In anticipation of the film release of THE DA VINCI CODE, and its recent availability in paperback for the first time, FaithfulReader.com's contributing writer Marcia Ford takes a look at 15 books that range from novels to debunkers to an authorized new edition of the original. Also included are additional titles (many of which were reviewed in the past on Bookreporter.com) that we think will be of interest to readers of Dan Brown's bestselling and controversial novel.
THE BOOK THAT WILL NOT GO AWAY
by Marcia Ford
So maybe THE DA VINCI CODE continues to occupy a slot in the upper echelons of various bestseller lists, and maybe people continue to talk about it as if it's the Gospel According to Dan Brown, and maybe the ever-lovable Ron Howard and Tom Hanks have lent their considerable celebrity to what promises to be a blockbuster movie based on the book.
but really. enough already. aren't we ready to move on from this? can't we turn our attention to some other book that thumbs its nose at pesky little things like facts? Surely there are other candidates worthy of endless scrutiny.
Yes, I too had an abundance of "Huh?" moments the first time I read Brown's novel back in 2003, as distant memories of European history class surfaced way more often than they should have in what I thought would be a light read. Maybe the author needed to go back to school, but what the heck --- I enjoyed the story, and nobody in their right mind was going to take this book seriously.
So much for my career as a prophet.
As it turns out, many people who appear to be in their right mind were taking this book seriously back then --- and they are continuing to do so three full years after its release date. Given the fact that media interest in any book usually lasts little longer than the attention span of a gnat, the time spent defending, debating, debunking and denouncing THE DA VINCI CODE is nothing short of astonishing.
So here's my latest assessment of books relating to all things Da Vinci, in no particular order. Because the books range from novels to debunkers to an authorized new edition of the original book, you won't find a "best book" rating here. But you are likely to find a book or other product that satisfies your need for more, in case you actually have a need for more. To keep everyone from nodding off, I've shortened the title of Brown's book to DVC.
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THE DA VINCI CODE: A QUEST FOR ANSWERS by Josh McDowell (Green Key Books). Three friends decide to go for coffee after seeing the DVC movie. An animated conversation begins about the historical "facts" the movie presents, and soon enough Chris, who has read DVC, discovers that his two companions have not. He suggests they begin reading the book and meeting on a regular basis at their favorite coffee shop to talk about it. What follows is a series of discussions in which Chris helps his friends recognize the flaws in Brown's understanding of history and theology. Rather than coming across as the great all-knowing one, though, Chris at times admits to not having all the answers and assumes the role of a fellow learner, which lends credibility and authenticity to his words at those times when he is sure of the facts. If a dialogue-structured format appeals to you, then this is the book for you.
THE DA VINCI KIT by Andrew Langley (Running Press). It had to happen. Running Press has come out with a treasure chest of Da Vinci-related goodies, which I found hard to open --- and which, as one of my daughters wryly observed, may have been the point. (Press down on the thingy. There, I've decoded it for you.) It contains some pretty cool stuff, starting with a cardstock model of a cathedral that you either assemble yourself or, if you're smart, outsource to someone else to assemble. While you're in an assembling/outsourcing mode, you may want to tackle the plastic model of Da Vinci's design for a flying machine. Lest you think this is all fun and games, let me assure you that there is actual reading material in the kit: a sketchbook depicting Da Vinci's many areas of skill and expertise, a pictorial biography, and a timeline. But back to the fun. There's also a "slider" that shows "The Last Supper" before and after its restoration, a punched cartoon sketch that allows you to paint a picture of James the Greater (you have to see this to understand it, I think), and a grid like the kind used by Da Vinci to check the perspective in his paintings. Definitely for kinesthetic learners.
