I'm probably the last person in the wold to write a review of the latest mega best seller by Dan Brown, who burst onto the scene with The Davinci Code in 2003. In The Lost Symbol, Brown brings back his professorial protagonist Robert Langdon once gain, to obfuscate a plethora of historic trivia and build yet another pyramid of innuendo.
The target of his misinformation this time is the Freemasons, a fraternal organization with a history dating back to the 17th century. There have been rumors about the rather theatrical rituals of Freemasonry, drinking wine (or blood some say) out of a skull and such, which Brown makes free use of. Brown is careful, though, to picture the Masons as the misunderstood good guys in The Lost Symbol. Perhaps he was sufficiently cowed by the reaction to his treatment of Opus Dei, a relatively innocent Roman Catholic fraternal organization, that Brown demonized in The Davinci Code.
I will cite one glaring example of Brown's misuse of historic information in pursuit of his plot. He claims that Thomas Jefferson, in assembling the "Jefferson Bible" was trying to preserve the "Ancient Wisdom" in the new testament, the references to supernatural powers that are alleged to be available to all of us if we study and practice. In fact Jefferson cut out of his new testament all of the miracles, anything, in fact, that was contrary to physical science as it was known in the late 18th century. His was an attempt to preserve the humanistic lessons of Jesus, for example the Sermon on the Mount. Jefferson redacted the water into wine, healing of lepers and raising the dead, the very things that Brown wishes to emphasize and implies that Jefferson was pursuing.
There have been hundreds of fraternal organizations, ranging from the Elks Club to the Klu Klux Klan, founded in the United States. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, membership in one or more of them was standard for middle class adult male Americans. Almost all of them have, or had, some secret initiation ritual. The Freemasons, being the oldest of them has the richest history of ritual and possibly the weirdest. The Masons claim to fame is that George Washington was a member. Washington was also a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati, a club for Revolutionary War officers who all swore to return to civilian life and not pursue political power, modeling themselves on the Roman dictator Cincinnatus, who resigned and returned to his farm.
In The Lost Symbol Brown makes use of the "Ancient Wisdom" often touted in New Age literature, and discusses mystical powers of the mind to affect the physical world with pure thought. I often heard spooky whoo whoo music in my head while reading the book. Of course there is a mad evil villain who is trying to steal the Masons' secret rituals of supernatural power, which don't exist and a scientist studying "noetic science." Brown uses this idea of transcendent powers as a plot device yet it appears to me that he is a bit embarrassed by them. At no time does Brown exhibit the actual use of any transcendent powers in the story, although there were several opportunities for him to do so.
The CIA is there, too, flying around Washington DC in black helicopters, chasing Robert Langdon. The reader gets a virtual tour of the Capitol building, the library of Congress and some parts of the Smithsonian Institution. These are almost worth the price of admission themselves.
Dan Brown knows how to write a page turner, even though is language can be a bit florid at times and even embarrassingly awkward. Poor Tom Hanks, if he makes another movie from this book, will not have a love interest unless they give the story a bit of a rewrite. A rewrite might be a good thing.