Though this author doesn’t seem to have any personal animosity to the Catholic Church, a few outspoken Catholics regard some of the best-selling Dan Brown books as attacks on the Vatican itself. Really, though, these are just novels. If your faith can be shaken by fiction, you probably weren’t all that religious to begin with.
Many of Dan Brown’s thrillers require a somewhat shadowy organization, whose inner workings and values are largely unknown, simply as a plot device. If his background and interests had been different, he might well have chosen the Russian FSB or, for that matter, his local homeowner’s association for the role. The irony about all the fuss is how much free publicity the most popular Dan Brown books received precisely because of accusations of them being anti-Catholic.
Dan Brown is a teller of fun, intriguing stories rather than a writing virtuoso. His mission is to entertain ordinary people, not impress professors of literature. He loves crafting tales of suspense and unrelenting action: many of his thrillers occupy no more than a day from start to finish.
These novels are meant to be enjoyed, not analyzed to death. Keep this in mind as you scan through this list of Dan Brown books, ranked mostly according to which ones I enjoyed most:
Best Dan Brown Books
We start off the most famous and best Dan Brown book series with a mysterious murder. An unlikely hero, Robert Langdon, is called on to help with the investigation.
Robert is not a cop, though, but a Harvard academic specializing in religious symbols and their origins. Like the author himself, he enjoys figuring out puzzles – and he will soon encounter all of these he could hope for.
Adventures in Rome
Many of the riddles Robert is required to solve are disguised in well-known pieces of art, the famous architectural landmarks of Rome, and ancient history – real and alternate. Anyone with an interest in these, or who’s visited the Italian capital and home of the Vatican, will therefore enjoy this book all the more.
As is commonplace for this kind of book, Robert is soon joined by a female character cast in a supporting role. The brilliant and beautiful Vittoria Vetra holds his hand and acts as a kind of sounding board while the pair rush around – and underneath – the Eternal City. She never quite comes into her own, though. Readers who prefer strong female characters will probably enjoy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Hunger Games more.
A Novel, Not a Historical Chronicle
Something this book, and indeed the entirety of the best Dan Brown series, is often criticized for is an excess of artistic license. A lot of what you’ll read in Angels & Demons is speculation, and some of it is irrefutably just plain wrong.
This isn’t really a shortcoming, though, but rather a case of some Dan Brown book reviews missing the point. He’s not an educator, he’s an entertainer. This book is no more meant for art historians and theologians than a novel set in a hospital is aimed at doctors and nurses. In a sense, this book is about the friction between science and faith, but it’s not intended to provide you with any metaphysical or historical insights.
This novel follows smoothly on the previous one. You could literally finish Angels & Demons and pick up The Da Vinci Code without missing a beat. Of course, though each novel in the series can be read by itself, it’s highly recommended that you tackle these Dan Brown books in the order they were written.
Robert Langdon once again finds himself caught up in a battle between murky underground organizations with divergent aims. He’s also paired up with another pretty and educated female, who’s somehow again related to the man who gets murdered in the book’s opening scenes.
An Entertaining Rollercoaster Ride
As in all of the best Dan Brown books, the author doesn’t allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. Though The Da Vinci Code’s release caused a wave of interest in secret societies and the history of Christianity, the way these are depicted in this novel has little to do with reality. It’s about as historically accurate as the Indiana Jones movies, and just as entertaining.
What makes this book worth reading is the unrelenting pace of its plot. The story is littered with cliffhangers and plot twists you’ll never see coming. Neither the narrative nor the main characters have much depth, but that doesn’t matter: sometimes, all you really want is an engaging, laid-back book that doesn’t require your full attention. Most people won’t have any trouble finishing The Da Vinci Code, which is organized into convenient, super-short chapters, over a lazy weekend.
Not a Heavy Detective Story
Neither the book nor the movie will be remembered in twenty years’ time. If you’re just looking for a little diversion today, though, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Something which will annoy die-hard mystery lovers, however, is that the reader isn’t encouraged to try and solve the various riddles themselves. Instead, they’re spoonfed the solution just in time for Robert and his sidekick to dart off in some new, unexpected direction. If you like a little more meat to your mystery, an author like P.D. James is probably more your speed.
