Thursday, January 21, 2010

winner stands alone book review

I am still trying to make sense of this book . I have read almost all of Coelho’s book till date and  this book stands out from the rest .
Cannes film festival is something we all see on T.V. , in this book Coelho has gone back stage and expains the hardships and the pusedo lives that the people live . We get a peek into lives of models , directors , actors , producers etc . The way he moves the characters makes you think they are real.
There are four central characters to this book . And as the author says in his preface , three of them get caught in the ‘trap’ . The Winner Stands Alone is candid and makes you wonder why anyone would even think of being a big ’star’ .
The reason why I am still trying to make sense of this book  is because  of the character Igor . On one hand he is portrayed as a man of principle who becomes a serial killer , in hope to winning his wife back . On the other hand he is shown as Mr. Devil through the eyes of his ex-wife .  Being the good and the bad is maybe what defines ‘normal’ , maybe . We have ‘the angle’ and ‘the devil’ in us , yet who controls the hand is the question .
The Sterotypes usually end with the bad guy being caught . Then  there are those in which  nothing about the bad guy is shown and he just escapes . The book will fall under the latter .
I loved the book , yet I hated the character Igor . Some how it seemed to represent the knife edge which lots of people sit on . Not that there is anything wrong with that , but if you are a person like me , who doesn’t believe in violence or killing others , a serial killer getting away on his private jet seems pretty hard to accept.
Of course that is the reality , the superclass get away with everything (?) . But the question which keeps popping up is , why does the book seem incomplete ? I wonder if it is just me . Or maybe reading his other books , I had a picture in my mind and this some how doesn’t fit in .

Concluding the book is good . It flows well . Another new theme explored by Coelho . And the reason why I haven’t mentioned the philosophy us because , I think , when I say it is a Coelho’s book , it is taken to be there , infact , it gels with the theme really well .
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Angel and demon book review

