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it took a push to finish. I suppose that I’m glad I read it — if only because now you don’t have to.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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