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Book Review of: Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code
We recommend Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code
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Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, by Bart D. Ehrman
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 4,500 articles.
When I read the Da Vinci Code, I found its short chapters and fast-moving, interwoven plot kept me tuning the pages. The story was vividly entertaining. Too bad, however, it fell far short of its promise to be a great book.
In the prologue of the book, Dan Brown (the author) stated that all of the historical facts presented by the characters in the book were true. Then, Brown seemingly goes on a campaign to test the naiveté and ignorance of his readers. I found this insulting, and it detracted from my enjoyment of the book.
This is where Ehrman's book comes in. As someone who's read previous work by Ehrman, I was curious to see what he had to say. I was hoping Ehrman would once again provide his rock-solid analysis, rather than be one of the shrill voices we readers contend with so often. I was not disappointed: Ehrman delivered.
As I read The Da Vinci Code, a question began to gnaw at me. Was Brown merely playing a prank by stating several historical "facts" a reasonably well-read person would know to be false, or was there more to it than that?
Ehrman answered that question in his own admirable way--and he presented much more answer than I expected. It was, in classic Ehrman style, a complete answer that leaves no doubt. The key to that answer is in another book--one that The Da Vinci Code draws heavily from.
When you read an Ehrman piece, you have to understand something about this author. What he writes is devoid of personal opinion. He writes with authority. He backs everything he says--with logic and the actual evidence. Ehrman is the consummate scholar, whose only interest is the truth. He has no axe to grind with Dan Brown, and he makes that clear--he's recommended The Da Vinci Code to others. And, he stays within his scope of expertise (something else other authors would do well to emulate). He doesn't analyze the whole book, doesn't go into a religious rant, doesn't defend or advocate any particular viewpoint, doesn't and doesn't get emotional. He simply writes what is. And he does so in a clear and compelling manner.
In this book, Ehrman counters the "facts" Dan Brown's characters gave us on Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. But, he doesn't throw a laundry list of errors at the reader. Instead, Ehrman first explains how historians look at information sources and how they determine which ones are accurate. He fully explains the methodology, so you--as the reader--can follow along and draw your own conclusions as the evidence is presented. And then he walks you through the various statements presented as "fact" by the characters in the book. I found it a rather pleasant walk, myself.
My suggestion is to read The Da Vinci Code, if you like a well-crafted thriller. But, keep in mind that Dan Brown is no Tom Clancy or James Michener. Consequently, this is not an historical novel (a novel that correctly conveys historical fact). Rather, it is completely a work of fiction. It's great for entertainment, but not for education. If you do read it, get a "knowledge correction" afterwards, courtesy of Bart D. Ehrman.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.