Like the majority of readers, I read Angels & Demons by Dan Brown after reading The Da Vinci Code. I would venture that most people reading this review are asking the question, "How does Angels & Demons compare to The Da Vinci Code?" The short answer is that they're very similar. If you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, you should enjoy Angels & Demons.
Angels & Demons introduces the character of Robert Langdon, professor of religious iconology and art history at Harvard University. As the novel begins, he's awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN, the world's largest scientific research facility in Geneva, Switzerland. One of their top physicists had been murdered, with his chest branded with the word "Illuminati." Since Langdon is an expert on the ancient secret society known as the Illuminati, he's asked to help solve the murder. A high tech X-33 plane transports Langdon from Massachusetts to Switzerland in a little more than an hour.
The murder victim is Leonardo Vetra. Not only is he one of the world's leading physicists, he's a Catholic priest. He's a priest who has adopted a daughter, Vittoria, who is also a scientist at CERN. This was the largest suspension of disbelief for me, a man who is a priest, a father, and a top physicist, but accepting it sets the rest of the story in motion. Vetra and his daughter were using the world's largest particle accelerator to create antimatter, and then suspend the antimatter properly in canisters so that it doesn't interact with matter. If a canister is removed from the electrical system which keeps the matter and antimatter separated, then backup batteries will serve the same purpose for 24 hours. When those 24 hours expire, the two will collide in an instantaneous explosion of unprecedented power.
Lenoardo Vetra created the antimatter to simulate the Big Bang. In his mind, this would show proof that God exists, being able to create new matter and antimatter in the same way God created the universe. Vetra's murder, though, allows one of the canisters to be stolen. The question of who stole the canister and what they planned to do with it is soon answered. The canister is quickly found on a security camera in Vatican City, with its LEDs counting down the time until the batteries run out. The security camera, however, is nowhere to be found, leaving the canister's whereabouts a mystery too. Langdon and Vittoria Petra are quickly sent off to Rome and Vatican City, to help find the canister and return it to CERN before it explodes at midnight.
Not only does the canister threaten to destroy Vatican City, but with the recent death of the Pope, the cardinals of the Catholic Church are all within the city for the conclave to choose the new pope. They are all about to be locked within the Sistine Chapel where, according to church law, they must remain until a new pope is chosen. They are awaiting the preferiti, the four cardinals from four different European countries who are the preferred candidates to become the new pope. While Langdon and Vittoria are trying to convince the captain of the Swiss Guard and the camerlengo, the Pope's chamberlain who leads the church until the new pope is named, that the antimatter bomb is real, a phone call is received from a man who claims to be from the Illuminati. He has the four cardinals, which he will murder one by one, and then allow the bomb to destroy Vatican City, which houses not only the church hierarchy, but also its possessions and wealth. He has no demands; his only wish is the destruction of the Catholic Church in retribution for the church's treatment of scientists and the Illuminati over the centuries.
Langdon and Vittoria Vetra are in a race against time. They dig through archives and ancient mysteries to find clues, which also requires an extensive background in art history and religious symbology. This makes Robert Langdon the expert tour guide through all this arcane knowledge with his congenial and scholarly fashion, doing his best to educate without seeming superior with his own intelligence. Much like The Da Vinci Code, Langdon understands enough about each mystery to go in search of the missing pieces necessary to solve each puzzle, which leads him to the next one. Vittoria is beautiful, tough, intelligent, and determined to avenge her father's murder and keep the canister from exploding. The two of them are constantly one step behind the Illuminati, and once it's clear that the Swiss Guard and Vatican City have been penetrated by the ancient society, they don't know whom to trust. This leads them through churches, fountains, crypts, forgotten passages, secret passages, and catacombs. Death stalks them at every turn, in one form or another.
So it's time for the comparisons of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. In some ways, Angels & Demons has a more suspenseful storyline with the antimatter bomb and the race to prevent the destruction of Vatican City. Both share a hired assassin, a tough and beautiful woman as Langdon's sidekick who's mourning the murder of a loved one, and mysteries that require extensive knowledge of art history, religious symbology, and secret societies. Robert Langdon is a protagonist that you can't dislike in any way, with just enough vulnerability to go along with his intelligence and right amount of charm. Angels & Demons is a looser story. It takes longer to get going, each new puzzle takes longer to solve, and too much character background is given for too many characters. While Dan Brown's writing style will never be called literary, he's obviously matured as a writer between the two books. The chapters in The Da Vinci Code are shorter, tighter, and the suspense is never allowed to wane.
While some judicious editing might have made it a tighter and more focused novel, Angels & Demons is still a highly enjoyable read. For those who love plot-driven novels, and for those who love thrillers and mysteries full of strange bits of information that tie everything together, grab a copy of Angels & Demons and find a comfortable chair. It's time well spent.
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Digital fortress

One weekend, the NSA’s top cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, gets an urgent call from her boss, Commander Strathmore, to come to work. She arrives to the shocking news that TRANSLTR, the NSA's incredibly fast and infallible code-breaking machine against which even the best computer encryption software is useless, has at long last come face to face with its nemesis. Codenamed the Digital Fortress, it is an unbreakable code created by an ex-NSA cryptographer, Ensei Tankado, who had threatened to make it available for public use if the NSA didn’t make TRANSLTR’s existence known to the general public. As the repercussions of this comprise a deadly threat to the nation’s security, it sends shockwaves through the corridors of the NSA.

Even as Susan scrambles to find Ensei’s secret partner, she is puzzled, angry and scared that Commander Strathmore has inexplicably sent her boyfriend David, an ordinary university professor, on a dangerous mission to Spain to retrieve this unbreakable code’s key. Does the key really exist, and if so, will David ever find it and live to bring it back? It’s a race against time as secrecy, deceit and lies escalate, and Susan finds herself smack dab in the middle of it all. Faced with betrayal and terror, this young woman has to fight for love, life and country.