THE DA VINCI CODEBREAKER by James L. Garlow, with Timothy Paul Jones and April Williams (Bethany House). Want to know more about the Atbash Cipher? No? How about the Knights Templar? Ah, that's more like it. Whether you are intrigued by the esoteric, befuddled by the mysterious, or just plain curious about the whole deal, you're likely to find this fact-checking dictionary to be highly useful. It has more than 500 entries (I didn't count them, but these folks don't lie), and many, if not most, are important to know about apart from Brown's book. A great example is a nine-page chart that provides an overview of the canon of Scripture --- which books made it, which books didn't, and in each case, why, plus a comparison of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox canons. A very helpful resource.
MAGDALENE by Angela Hunt (Tyndale). Hunt is such a prolific writer that you have to wonder where she finds time to research her books. But research she does, and MAGDALENE, a novel, is evidence of that. Told from the first-person perspective of Mary Magdalene, the book weaves in speculation and imagined thought with the facts of her life as we know them. It ends with --- hold it. I won't tell you that. Let's just say that Mary's life journey after the resurrection hardly resembles the path Dan Brown would have us believe she took.
DIVINE by Karen Kingsbury (Tyndale). Not to be outdone, equally prolific novelist Karen Kingsbury offers her own take on the Magdalene story, for the same publisher, no less. This book, though, is radically different --- it takes place in 2006 in Washington, D.C. and traces the life of one Mary Madison, a powerful voice for the abused and neglected. Herself a victim of abuse, Mary is haunted by her past --- the equivalent of Mary Magdalene's "seven demons" ---- until she finally finds the hope and freedom that have long eluded her. Kingsbury fans are sure to like this one.
FODOR'S GUIDE TO THE DA VINCI CODE by Jennifer Paull and Christopher Culwell (Fodor's). Yes, this travel guide has the requisite maps, photos and commentary regarding the places named in Brown's book. But this one is way more fun than the typical tourist book. I ask you --- in what other travel guide are you likely to find such subheads as "Holy Hokum" and "The Divine Miss M"? The book even provides a Q&A with an honest-to-goodness present-day Templar Knight. Be assured, though, that it also provides the nitty-gritty on where to stay, where to eat, and what else you can do as you follow Brown's trail. There's even a 12-day itinerary that takes you from Paris to Rome to London and finally to Rosslyn Chapel, and the names of companies that provide Da Vinci tours. No doubt about it; this one book has spilled over from publishing to who knows how many other industries.
THE DA VINCI CODE: SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED EDITION by Dan Brown (Broadway). Obviously, this one's authorized, having the author's imprimatur and all. What more is there to say? It's big (8 by 10 inches and weighing in at 2.6 pounds), it's bold (we need another edition?), and it's beautiful (gorgeous photos and graphics). It contains the entire text of the original novel --- including its two most famous assertions: "All of the characters…are fictitious" and so on, and "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate," which has proven to be an endless source of amusement for historians, theologians, and other experts, as well as regular folk like me.
JESUS, LOVER OF A WOMAN'S SOUL by Dr. Erwin Lutzer and Rebecca Lutzer (Tyndale). Well, I don't know about the need for a Da Vinci tie-in on this one; it's more of a reflective, devotional book on the role women were designed to play in the Kingdom of God. But right there on the cover, it claims to answer questions raised by DVC. Erwin Lutzer has already done that, and quite nicely, in an earlier book, THE DA VINCI DECEPTION. Strained connection aside, the book shows how Jesus ignored cultural taboos in reaching out to women and welcoming them into His circle of friends and disciples. A final chapter on "Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Legends" does take on Brown's allegation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene eventually married, so maybe the connection isn't all that strained. Just unnecessary to include, perhaps.
THE TEMPLARS by Piers Paul Read (Da Capo Press). Few of the elements of DVC are as intriguing, even to skeptics, as are the Knights Templar. And in case you're wondering, yes, this is the same Piers Paul Read who wrote ALIVE: THE STORY OF THE ANDES SURVIVORS, one of the rare books from the 1970s that has survived my periodic purging of excess volumes. My beloved UPS driver had no idea what a treasure he was delivering to my doorstep when he unceremoniously dropped off a copy of THE TEMPLARS; this was a book by Piers Paul Read, and it did not try to capitalize on DVC! I must say, I was impressed, until I realized the book was released in 2000, before DVC, and was just re-released. Oh well. I still am impressed. Unless I am mistaken, there is no after-the-fact mention of DVC. If it turns out there is and I missed it, I'll gladly do my penance and re-read this book. It would be my pleasure. Definitely for those who love history.
