Book Reviews: Enlightening Strikes

September-October 2010

We’re under a tornado watch as I am writing this. The wind and rain are lashing around my study on the second floor of the house, and I could have sworn the lightning just illuminated an old woman on a bicycle flying past. The air is a mixture of rain, leaves, hail, and the odd scrap of paper. In some ways, Masonic education can be like that; a mixture of the good, the solid, the imaginative (sometimes as opposed to researched), and the attack. And then, if you are lucky, comes that moment amidst the chaos when enlightening strikes and something becomes clear. Knowing what’s good isn’t always easy. To help, in this column you will find some recommendations by those uniquely qualified to offer them.

We asked some of the most respected and best qualified Masonic Librarians to recommend up to five books as their top picks for general Masonic information, and another five books for deeper study. Their responses are given below, with thanks. With the exception of Further Light and One Hundred Questions About Freemasonry, which are available from MSANA, the books can be found for purchase on the Internet.

I had the advantage of reading the suggestions of the experts who follow before I had to write my own. As a result, to give you a wider variety of choices, I’ve tried not to recommend books suggested by others. The fact I have not included a book myself does not mean I would not recommend it. (S. Brent Morris, Arturo de Hoyos, Mark Tabbert, and Kirk MacNulty, for example, are always near the top of my reading lists).

General Masonic Education

  • Building Hiram: Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education and Building Boaz: Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education, Volume 2 by Dr. John S. Nagy (buildinghiram.blogspot.com)—I find both these books especially helpful in Masonic education. Written in a Q & A format, these little books explore many of the ideas of the Blue Lodge Degrees. They provide a lot of insight and more or less “trick” you into thinking more deeply about the symbols and structures of Freemasonry. You can find them on the Internet.
  • The History of the Blue Lodge Ritual by Robert G. Davis (DVD, Capstone Productions, masonictv.com)—Bob Davis is perhaps the most knowledgeable man in the US concerning the history and evolution of the Blue Lodge ritual in America. In this lecture, delivered at the 1996 Minneapolis Masonic Expo, he shows us whence we came. Now if he’d just finish writing the book!
  • One Hundred Questions about Freemasonry (Masonic Service Association of North America, msana.com)—This little booklet has been around a long time, but it is still one of the best sources for a quick review or overview of Masonic information.

For Deeper Study
First of all, for deeper study in a vast number of fields relating to Freemasonry, I’d strongly recommend Heredom, the annual proceedings of the Scottish Rite Research Society. You receive the books automatically when you join the Research Society (www.scottishrite.org/what/educ/srrs.html), and there is no finer collection of research and information on Masonic topics to be found.

  • Sensible Signs: The Emblematic Education of Post-Revolution Freemasonry by Steven C. Bullock (DVD, Capstone Productions, masonictv.com)—Prof. Bullock’s book Revolutionary Brotherhood has been recommended with good reason by others in this column. I’d like to call your attention to this lecture which illustrates the ways in which Masonic symbols generalized into the population at large. This is a really interesting lecture!
  • The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual by Timothy Hogan (Lulu.com, 2006)—Most people feel that many of the symbols used in Freemasonry are alchemical in origin, but no one before has taken the trouble to trace them out. This is a small book, but it can cause some big changes in your thinking.
  • Magus: The Invisible Life of Elias Ashmole by Tobias Churton (Signal Publishing, 2004)—Ashmole is one of the first Speculative Masons of whom we have record. He was a truly fascinating and complex man and one of the leading lights of his day. This book not only tells you about him, but paints a compelling picture of the time when operative was transforming into speculative Masonry.
  • From Sacrifice to Symbol: The Story of Cornerstones and Stability Rites by Jim Tresner (Anchor Communications, 2003, goanchor.com)—OK, it is a shamelessly cheesy thing to recommend one’s own books; but the history of cornerstones, especially dating from the ancient period, is interesting and so far as I know there is no other book. Of course for cornerstones in the United States, the finest book is S. Brent Morris’s Cornerstones of Freedom: A Masonic Tradition, which I hope you have in your library.

Bro. Thomas M. Savini

Director of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York

General Masonic Education

  • The Freemasons by Jasper Ridley (2001, Arcade)—objective examination of the history and development of Freemasonry against the backdrop of world history. Neither glorifies nor denigrates the Craft, simply explains the activities of Freemasonry and Freemasons through the lens of historical analysis.
  • Way of the Craftsman by Kirk MacNulty (1988, Arkana; 2002, Central Regalia)—thought-provoking exploration of the philosophical, inspirational and internal aspects of Freemasonry.
  • The Craft and Its Symbols by Allen E. Roberts (1974, Macoy, macoy.com)—the first book on Masonic symbolism every newly-raised Mason should read. Provides an excellent foundation to those wishing to understand the meanings attached to our system of symbols.
  • Freemasons for Dummies by Christopher Hodapp (2005, Wiley) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry by S. Brent Morris (2006, Alpha)—two exhaustive compilations of all the basic information relating to Freemasonry. Either or both make indispensable desk references.
  • American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities by Mark Tabbert (2005, NYU Press; 2006, National Heritage Museum, supremecouncil.org)—realistic study of the development of Freemasonry in America, and the evolving role of fraternalism within the framework of American society.