Once again, this Dan Brown novel emphasizes cryptography and details its origins, uses and various forms, and the subject makes for fascinating reading, if a bit dry. Through the central character of Susan, we come to see how cryptography has evolved in today’s time and also something about the NSA, its functions, capabilities and awesome power. With an ingenious plot whose exciting premise is further bolstered by a rapid pace, lots of suspense, interesting characterizations and a romantic entanglement thrown in for good measure, Digital Fortress is a cutting-edge techno-thriller that compels the readers to wonder how much the government is concealing from the public, and whether big brother is really watching everything everywhere. Dan Brown’s laudable detailed research makes this book so realistic it’s scary. Moreover, it will provoke readers to think and wonder if this loss of privacy and violation of human rights is justified by the number of horrific terrorist plots foiled and lives spared daily -- an interesting dilemma.
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Deception point

Rachel Sexton, estranged daughter of the charismatic leading Presidential nominee Senator Sedgewick Sexton, and herself a highly competent "gister" working for the little known but highly effective intelligence agency NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), one day gets an unexpected audience with the President himself. On his request, she soon herself in the icy depths of the Arctic, sent to verify a stupendous discovery by NASA.

Curled Up With a Good BookComing at a time when NASA’s existence is threatened by Sedgewick’s rhetoric condemning its very expensive failures, Rachel finds the discovery too coincidental. But outside experts like Michael Tolland, a world-famous oceanographer, convince Rachel of its authenticity. Just hours before the President announces this information, Rachel and Michael discover a deadly deception. Before they can go public with the vital information, a highly skilled team of Special Forces are sent to destroy them. Battling nature’s deadly elements as well as unstoppable killers armed with incredibly high-tech arsenal, the duo struggle to survive and discern the truth.

With author Dan Brown at the helm, readers are virtually guaranteed a book which is not only thrilling, intense and riveting but also thought-provoking; this book is no exception. Brown’s painstaking research is readily apparent in the copious authentic facts on which the premise of this entire story rests, adding a chilling touch of realism to the tale. Visual descriptions and a mild romance round off this adventurous story. Integrating behind-the-scenes look at insidious Washington political power-brokering with cutting edge high-tech research as well as abstruse scientific facts, Deception Point is a perfectly paced, inventive and gripping whodunit.
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Five Point Someone is about three college mates at
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi namely Hari,Ryan
and Alok.
Five Point is a grade given in the IIT for the
below average
students and ironically our three friends are
prone to this dubious distinction.
The IIT is supposed
to be the Mecca of engineering in India and thus has built
itself a studious and illustrious façade.
Five Point
Someone deals with the simple Hari,the studious Alok and
the gallant Ryan.
The book deals with their capers at
the IIT .
Hari’s love interest Neha is the factor
responsible for the biggest caper of them all.
The book
is a racy one and it has a unique novelty wherein these
characters speak for themselves, their own point of view,
which actually gives the reader a more profound insight
into their character and due credit to the author for this
wonderful encore.
The story has an Indian backdrop and
thus is germane to the customs and the orthodox
environments prevalent over here with respect to love and
The story also includes a “ villain” called
Professor Cherian and many more details will unravel once
this book is read in its entirety about this “villain” and
the shenanigans of our three friends.
This book is a
must read for its sheer simplicity and it’s nearness to
realistic portrayal of the common man nay the common IIT
The end cannot be divulged out here lest the
essence of the actual reading is lost but one thing is
certain and that is never a disappointed eye will leave and
never a disgruntled reader will complain.
A rage in
India at present and just an abstract away from an
international bestseller!
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The lost symbol

Immersing myself in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, I was reminded of the title of Elvis Presley’s second greatest hits album, released in 1959: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.

That’s a useful sentiment in considering Brown, whose novels Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code have created the largest rift between critical reception and commercial reaction in, well, the history of the printed word.

