I listened to The Lost Symbol on CD, something I don't normally do. I have a horror of "missing something" and so I usually prefer to keep my stories in print. When I do listen on CD, I tend to push the back button multiple times in case I missed something. But my then-fiance was embarking on a 12 hour drive alone and I was worried about him staying awake, so I got him something to keep his eyes opened. Because I have an hour-both-ways drive every week, I decided to give this book a try.
The premise: Robert Langdon of the Micky Mouse watch and tweed jacket has been called to give a last minute lecture in Washington D.C. by his mentor, the eminent Mason Peter Solomon. When he arrives, he is thrust into an unexpected (but is it really? This is Dan Brown) quest to decipher clues to protect an ancient secret.
Honestly, with this book I got exactly what I expected. It followed the Dan Brown formula to a T. (To be fair, I haven't read any of his books that are not about Robert Langdon. Those may actually have a different plot). We have a mysterious villain, several puzzle pieces that could only be deciphered by a master of symbology (enter Langdon) and an intelligent woman to help him along the way. One thing I've noticed about the Langdon books that I appreciate is that there is always a huge wrenching twist at the end where you realize, this person is not who I thought they were! It's typical of Dan Brown (I can think of this exact twist in all three Langdon books, arriving at approximately the same point in each book) but it is still fun to realize you've been fooled. In some ways I got what I was looking for. My mind was entertained while I drove. The tension built up, and I was occasionally late as I waited a couple of minutes in the car once I got to my destination at the end of the hour commute.
However, (and I believe this is the main complaint with Brown's other books) outrageous claims are made that, instead of adding to the enjoyment of the mystery, weaken the credibility. The main thing I'm thinking about here is "breathable liquid." Also, the "noetic science" thing drove me up a wall a little as well. I'm not denying that the brain has untapped potential and that we don't know more than we do know. I don't believe that the mind is a simple manifestation of cortical firing. However, I don't know if I believe that the pineal gland is the seat of the mind. Kathryn Solomon describes a study where they study yogis' brains and note that the pineal gland secretes a waxy substance that somehow empowers them. I don't know if this is true. I would imagine that Dan Brown has really encountered this study - most of his "outrageous claims" do have some tie to the real world. But I don't know if the study itself is actually relevant. The idea of the pineal gland as the seat of interactions between spiritual mind and biological brain comes from Descartes, who believed that "animal spirits" directed the brain through the pineal gland. So it seems that the yogi-pineal gland connection is rooted in philosophy, not science. Anyway, I'll get off that neuro soapbox now.
One more thing before I end. While I was listening to this book, I ended up walking home from class behind a girl talking on her cell phone. She was talking about The Lost Symbol so I found myself listening. She started ranting about how she was so angry because everything built up to this climax and then there were twenty more pages at the end "that I like, didn't even read I was so mad." There is a lot more calm-down time at the end of The Lost Symbol than the other Langdon books, but I actually thought it was pretty interesting, although at times annoying (re: pineal gland discussion). So if you expect all action from Brown, bear in mind that this book is a little more contemplative than the other two Langdon books.
Accessibility/readability - It was very easy to follow and listen.
Aesthetics/literary merit - 2. It wasn't poorly written or anything (as far as I could tell from listening) but aesthetics was definitely not the point here.
Plot - 3. It was fine. It held my interest.
Characters - 1.5. There really isn't any character development here, although Brown does mark them with idiosyncrasies (my favorite is Langdon's Mickey Mouse watch). The .5 is because the villain is honestly a pretty good villain, even though he behaves in a too typical manner with no surprises.
Personal experience: 2.5. I got what I was looking for - a little entertainment on a boring drive. I probably wouldn't recommend this book unless you really love Dan Brown or need an easy read.