For Deeper Study

  • The Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale (2009, Arcade)—well-written and well-documented history of the crusading Knights Templar, which examines and debunks Masonic descent theories.
  • Lost Keys of Freemasonry by Manly P. Hall (1976, Macoy, macoy.com)—still a vital component of the esoteric aspects of Freemasonry, presented in a fairly-digestible manner.
  • Our Stations and Places by Henry G. Meacham (1942, 2004, Grand Lodge of New York)—practical guidebook for protocol and performance within the lodge and among Masons. Provides day-to-day guidance for how to function as a Mason within the organization as it exists.
  • Valley of the Craftsmen by the A&ASR, SJ (Supreme Council, 2001, scottishrite.org)—the history of a major portion of the Scottish Rite in North America, presented with an engaging theme, well researched text and glorious illustrations.
  • Franklin: the Essential Founding Father by James Srodes (2002, Regnery)—biography of the epitome of American Freemasonry.

Bro. Mark A. Tabbert

Director of Collections, Library of the George Washington Masonic Memorial

General Masonic Education

  • American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities by Mark A. Tabbert, (2005, National Heritage Museum, supremecouncil.org)—Not that this is the best book written, but it does bring together many shorter and deeper Masonic histories into one long narrative. It also provides an excellent bibliography that may lead the reader to deeper sources. Plus great illustrations! [Brother Mark is being modest. This is an outstanding book! Jim T.]
  • Freemasons for Dummies by Christopher Hodapp, (2005, Wiley) and The Complete Idiots Guide to Freemasonry by S. Brent Morris (2006, Alpha)—These two book complement each other. The Dummies book is written by a Masonic amateur scholar with a lively wit, while Ill. Bro. Morris is a foremost scholar of the Craft and provides more facts and figures.
  • Freemasonry: A Journey Through Ritual and Symbol by W. Kirk MacNulty, (Thames and Hudson, 1991)—An excellent book that provides many wonderful illustrations. Its short narrative provides great insight into deeper meaning of Masonic ritual and truly conveys the great moral and spiritual purposes of the Craft.
  • Introduction to Freemasonry, 3 vols. by Carl H. Claudy, (Temple Publishers, thetemplebooks.com, 1931)—A must read for Masons for over 75 years. Every Freemason should read these books within a week of being raised a Master Mason and before speaking in lodge or offering any opinion on any aspect of the Craft.
  • 10,000 Famous Freemasons, 4 vols. by William R. Denslow, (Fulton, Mo.: Missouri Lodge of Research, 1957)—While badly in need of a thorough update and revision, nonetheless these four volumes are a pleasure to browse. It never disappoints to discover the varieties of good (and bad) men who are associated with the Craft.

For Deeper Study

  • Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe by Margaret C. Jacob. (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1991)—This book takes the reader deeper into the culture and society that created modern Freemasonry. When it is stated that Freemasonry is a “fruit of the enlightenment,” Prof. Jacob explains the enlightenment tree.
  • Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840 by Steven C. Bullock, (Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 1996)—This is a deep and thorough history of early American Freemasonry. It is the single best book to understand the Craft’s role in the American revolution, the early republic, and through the anti-Masonic period.
  • Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880–1930 by Lynn Dumenil, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989)—The one book that best articulates how American Freemasonry moved from a Victorian moral and philosophical fraternity to a modern social and charitable community service organization. This book tells us how we got where we are today.
  • The Rosslyn Hoax? Viewing Rosslyn Chapel from a New Perspective by Robert L. D. Cooper, (London: Lewis Masonic, 2006)—Cooper’s book delves deep into every carving and corner of Rosslyn Chapel, but more importantly it examines 200 years of history written by Freemasonry’s supporters and detractors. This book not only dispels many myths, such as the Templar so-called connection, but also traces the myths’ and legends’ source.
  • Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle: Two Centuries of Scottish Freemasonry in America by William L. Fox, (Supreme Council, S.J.; Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press, 1997)—Arguably the best institutional history within Freemasonry. Fox moved beyond the great and important personalities of the Scottish Rite and explores the greater social and economic forces that molded the Rite, Freemasonry and America since 1813.

M.W. Richard E. Fletcher

Executive Secretary, Masonic Service Association of North America

General Masonic Education

  • The Freemasons by Jasper Ridley—One of the best histories you will find of the Masonic fraternity told by a non-Mason.
  • Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia—(Richmond, Va.: Macoy, 1961, 1996, macoy.com) No Masonic Library can be without a copy. An excellent source for a clear definition of anything Masonic.
  • Further Light: Helpful Information for New Master Masons by Jim Tresner (Masonic Service Association, msana.com—A concise and enjoyable explanation of the Fraternity, its meaning and purpose.