Once you’ve stumbled onto a recipe for success, there’s no pressing need to shake things up. Readers who are already familiar with Robert Langdon can dive straight into this book – he’s exactly the same guy they’ll remember, faced with similar challenges.
This time around, the Freemasons come into play. Unlike some (again, totally fictionalized) Catholic organizations, they’re generally portrayed in a positive light. They, at least, don’t have hooded assassins hot on the trail of Robert and his companion. Even so, the main villain in The Lost Symbol, according to some the best Dan Brown novel to date, does not disappoint.
All Aboard the Conspiracy Express
Robert Langdon finds himself in another race against the clock, this time in an uncharted subterranean world located underneath Washington, D.C. Instead of his muscles, he has to use his mind to decipher a trail of obscure clues in order to save the life of a friend.
Unfortunately, I can’t help feeling that Robert, as well as the other characters in this book, should have been smarter or at least a little less naive. Many hardcore mystery and thriller readers will feel the same: if you can’t trust the protagonist as well as his opponents to see what’s right in front of their faces, isn’t the author sacrificing the best parts of his characters just to move the story along?
A Somewhat Formulaic Sequel
Devoted fans will enjoy this installment in the Robert Langdon series; you can hardly go wrong giving one of them a copy of The Lost Symbol if they’ve somehow not read it already. Others may find that it’s just more of the same.
This novel, naturally, contains more interesting revelations about the alternate history Brown has invented. The plot, of course, rarely disappoints with twists and turns at every juncture. If you’re getting bored with the whole “Robert Langdon saves the day” theme, though, it may be time to explore some of the best Dan Brown novels outside this fictional world. Digital Fortress and Deception Point both make for a nice change of pace.
Dramatic discoveries in fringe science often play a central role in Brown’s plots. In this case, we’re talking about nothing less than putative proof of life beyond earth. Whether it turns out to be authentic or not, the impact of this revelation could be extreme, especially on those in power.
Like with all top Dan Brown books, the pace is relentless and you can never be quite sure of what’s about to happen next. Much of the action is set against a bleak, snow-covered, and lethal landscape. This is a welcome switch from the well-known tourist spots and underground tunnels that dominate the Dan Brown book list.
A Female Protagonist, for a Change
Rachel Sexton is a data analyst, employed by the government and sent to evaluate the strange find in the Arctic. She’s assisted by Michael Tolland (basically Robert Langdon with a different name, face, and career) and assorted minor characters.
Of course, all is not as it seems. A shadowy cabal with links to the United States government and military would much prefer that the public hear their version of the truth rather than that of the scientists. Matters are made even more complicated by the fact that Rachel is related to one of the candidates in an upcoming presidential election.
Badly Written, But Who Cares?
As a part-time editor, I like to think that I can tell when a book was rushed to publication. Following the relative success of Angels & Demons the year before, this was almost certainly the case with Deception Point. You could say the same about all of E.L. James’ books, though it doesn’t seem to have cost either author many readers.
I’m way more nit-picky than most book lovers, anyway. Many of them still count Deception Point as one of the best novels by Dan Brown. As long as you can live with some sub-optimal phrasing and the occasional mistake in grammar, you will probably enjoy this as much as any of the best-rated Dan Brown books.
In my own opinion, this is the best Dan Brown book. Digital Fortress, his first full-length novel, showcases his original, natural writing style. It does not quite follow the formula he developed as he became a multi-millionaire celebrity. Commercial success, which Brown only achieved with The Da Vinci Code, can sometimes stifle an author’s creativity and persuade them to just keep doing whatever has been shown to sell plenty of books.
This novel was first published way back in 1998, long before whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden became notorious. Its theme is still relevant even today, though. The idea that mass electronic surveillance can cause a great deal of harm to a liberal society remains worth thinking about.
Who Watches the Watchers?
