Brief Book Review: Digital Fortress by Dan Brown


Dan Brown’s Writing

I like Dan Brown.  He writes entertaining, conspiracy-theory laden novels about religion, history, government, science, and technology.  Digital Fortress is his earliest novel, published in 1998.  It’s a good book, but as might be suspected, it’s not as good as some of his later work.  In my mind both Digital Fortress and Deception Point (Brown’s third novel) pale a bit in comparison to his more popular novels:  Angels & Demons (his second novel) and The Da Vinci Code (his fourth novel).  This may be because his writing has gotten better, or it may be because the subject matter is more intriguing in Angels & Demons and Da Vinci.

Uber-Brief Synopsis

Digital Fortress is a book that follows the inner-workings of the NSA (National Security Administration) and code breaker Susan Fletcher.  David Becker, Susan’s fiance, plays an equally large role within the book, and finds himself in Seville Spain trying to track down an item that he has been told is vital to national security.  The larger issue in the novel is about balancing national safety with the right of each individual’s personal privacy.  In other words, “How much about our personal lives does the government need to know to truly keep us safe?”  This topic seems like old hat in a post-911, post-George W. Bush presidency era, but Brown wrote Digital Fortress before these events had taken place, so kudos to him for having insight into an important debate ahead of time.

The Good & the Bad

I liked this book, but some of the terms and technology referred to are a bit dated now.  I also think that Brown’s writing becomes somewhat predictable as the story builds.  To be honest, I’m not a person who usually tries to figure out how a novel or a movie is going to end.  I’m more interested in experiencing the emotion that the story brings to life in the moment (novels in this sense are an escape for me because so many other types of books that I read require constant mental awareness), but even as someone uninterested in figuring the story out, I could foresee how some of the situations in Digital Fortress were going to end.  I think some of this predictability is also present in Deception Point, but happily not in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

One more thing to Brown’s credit:  some of the characters in this book are spot on.  The NSA’s lead sys-sec, Jabba, is perfectly believably and at times annoyingly so.  Midge, an internal security analyst, is a perfect rendition of that snarky, intelligent, domineering woman whom you love to hate, but truthfully need.  There were times within the book where these two characters, especially Jabba, were so believable, that I was getting irritated just listening to them speak.


If you like Dan Brown’s writing, Digital Fortress is worth the read.  But, read Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol (his newest book, which follows The Da Vinci Code, and which I assume is great) first.

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