FORBIDDEN FAITH by Richard Smoley (HarperSanFrancisco). Subtitled "The Gnostic Legacy from the Gospels to The Da Vinci Code," this popular history of Gnosticism only mentions DVC where it's relevant to an understanding of the development of an ancient spiritual movement that is alive and well and, in fact, thriving today. Smoley's fascinating narrative traces the rise of the Gnosticism from the early days of Christianity through numerous organized movements (Zoroastrianism, Kabbalah) to today's pop culture (The Matrix movies, DVC). The author provides a kind of string-art "Family Tree of the Gnostic Legacy," one of the clearest portrayals of the influence of Gnosticism that I have ever encountered.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE DA VINCI CODE by Kenneth Boa and John Alan Turner (Broadman & Holman). The most traditional debunker in the current crop of books, this one examines Brown's worldview, gleaned from DVC and Brown's other books. Though the book covers a lot of familiar ground, the authors make many valid points and, unlike others, also take a close look at the brand of Christianity portrayed in Brown's ANGELS & DEMONS. This book, which releases in early May, is likely to appeal to those who prefer a straightforward read --- and who haven't read books with similar content.
SECRETS OF ANGELS & DEMONS by Dan Burstein (CDS Books). Shortly after DVC became a bestseller, Brown's ANGELS & DEMONS began its rise up the bestseller lists as well. A prequel to DVC, the novel explores some of the same themes of the better-known book --- religious symbolism hidden in works of art, the deepest, darkest secrets of the Vatican, the truth behind a mysterious secret society. As he did so successfully in his previous book, THE SECRETS OF THE CODE, Burstein brings together an impressive array of authoritative writers with expertise in fields related to the "facts" presented in the prequel. The writers offer their take on the content of the novel as it relates to their field. My personal favorite? Geoffrey K. Pullum's "Adverbs & Demons," in which he takes Brown, a former English teacher, to task: "He does things to English that would be illegal if done to animals." For a balanced discussion of this particular novel, with lots of accurate historical, scientific and cultural information, this one's worth reading.
SECRETS OF THE CODE by Dan Burstein (Running Press). A miniature condensation of Burstein's book on DVC mentioned above, this edition contains portions of nine of the original essays in the guide to DVC. Though it's small --- let's round it off to 3 by 3 inches to keep it simple --- the type is surprisingly and mercifully readable.
THE BOOKS THE CHURCH SUPPRESSED by Michael Green (Kregel). Focusing primarily on the canon of Scripture and other writings about Christ in the early centuries of the church, Green looks at the Gnostic books that DVC alleges were suppressed by the church. This is one of those elements of Brown's book that people seem to really want to believe, whether there's any credible basis for it or not. Green draws from historical evidence to show how the canon of Scripture was chosen and the reasons why Gnostic writings were dismissed as inauthentic --- and it's not for the reasons Brown suggests.
101 QUESTIONS ON THE DA VINCI CODE AND THE CATHOLIC TRADITION by Nancy de Flon and John Vidmar (Paulist Press). As the title suggests, this book is structured in a highly readable question and answer format. It's much more than a debunker, and because it's written from a Catholic perspective, it provides a perspective on Brown's accusations against the Catholic Church that is lacking in many other books. In the course of responding to Brown, the authors clear up a great number of misconceptions about Catholic theology, such as, for example, the role of Mary. Catholics in particular should appreciate this one, but Protestants would do well to also give it a read.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford
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Below are additional books on codes and speculative history that tie in perfectly to THE DA VINCI CODE and its upcoming film release:
HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (Delacorte)
Is it possible Christ did not die on the cross? Is it possible Jesus was married, a father, and that his bloodline still exists? Is it possible that parchments found in the South of France a century ago reveal one of the best-kept secrets of Christendom? Is it possible that these parchments contain the very heart of the mystery of the Holy Grail? According to the authors of this meticulously researched book, not only are these things possible --- they are probably true!
