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Book Review of: Decoding The Lost Symbol

The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction

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Review of Decoding The Lost Symbol, by Simon Cox (Softcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

A great book!

I say that not as a Dan Brown fan. Dan Brown totally turned me off with his book DaVinci Code, because in the introduction he promised the "facts" were true, but that wasn't the case. Brown also said he did extensive research, but it was obvious he relied mostly on one source that wasn't very good. As a reader, I felt betrayed. For this reason, I don't read Dan Brown books.

So why did I read a book that is about a Dan Brown book? Simon Cox has a reputation as an expert researcher, and I thought this work might be an interesting read. It was. And it's a worthy, engaging read even if you can't stand Dan Brown (I can't).

Two things struck me about this book right away:

  1. It was fast-tracked for publication.
  2. It's excellent.

Usually, these two characteristics are mutually exclusive. Somehow, Simon Cox managed to do both in one book. Perhaps he's related to Kimberly Cox, another person of outstanding merit and ability. I looked in the Acknowledgements, and didn't see the name....

This book stands on its own as a valuable collection of historical facts. Something struck me about this book upon completion: I didn't find errors of fact (there were a few typos). That is highly unusual. I normally find something wrong and often find a substantial list of factual errors in the various books I read and review.

Of course, it helps that this work goes well beyond my knowledge level on these topics, so I'm not in a position to spot some errors that it might contain. But still, I usually catch something. And in this case, nada. As I read dozens of books each year and have found only a few that have ever pulled that off, Cox joins an elite club.

If you like arcane history, this book is a treasure chest. As stated in its introduction, the book is structured in an A to Z format. That doesn't mean there are 26 chapters. It just means that topics starting with a given letter are covered, and those topics are in alphabetical order. Six topics start with the letter A, and none start with X or Y. Cox, it turns out, has written four other A to Z works. He seems to have a flair for this format.

The introduction is 15 pages long. The body of the work is 221 pages long. Normally when I read a book that I like, my reading speed goes up and I later refer to it as a fast read. This book isn't a fast read, though the writing style is crisp and conversational. It's the kind of book that I like to linger over. I like to flip back and forth in to correlate one set of facts with another. Though it's an easy read, it's more the kind of book you'd want to study.

It makes an excellent addition to anyone's library. If you have regular lunch or dinner companions, consider asking them to buy a copy so you have some lesser-known history to bat about (assuming you like substantial conversations).

For example, why is the Washington Monument 555 feet tall instead of the originally planned 600 feet and why is it located in its present location rather than the originally intended one? What was its role in the War Between The States (often misnamed the "the Civil War" though it does not meet the definition of same), and why? And what the heck is a circumpunct? Who was Crowley and why does he matter?

I'm not sure which of the chapters I liked best. But on the short list would be the five-page chapter about Sir Isaac Newton. I've read a fair amount on Newton over the years, yet found most of Cox's information new. So it was with many topics he covered.

This same book could be reprinted into a hardbound, glossy edition selling for four times as much. As a paperback, it's a real bargain.



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

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

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.

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