In Digital Fortress, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) possesses an all-pervasive reach into private, enciphered communications via its supercomputer TRANSLTR. This is about to change, though, as they discover the existence of a new kind of encryption – Digital Fortress – which cannot be cracked by conventional means.
At least in theory, TRANSLTR is supposed to be used to keep tabs on terrorists, money launderers and other assorted scum of the earth. It turns out, however, that the Digital Fortress program was created by one of the NSA’s former employees. He threatens to make it public as a kind of protest against the agency’s wanton surveillance of harmless civilians. Will the NSA, in the person of codebreaker Susan Fletcher, get their hands on the algorithm before its release cripples their surveillance capabilities?
More Fiction than Fact
Though the themes of Digital Fortress certainly continue to be relevant even today, much of the technical information Brown presents in this book will make actual geeks either laugh or cringe. Overall, this is still a sincere and very readable novel if not one of the best books by Dan Brown.
It’s not quite as fast-paced as the Robert Langdon books. However, it more than makes up for this with its descriptions of intrigue and mistrust in a world where it’s never clear exactly on which side anyone is. Unlike most of Brown’s stories, Digital Fortress also contains a healthy dose of real-life plausibility.
Let’s jump back into the world of Robert Langdon, the bookish solver of mysteries. In Inferno, the follow-up to The Lost Symbol, he starts out being not quite himself, suffering from a severe head wound and having little recollection of what’s recently happened to him in Florence, Italy.
There’s no time to dawdle, though: Robert is instantly thrown headlong into a new intrigue involving ancient riddles, camouflaged messages in Renaissance artwork, and a terrible event that only he and his female sidekick can possibly stop in time.
Classic Dan Brown
It’s clear that plenty of research went into crafting this novel. As usual, though, some of what you’ll read is just meant to spice up the story; it isn’t, strictly speaking, true. Portions of the plot are also somewhat illogical, but of course, Brown has always required just a little suspension of disbelief from his readers.
In terms of style and plot, Inferno deviates somewhat from the well-worn Dan Brown formula. These experiments are pretty minor, though. It’s still exactly what you’d expect from this author, which happens to be pretty much what you can foresee Dan Brown’s new book being like too. He may not have much range, but he is superb at what he does best.
This is Dan Brown’s latest book unless we count Wild Symphony, which is meant for children. As in many of his novels, it is a new technology that triggers the story’s crisis: a stunning discovery that will cause humanity to reassess all that it knows and believes. Naturally, this revelation causes some parts of the religious community great distress.
As it happens, Robert Langdon happens to know one of the key players in these events. Pretty soon, he once again finds himself in the midst of world-shaking events. Centuries-old puzzles have to be solved in almost no time at all in order to avert catastrophe. Fortunately, he has a beautiful and intelligent woman at his side to help him; unfortunately, unseen, powerful foes lurk in the shadows.
A Second Wind for the Robert Langdon Series
This is another pageturner from Dan Brown, which is saying something considering that it’s about 450 pages long. Though based on some of life’s major questions, it’s never overcomplicated. Readers are supplied with the information they need just when they need it. There is no shortage of critics who accuse Dan Brown of trying to appear smarter than he is, but I’ve certainly never found this to be the case. He simply doesn’t overload his audience with information they don’t need, though he’s happy to sprinkle tidbits of trivia around for their entertainment value.
Some of the themes Brown touches on, like propaganda masquerading as news and how technology can become a threat instead of a tool, may as well have been copied from tomorrow’s headlines. These aren’t explored in any great detail or depth, but they do add a touch of relevance both new and seasoned readers will appreciate.
When all is said and done, this author writes fast-food fiction at its best. Dan Brown’s best book is the kind of thing you’d like to read on your lunch break or while waiting at the airport. His worst book is pretty much the same: he’s never brilliant, but he never really disappoints either.
There’s certainly something to be said for writers who create work for the masses. Many people would be pretty angry if Brown suddenly veered off in a new direction. Good writing, in a technical, academic sense, has its place, but so does simple, approachable entertainment like Angels & Demons.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)