The Da Vinci Code has sold an estimated 80 million copies in more than forty languages; critically, however, it is generally — though not universally — reviled (and if the critical response isn’t negative enough, you should spend some time on-line in book and writers’ forums, where mention of Brown is usually accompanied, one assumes, by the sound of spitting.)
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The Tao of Physics

Capra’s book, which has become virtually a classic, is simultaneously a work on avant-garde science and a work on spirituality. When twentieth century physics pushed into the frontiers of what became known as quantum mechanics, some knowledgeable individuals perceived that there was a connection between the implications of quantum physics and the mystical insights of the Far East. However, articulating these connections in a way that could be agreeable to most scientists and grasped by the layperson was somewhat problematic. Capra is considered to have been highly successful in writing such an articulation. ‘The Tao of Physics’ first appeared in 1975 and has now run through its third edition, with expansions added by the author in each new edition.

In the early stages of modern western science, beginning with Copernicus, running through the time of Galileo and culminating with Newton, science revolted against the religious authority of the medieval Church, which had upheld Aristotle. Science conceived of a universe that could be mechanically objectified, a cosmos of ‘sticks and stones’ that could be measured rationally and predictably. Although Newton and others believed in a transcendent God who had created the cosmos, the paradigm of scientific thought that was established by the late seventeenth century and which still lingers today has lead, in one direction, to a materialistic metaphysical view that denigrates traditional religion and any spiritual view of reality.

In the first half of the twentieth century, when physics reached the stage where it tried to look beyond the atom and reveal the quintessential ‘stuff’ that the universe is made of, it was forced into some astonishing conclusions. Although the universe appears to be solid, measurable, objective and predictable at one level of experience, when physicists tried to study sub-atomic particles and ‘quanta’ they found themselves dealing with a realm that could not be described as material. Instead, the ultimate nature of the universe appeared to be made of complex energy manifestations operating in an unpredictable web of patterns that was inseparable from the subjective perspectives of the individuals doing the studies. Although apparently material and visible at one level, the basic stuff of the universe is immaterial and invisible at the ultimate level.

While this did not prove the theology of western religious doctrines, some physicists realized that they had landed right in the lap of perceptions foundational in the mystical traditions of Hinduism (Vedanta), Buddhism and Taoism. For many centuries, these traditions had spoken of such things as the complementarity of opposing principles and had considered the physical universe to be an illusion created by conditioned human perception, not an absolute reality in itself. In his book, Capra systematically explains the implications of quantum physics and then systematically discusses Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese thought, Taoism and Zen. Then he explains the parallels that quantum physics has with each of these forms of eastern mysticism. Although there has not been a full-scale rush of quantum physicists into ashrams or Zen monasteries, Capra points out that the great Nils Bohr, as one outstanding example, adopted the Taoist symbol of yin and yang in his personal coat of arms.

Capra, although highly influential, is not the only thinker to have elaborated on the subject he set out to explain. Others, such as Gary Zukav and Michael Talbot (to name only two others) have written fascinating books on the topic. Also, not every theoretical physicist has interpreted quantum physics as a form of mysticism. However, the conclusions elaborated by Capra have taken root in our culture and have helped to suggest a closer interrelationship of science and spirituality.
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A Brief History Of Time

Stephen W. Hawking is very likely the most famous physicist in the world. This is partially as a result of the public's amazement that a man who is so severely disabled by motor neuron disease (Hawking has lost almost all ability to move his extremities and can only "speak" through the aid of an specially designed electronic device), can be such a brilliant scientist. But part of Hawking's fame is in his wiliness to present to the general public his fascinating views on Cosmology.

What makes Stephen W. Hawking's popular introduction to Cosmology different than others, is that it's written by one of the leading class expert. While Professor Hawking's has not won his Nobel prize yet (largely because no way yet been found to prove if his theories are right or wrong) he like his friends Roger Penrose and Kip Thorne, is one of the leaders in the field.

Hawking does insert himself into the story, but never obtrusively, just enough to remind you that science is carried out by real people. For instance he writes,

"However, one evening in November that year, shortly after the birth of my daughter, Lucy, I started to think about black holes as I was getting into bed. My disability makes this rather a slow process, so I had plenty of time."

