Dan Brown's "Digital Fortress"

April 04, 2007

One of the recent books I’ve completed reading is Dan Brown’s “Digital Fortress”. I’ve found it useful to document the books I’ve read here so here goes this one.

Digital Fortress

There’s a story to everything, and before the story about the book, I thought I’d share a meta-story about why I picked this book in the first place. I knew I had some long flights ahead in coach class a few months ago, and knew my MacBook battery wouldn’t last for the whole flight. So I thought why not read some books. And I was standing at front of the English-language bookshelf at a bookstore in Luxembourg where everything is mostly in French or German so the English selection is pretty limited. And I saw this one and went “hmm, Dan Brown a.k.a DaVinci Code, writing about NSA and encryption… can’t be too bad, so why not.” And I bought it. (Another one I bought then was about Mao Tse Tung – but more about it when I’m done.)

I was hesitant to post at first, because it seemed to me that it was not really the most brilliant that I’ve ever read. So I was kind of relieved to see that most of the reviews featured on Amazon.com front page write this book off as absolute rubbish. Because that’s what it is. (I didn’t bother to read all the 800+ reviews. Maybe some of them tell better words about it. I’m just talking about the frontpage ones.)

I haven’t read a fiction book in a very long while. Most books I read these days are either about the world history, or business history/manuals, or biographies. So I approached this book with an open mind, telling it “ok, challenge me”. But it didn’t.

Sure, it was suspense. It had many unexpected twists and turns and I really wanted to know how it turns out in the end and so I read it to the end. I spent about three sittings to it all, all of them airport waits or flights. But the emotion it left me with was just “shrug”.

I’m a technical nitpicker. And I realize that the aim of these mass-market books (similary to movies etc) is not to be technically accurate. But presenting themselves as even being such is just silly. Read the Amazon reviews if you need more details, they have it all.

After reading this book, I’m kind of happy about my decision to not read too many fiction books. I was forced to read them in high school and most of them were boring, bordering on disgusting. I haven’t gone with any of the latest trends and I haven’t read any other books by Brown, neither have I read Chuck Palahniuk, Paelo Coelho, Harry Potter, Star Wars etc. (But I saw the “Da Vinci Code” movie and I think I got the essence of it.) Maybe I’ll try some more fiction at some point, but here’s why I don’t think I miss too much by not reading fiction:

I find the real life to simply be too rich to need any more fictional worlds on top of it. What fiction books do is tell you invented stories. But what I have found is that if you live your daily life and walk the world with open eyes, you’ll find more stories in both interest and quantity than you could possibly ever consume. I’ll make a connection here to an interview that my bosses-bosses-boss Niklas Zennström gave a while ago and he was asked about if he is on Second Life, and he said “not really – I’m having enough trouble as it is to keep up with my first (real) life”. I feel I’m just like that – I’m fortunate that my real life is rich enough to not have a need for any further artificial worlds and stories, especially in the form of fiction writing. (But I do enjoy a well-produced Hollywood rubbish movie once in a while, as movies are much more intense and yet more compact in time-expenditure sense.)

So as for Digital Fortress, it’s a fine way to kill time if you’re on a flight or something and don’t have access to any better books or other forms of entertainment. But you don’t really learn anything here and it’s unlikely you’d want to read the book a second time after done. But if you haven’t had any exposure at all to the worlds of NSA, encryption and such, it perhaps opens them to you. I know sure the real version of them is different and ten times more interesting.