Do We Live In A Dan Brown Universe?

Yesterday I noted listening to a podcast with the author of a book on The Family while driving up north. With all the recent talk about Dan Brown’s novels following the recent release of the movie version of Angels and Demons, I felt that this sounded like the type of conspiracy Brown might write about. We have  religion and influence on governments around the world.

A recent news item also has the feel of a novel of this genre. The Wall Street Journal has a story involving secret codes going back to Thomas Jefferson:

For more than 200 years, buried deep within Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence and papers, there lay a mysterious cipher — a coded message that appears to have remained unsolved. Until now.

The cryptic message was sent to President Jefferson in December 1801 by his friend and frequent correspondent, Robert Patterson, a mathematics professor at the University of Pennsylvania. President Jefferson and Mr. Patterson were both officials at the American Philosophical Society — a group that promoted scholarly research in the sciences and humanities — and were enthusiasts of ciphers and other codes, regularly exchanging letters about them.

In this message, Mr. Patterson set out to show the president and primary author of the Declaration of Independence what he deemed to be a nearly flawless cipher. “The art of secret writing,” or writing in cipher, has “engaged the attention both of the states-man & philosopher for many ages,” Mr. Patterson wrote. But, he added, most ciphers fall “far short of perfection.”

This cipher did appear unbreakable, until recently:

There is no evidence that Jefferson, or anyone else for that matter, ever solved the code. But Jefferson did believe the cipher was so inscrutable that he considered having the State Department use it, and passed it on to the ambassador to France, Robert Livingston.

The cipher finally met its match in Lawren Smithline, a 36-year-old mathematician. Dr. Smithline has a Ph.D. in mathematics and now works professionally with cryptology, or code-breaking, at the Center for Communications Research in Princeton, N.J., a division of the Institute for Defense Analyses.

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  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    While I am no fan of Dan Brown’s work (I think he is a hack who has a hard time properly interpreting the myths and conspiracy theories he writes about and that his lack of solid research into the tradition and paranoia on which his books are based really hurts the finished product), they resonate for a reason. They are based in theories taken seriously by fringe scholars, even if those theories are often mangled beyond recognition.  There is a deep reserve of mysticism, paranoia, and fascination with the divine and the occult buried in the human psyche. Conspiracy theorists, those who believe in mythical traditions about the ‘truth’ behind major religions, and scholars of heretical Christian doctrines form the basis for the work of writers like Brown and the more competent David Morrell and the sorely missed Robert Ludlum. Their works resonate because they are based in a very real part of the human mind and its perceptions of the world, even if the stories are entirely fictional.
    I have to add a plug… anyone who likes ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’ should read Arvid Nelson’s far superior fantasy-mystery comic ‘Rex Mundi.’ It explores the Grail tradition in a manner much more in line with the actual theories of ‘scholars’ of the subject and the original Christian heretics who originated the traditions.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Dan Brown writes escapist fiction. I wouldn’t call him a hack–he does an excellent job of writing page turners. You can’t take his work too seriously. He throws in bits of material on conspiracy theories and several other subjects. This is primarily to add items of interest–not to provide an in depth look at any of these topics.

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    There is a line between an in depth examination of a topic in non-fiction and portrayal of such a topic in fiction, of course. There is also a line between a well-researched, strongly written fictional portrayal of a topic and a lazy sketch of same. In my opinion, Brown opts for the latter and hence comes off to me as a hack. Naturally, everyone’s mileage may vary. 🙂

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    It depends upon whether you are judging him based upon the quality of discussion of factual material. I see Brown as purely an escapist writer and consider him as being good on those grounds. If you want to judge him based upon presenting factual material (or an in depth and accurate review of beliefs) then his work will not hold up as well as the work of many other authors.

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