His most interesting chapter is perhaps "Black Holes Ain't So Black" where he describes the discovery (which he was very involved in himself) that because of quantum effects, energy and particles can be emitted from black holes.

"A Brief History Of Time" contains no mathematics what so ever. Hawking was warned that every equation would half his readership and has avoided all except E = mc2.

The book ends with three short biographical sketches of the great physicists Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Hawking justifiably describes Isaac Newton as "not a pleasant man". Ironically both Hawking and Newton held the same position: Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Alchemist Review

The Alchemist presents a simple fable, based on simple truths and places it in a highly unique situation. And though we may sniff a bestselling formula, it is certainly not a new one: even the ancient tribal storytellers knew that this is the most successful method of entertaining an audience while slipping in a lesson or two. Brazilian storyteller Paulo Coehlo introduces Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who one night dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. And so he's off: leaving Spain to literally follow his dream.

Along the way he meets many spiritual messengers, who come in unassuming forms such as a camel driver and a well-read Englishman. In one of the Englishman's books, Santiago first learns about the alchemists--men who believed that if a metal were heated for many years, it would free itself of all its individual properties, and what was left would be the "Soul of the World." Of course he does eventually meet an alchemist, and the ensuing student-teacher relationship clarifies much of the boy's misguided agenda, while also emboldening him to stay true to his dreams. "My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy confides to the alchemist one night as they look up at a moonless night.

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself," the alchemist replies. "And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity." --Gail Hudson

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The Da Vinci Code

he Da Vinci Code is, in a manner of speaking, two books in one. The first is a very good suspense thriller. Author Dan Brown must either play or at least be aware of computer games; the plot has a computer game feel to it. The protagonists are dropped almost immediately into a situation of peril and must extricate themselves by solving a series of puzzles, with one puzzle's solution granting the privilege of looking at another puzzle, which also requires a solution.

There are two protagonists, Robert Landon and Sophie Neveu -- Robert an expert on religious symbology and a Harvard professor, and Sophie a cryptologist and Parisian police agent. Both have skill sets, not by accident, which allow for great success at solving puzzles -- at least the type of puzzles presented here.

The opening chapter is a grabber. Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre museum, is shot in the stomach by an albino monk named Silas and left to bleed slowly to d

eath. Jacques Sauniere is, as chance and the author would have it, the grandfather of Sophie Neveu.

The time it takes Jacques to die is time enough for him to set up the first of the puzzles to be solved. His body is found naked, arms and legs splayed, with writings (written by Jacques in his own blood) which are meant to be secret coded messages to his granddaughter, Sophie. Robert Langdon is drawn into this murder (and its startling aftermath) as the Inspector on the case, Bezu Faches, believes he is the killer. Sophie, knowing Robert is innocent, helps him escape from the Musee du Louvre, and the chase (and puzzle solving) is on.

The plot turns are suspenseful, the mysteries and their solutions clever, even ingenious in some cases. This is a true nail-biter. The problem is with the "second" book incorporated into this first rate thriller. The plot here revolves around an intellectual belief that Jesus (yes, the Christian Jesus) had a love affair and/or was married to Mary Magdalene, who was in fact pregnant with Jesus's child at the time of the crucifixion -- a fact supposedly known by the Church and covered up. The "thing" everyone is being chased and killed for, is the secret of the location of the holy grail, a location known to many who belonged to a secret society throughout history, including Leonardo Da Vinci. No, the holy grail is not, under this theory, the cup Jesus drank wine from during the Last Supper, but rather a metaphor for Mary Magdalene. She is the "cup" that held Jesus's child: she is the true holy grail.

Da Vinci (and many others in history, including Walt Disney) have made allusions in their works to "the truth" of the grail. Da Vinci "knew" the truth. How do we know? Dan Brown has a "grail expert" named Teabing tell us. See Saint Peter in Da Vinci's great work "The Last Supper?" That is "clearly" not a man, but a woman. Not only a woman, but it "must be" Mary Magdalene!