THE MESSIANIC LEGACY by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (Delta)
Was there more than one Christ? Who really constituted Jesus's following, and what were the real identities of Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot? What links the Vatican, the CIA, the KGB, the Mafia, Freemasonry, and the Knights Templar? The answers to these and many more intriguing and potentially explosive questions can be found in this sequel to HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL.
THE JESUS PAPERS by Michael Baigent (HarperCollins)
Michael Baigent calls his latest book a revelation of "the greatest cover-up in history" concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus. Despite --- or rather because of --- all the celebration and veneration that have surrounded the figure of Jesus for centuries, Baigent asserts that Jesus and the circumstances leading to his death have been heavily mythologized. THE JESUS PAPERS is a fascinating journey that goes beyond populist theology and makes even its unanswered questions interesting.
LABYRINTH by Kate Mosse (Putnam)
Two female protagonists are obsessed with a mystery that slips between the present day and the year 1209. In Kate Mosse's page-turning thriller --- rich in the atmospheres of medieval and contemporary France --- the lives of these women, born centuries apart, are linked by a common destiny. For more, visit http://www.labyrinthbook.net.
THE LAST CATO by Matilde Asensi (Rayo/HarperCollins)
A masterful blending of Christian scholarship and pure thrilling adventure, THE LAST CATO is a novel about the race to find the secret location of the Vera Cruz, the True Cross on which Christ was crucified, and the ancient brotherhood sworn to protect it from Infidel hands.
THE LAST TEMPLAR by Raymond Khoury (Dutton)
Following a bizarre incident at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which four masked horsemen dressed as Templar Knights steal an artifact from "The Treasures of the Vatican" exhibit, an FBI investigation led by anti-terrorist specialist Sean Reilly is launched. Soon, he and archaeologist Tess Chaykin are drawn into the dark, hidden history of the Templar Knights, plunging them into a deadly game of cat and mouse with ruthless killers as they race across three continents to recover the lost secret of the Templars. For more, visit http://www.lasttemplar.com.
MARY, CALLED MAGADLENE by Margaret George (Penguin)
In a vivid recreation of Mary Magdalene's life story, bestselling author Margaret George captures this most tantalizing of all Biblical characters as she moves from girlhood to womanhood, becomes part of the circle of disciples, and comes to grips with the divine. For more, visit http://www.margaretgeorge.com.
THE RULE OF FOUR by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (Dell)
An Ivy League murder, a mysterious coded manuscript, and the secrets of a Renaissance prince collide memorably in THE RULE OF FOUR --- a brilliant work of fiction that weaves together suspense and scholarship, high art and unimaginable treachery.
SECRETS OF THE CODE: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code, edited by Dan Burstein (CDS Books)
Now in Paperback
Renowned experts guide readers through the provocative ideas raised in the bestselling novel and the blockbuster film. This updated edition features exciting new material, including a mini-biography of novelist Dan Brown, commentaries on modern-day Holy Grail hunters, THE DA VINCI CODE and Jewish culture, lost Leonardo paintings, predictions about Dan Brown's next novel, and much, much more.
THE SECRET SUPPER by Javier Sierra (Atria)
In 15th century Milan, Leonardo da Vinci is completing The Last Supper. Pope Alexander VI is determined to execute him after realizing that the painting contains clues to a baffling --- and blasphemous --- message that he is driven to decode.
THE TEMPLAR LEGACY by Steve Berry (Ballantine)
The ancient order of the Knights Templar possessed untold wealth and absolute power over kings and popes...until the Inquisition, when they were wiped from the face of the earth, their hidden riches lost. But now two forces vying for the treasure have learned that it is not at all what they thought it was --- and its true nature could change the modern world.