Author Archives: danburstein

Dan Brown and Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton

I heard recently from a fascinating expert on Isaac Newton, Stephen D. Snobelen, who is a professor of the history of science and technology at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Professor Snobelen is involved with The Newton Project, a UK-based academic group that is pouring through Newton’s voluminous writings on all subjects, including alchemy, theology, etc., and analyzing, indexing, and making these available online.

Recently, Snobelen has taken on Dan Brown and what he believes is Brown’s mishandling of key ideas and comments attributed to Newton, in a very intriguing paper, which I highly recommend. You can download it from the Newton Project Canada’s website.

By the way, here’s the Newton Project’s self-description:

The goal of the Newton Project is to provide online access to Newton’s scientific, theological, alchemical and administrative papers, with an initial focus on Newton’s previously-unpublished theological writings. By providing instant access to these non-canonical writings of this early modern natural philosopher, the Newton Project is leading a scholarly revolution that is changing the way we view the figure many see as the father of modern science. A steadily increasing array of manuscript transcriptions and images can be found at the Newton Project website. Visit the Newton Project’s innovative and resource-rich website at:

Anyone interested in Newton will find Snobelen’s paper, as well as all of the resources of the Newton Project, a wonderful virtual world to explore.

–Dan Burstein

The Jane Austen Code

Jane Austen: Liked to write in code.

Dan Brown fans sometimes have a hard time believing the parts of his stories where one person inscribes some important information for another in code.

Sophie Neveu, the heroine of the Da Vinci Code, was known to play code and anagram games when she was a small child with her grandfather; the knowledge of these games later turns out to be crucial to solving the puzzles her grandfather leaves in the wake of his murder. Robert Langdon must similarly make sense out of Masonic codes on the small pyramid left to him by Peter Solomon in The Lost Symbol.

Dan Brown has told several interviewers that he has always been fascinated by codes, cipher, anagrams, and mirror writing. As a child, Christmas in his family’s household meant going on treasure hunts, solving puzzles, and figuring out clues to find his gifts.

A new show at the Morgan Library, in New York, reveals that the greatly esteemed 19th century novelist Jane Austen played similar games with her young niece, Cassy. The show includes this nice New Year anecdote recounted in the New York Times:

Who would not wish for a close relative like Aunt Jane? In early 1817, the year she died, suffering, perhaps, from lymphoma and beginning work on a novel she became too ill to finish, Jane Austen wrote a letter to her 8-year-old niece, Cassandra.

“Ym raed Yssac,” it begins, “I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey.”

Every word in the letter is spelled backward, from that opening New Year’s wish to her dear Cassy to the signature, “Ruoy Etanoitceffa Tnua, Enaj Netsua.” The author, here as elsewhere, does not condescend to her readers, but she also knows who they are and how to give them pleasure. Imagine an 8-year-old girl, perhaps as precocious as her aunt, playfully deciphering these good wishes.”

A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy, runs through March 14.

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

Happy 200th Birthday: Edgar Allan Poe

A post from Dan Burstein, Co-Author of Secrets of the Lost Symbol:

2009 has been an important year for 200th birthdays—Lincoln and Darwin in particular. Two other 200th birthday celebrants are also of interest with regard to The Lost Symbol and the cosmological ideas and, in particular, the Freemason history that is at the heart of the Dan Brown novel: Edgar Allan Poe and Albert Pike. Today, we will give Poe a little consideration. Look for a post on Pike on his birthday—December 29.

There are a variety of fascinating resonances between Poe’s life and work, and the ideas and philosophy expressed by Dan Brown in The Lost Symbol.

Poe, is a great American writer and a highly original thinker. He is best known today for his novels and poems, including The Raven, written in the mystery and horror genres. Many American students read Poe’s famous short story, The Cask of Amontillado, in middle school or high school. Yet few will realize, or be told by their teachers, that The Cask of Amontillado has Freemasonry and also anti-Mason history at the heart of it.

For an intriguing insight into the meaning of the Freemasonry at the heart of Cask, see this paper by Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Executive Director of World Literature Today and the Neustadt Professor of Comparative Literature and Presidential Professor of English at The University of Oklahoma:

Here are a couple of choice excerpts, but I would encourage interested readers to look at Davis-Undiano’s entire argument: Continue reading

The Red Book by Jung and The Lost Symbol

The publication of C.G. Jung’s The Red Book, one of the world’s most long-awaited books, is interestingly timed in the same season that The Lost Symbol has been published.

Dan Brown fans waited six years for a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, but Jung devotees have been waiting more than forty years since Jung’s death in 1961 to peek into his personal cosmology and his most private and secretive thoughts.

The Red Book is Jung’s own personal diary of his dreams, revelations, meditations, brainstorming sessions with himself, etc. The focus is very much on symbols and archetypes, and the attempt to wrestle with the meaning of life, personal experience, dreams, and visions as seen through the prism of myth and archetype. Although Robert Langdon, Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol protagonist, lacks emotional depth—certainly nothing approaching the power of Jung’s insights into the self and the psyche–he would be right at home in the world of Jung’s efforts to decode symbols and find meaning in archetypes.

For more, see Kathryn Harrison’s New York Times Book Review of The Red Book and Michael Dirda’s Washington Post review.

Secrets of The Lost Symbol on TV

We were glad to see that even prior to publishing our Secrets of the Lost Symbol book (which will be in stores in December and available on the Kindle in November) NBC has decided to broadcast a television version: Secrets of The Lost Symbol, which airs on NBC on Friday night.

One of the world’s most popular authors, Dan Brown, sits down for a rare and exclusive interview with NBC News’ Matt Lauer to talk about his new book, “The Lost Symbol,” the beliefs of the Freemasons, the power of the human mind, whether people can become gods and a little known science that may tie them all together.

As far as we know, the show is not actually based on our book—they’ve just decided to make good use of our title. And they will be exploring some of the many themes we have been investigating in depth: Freemasonry, Noetics, the Founding Fathers and the philosophy that lies behind the book. Interestingly, the Inside Deadline website teases:

The broadcast also goes in search of what Brown calls the true meaning of his book and why, he says, its so unlike his others. Additionally, he speaks with Lauer at length about the beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers, saying “America wasn’t founded a Christian country. It became a Christian country.”

We wish NBC well and hope their show will shine interesting new light on The Lost Symbol.