Sure, who else? Another of the author's expert characters says:

"Finally," Teabing said [still in reference to Da Vinci's "The Last Supper"], "if you view Jesus and Mary Magdalene [formerly Saint Peter] as compositional elements rather than as people, you will see another obvious shape leap out at you." He paused. "A letter of the alphabet."

Sophie saw it at enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.

What does this compositional M mean? Does it stand for the other Mary (Jesus's mother)? No, does it stand for "Master of the Arts," which Da Vinci no doubt believed himself to be? Did Da Vinci divine the future, see Walt Disney's work, and create a great M as tribute to Mickey Mouse?

Or is this M merely a compositional element in a great work of art? Anyone who has taken art history and art theory in college knows that X's and W's and, yes, M's are common compositional techniques to balance a painting. But t

his particular M must mean only one thing as far as Teabing is concerned. It means Mary Magdalene gave birth to Jesus's child and Da Vinci knew it!

This kind of conclusion is only possible when someone already has a conclusion and is looking to invent reasons to support it. Not very scientific, nor very logical. It is the intellectual equivalent of beer drinkers believing they were picked up by aliens and taken for a ride in a spaceship. The author might as well have had everyone running around searching for the secret location of a box of alien bones, proof of visitors from outer space.

And all of this "theory" is presented in a pedantic tone which slows down the action, although the author does do a good job of not letting it slow it down too much. So, four stars for the "action/suspense/puzzle plot" and one star for the silly theory that is the reason why everyone is killing everyone. That rounds out to about 2 1/2 star.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code is a novel written by American author Dan Brown and first published in 2003 that has become a worldwide bestseller with over nine million copies being sold.

The plot of this book concerns the attempts of Dr. Robert Langdon, Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University, to solve the murder of Jacques Saunière, the curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris, after Saunière's body had been found inside the Louvre naked with a cryptic message written on his torso in his own blood and posed like Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing, Vitruvian Man:-

The plot continues in ways that combine the detective thriller and conspiracy theory genres with Saunière's murder being attibuted to powerful forces that wish to preserve ancient secrets relating to Jesus having been married to Mary Magdalene and having been the father of their child.

The interpretation of hidden messages inside Da Vinci's famous works, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, figure prominently in the solution to the mystery. The solution itself is found to be intimately connected with the possible location of the Holy Grail and to a mysterious society called the Priory of Sion, as well as to the Knights Templar. The Catholic organization Opus Dei also figures prominently in the plot.

It transpires that Saunière was in fact the secret head of the Priory of Sion - an organisation that was devoted to preserving certain secrets about the location of the Holy Grail. The cryptic messages on his body being his own dying attempts to leave an important message to his grand-daughter, Sophie Neveu, who was employed by the French state as a cryptologist.

According to the novel, the secrets of the Holy Grail, as kept by the Priory of Sion, are as follows:

The Holy Grail is not a physical chalice, but a woman, namely Mary Magdalene, who helped to carry the bloodline of Christ into the following ages.

Mary Magdalene was of royal descent (through the Jewish House of Benjamin) and was the wife of Jesus, of the House of David. That she was a prostitute was a slander invented by the Catholic Church to obscure their true relationship. At the time of the Crucifixion, she was pregnant. After the Crucifixion, she fled to Gaul, where she was sheltered by the Jews of Marseilles. She gave birth to a daughter, named Sarah. The bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene became the Merovingian dynasty of France.

The French expression for the Holy Grail, San gréal, actually is a play on Sang réal, which literally means "royal blood".

The Grail relics consist of the documents that testify to the bloodline, as well as the actual bones of Mary Magdalene.

Sophie Neveu and her brother are descendants of the original bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (their last name was changed to hide their ancestry).

The existence of the bloodline was the secret that was contained in the documents discovered by the Crusaders after they conquered Jerusalem in 1099. The Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar were organized to keep the secret.

The Da Vinci Code has been criticised by many scholars but it has undoubtedly helped to spur widespread popular interest in certain theories concerning the legend of the Holy Grail and the role of Mary Magdalene in the history of Christianity.

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