The Lost Evening
I have a guest blogger for a couple days because I have to take the GMAT. I’m pleased to welcome Publius to this space. His first post is a review of Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol.
Publius can think of no better tool to convince you of the goodness of your hometown than your, dear reader’s, own gut desire to right a wrong, to correct the incorrect, to spread truth in the face of inaccuracies. So it was prescient that Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol, should be based in D.C. If you waste an evening reading it (or three as the case may be; the book is 500+ pages), you will nonetheless not waste your blood pressure medication, as the mistakes in the book might make you shout. Cross Independence Avenue to go from the Capitol to the Library of Congress? Likely. Publius wonders if “cross 1st Street N.E.” is so inelegant that it justifies a wholesale alteration to D.C. geography. That Mr. Brown would get so basic a fact wrong does not lend well to a faith in his prefatory exhortation that all facts and locations in the book are correct.
The plot does continue at the Library of Congress, where, apparently, books circulate to the general public. Mr. Brown mentions an octagonal cabinet with eight counters for use by those checking out books. Publius is heartened that Mr. Brown can get his geometry correct–an octagon has eight sides, thus eight counters are well within the realm of possibility; apparently geometry is easier than geography–even while getting basic facts about the circulation policies of the LoC wholly incorrect. The LoC, sorry to say, is not the crown jewel of the D.C. public library system, and its books cannot be taken home by you or even by Publius. They do not circulate. What’s that you say? “Readers in Middle America won’t care of the minor details about the government, they want the action, conspiracy, trivia. Brown’s book is for them.” That excuse might be acceptable…if this were Convince Me Omaha.
Omaha’s desire for conspiracy leads to perhaps the biggest error in the book, the mere presence of the CIA. If you, dear reader, are anything like Publius, you screamed aloud, knowing that the CIA does not conduct operations on American soil. Indeed, the U.S. has an organization to conduct investigations into fictional, Masonic, plot-so-thin-it-wouldn’t-even-make-Law-and-Order one-night Robert Langdon adventures. What organization is that? Here’s a hint: it has “Investigation” in its name! Its headquarters are mere blocks from the action in the book (once again, Publius must assume that the inelegance of the location of the FBI’s headquarters at 9th and E Streets N.W. over the CIA’s in Langley justifies a wholesale alteration of the investigational competencies of our security bodies. If you, dear reader, know what exam Mr. Brown passed to earn that poetic license, please leave a comment below, and Publius will be the first to enroll in that course of study).
Alright, so you can assume that wherever it says CIA it really should say FBI. The book has a fanciful scene where an FBI, er CIA, helicopter lands in Dupont Circle. Now, Publius has had occasion to walk through Dupont Circle, and has sat in the shade of any number of the dozens of trees that fill the park; he also knows that helicopters have huge spinning things called rotors. Apparently Mr. Brown has never partaken in a leisurely stroll through Dupont (or maybe he doesn’t know about the rotors); if he had, his crack team of symbologists surely would have repelled into the fountain instead of landed in the park, for even a quick drive around the Circle would reveal no place for a helicopter, complete with those huge spinning rotor things, to land. (Publius hazards to think that those pesky trees must be a Masonic plot to ruin Mr. Brown’s work).
As this is Convince Me DC, Publius will withhold much commentary about plot, theme, language, etc. as irrelevant to the theme of this blog. Suffice to say that the ending, where the true secret that the Masons have been hiding for centuries (it’s something like Man or God or Love or Sunlight) is, of course, no secret at all. By reading this book, one certainly cannot gain any greater understanding of D.C. culture, but perhaps one can gain a great appreciation of it in the face of its gross bastardization.
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