For Deeper Study

  • Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic. 1789–1815 by Gordon S. Wood (Oxford University Press, 2009)—An excellent read both for the American history it provides as well as clearly explaining the role Freemasonry played in the development of Democracy in the U.S.
  • Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840 by Steven C. Bullock, (Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 1996)—An interesting history of Freemasonry and its role in the American Revolution.
  • Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717–1927 by Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs (Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 2007)—We all know early Freemasonry came from England (and Scotland). This book traces the movement of Freemasonry as the British Empire expanded, literally around the world.
  • House Undivided: The Story of Freemasonry and the Civil War by Allen Roberts (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1961, 1996, macoy.com)—An excellent history of the involvement of Freemasonry in the US Civil War.

Bro. Bill Krueger

Librarian of the Library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa

General Masonic Education

  • Freemasons for Dummies by Christopher Hodapp (Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2005)—This is a good basic reference book that covers what Freemasonry is all about. It includes the history of Freemasonry, information on its appendant bodies, basic information on symbolism and philosophy of Freemasonry, and much more. It is written in a very readable format that is easy to understand.
  • Introduction to Freemasonry by H. L. Haywood (Des Moines, Ia.: Research Lodge No. 2, 1976)—This is the very first book I read on Freemasonry when I first joined the staff of the Iowa Masonic Library. Haywood is a very readab1e author, easy to understand and this book hits all of the important aspects of Freemasonry in less than 100 pages.
  • The Newly-Made Mason: What He and Every Mason Should Know About Masonry by H. L. Haywood (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1973, macoy.com.)—This is a very nice companion to the above listed book and it’s by the same author. In this book, Haywood goes into more detail about history, symbolism, philosophy, and etiquette of Masonry. I feel that it contains the basic information that the new Mason needs.
  • The Craft and its Symbols: Opening the Door to Masonic Symbolism by Allen E. Roberts (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1974, macoy.com)—If Masonry is “a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” then this is the basic primer necessary to begin one’s understanding of Masonic symbols. The book is well written, easy to understand and separated into three parts; each part covering the symbolism of the first three degrees of Masonry.
  • Freemasonry in Iowa: an Historical Narrative by Keith Arrington (Highland Springs, Va.: Anchor Communications, 1989, goanchor.com)—Since I am an Iowan, I have to include this book on the basic history of Freemasonry in our state. Arrington wrote this book in the 1ate 1980s as a compilation of the five-volume history of our Grand Lodge. It provides a very good background to the rich Masonic history we have here in Iowa, as well as a basic history of our magnificent library.

For Deeper Study

  • A Pilgrim’s Path: Freemasonry and the Religious Right by John J. Robinson (New York: M. Evans, 1993)—This book covers some of the more current detractors of Freemasonry and explores many of the misstatements made by them. The book helps to defuse many of the arguments against the Fraternity. Robinson was not a Mason when this book was written but made the decision to join the Fraternity after it was finished.
  • The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions by Margaret C. Jacob (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)—In this book, Dr. Jacob examines the origins of Freemasonry and, as the title implies, separates the facts from the fictions. She looks at various aspects of Freemasonry, how it developed, why it grew, what it was like to be a Freemason, and helps provide an overall understanding of Freemasonry in 18th-century Europe.
  • Masques of Solomon: the Origin of the Third Degree by C. Bruce Hunter (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 2003, macoy.com)—In this book, Hunter explores what inspired the early Freemasons to create the ritual of the Third Degree. He provides a very interesting series of clues to help solve what he calls a “cold case.”
  • Out of the Shadows: the Emergence of Prince Hall Freemasonry in America by Alton G. Roundtree and Paul M. Bessel (Camp Springs, Md.: KLR Publishing LLC, 2006, klr.kofu33.org)—This is a very comprehensive look at the history of Prince Hall Freemasonry from the mid-1770s to the present. It includes the origin of Black Freemasonry, the National Grand Lodge, writers of Prince Hall Masonry, objections to recognition, and the current status of Prince Hall recognition in the United States. I feel it is an important book to include in the study of the overall history of Freemasonry in the United States.
  • The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century, 1590–1710 by David Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)—This book is almost a companion volume to the one I listed above by Margaret C. Jacob. Dr. Stevenson provides a very comprehensive look into the very early history of Scottish Freemasonry and includes discussions on William Schaw, the Sinclairs, and Masonry in 17th-century Scotland and England.

Ms. Larissa Watkins

Assistant Librarian, House of the Temple Library

General Masonic Education

  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry by S. Brent Morris (Alpha, 2006)—Dr. Morris’ book is now and is likely to remain a masterpiece of this genre. It is a valuable reference book about the Fraternity as whole. It can also be effectively used as a handbook by the Brethren and as a general information source by the profane.
  • Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia by Henry Wilson Coil (Richmond, Va.: Macoy Publishing, 1961, 1996, macoy.com)—This is a treasure chest of information on virtually any subject concerning the Masonic fraternity. Also, the glossary is an invaluable reference source in developing an operative Masonic vocabulary.
  • World Freemasonry by John Hamil and Robert A. Gilbert. (Aquarian Press, 1991)—Two prominent Freemasons have laid out before us an impressive and colorful journey into the history of the Craft around the Globe and the book is a fantasy vessel which transports into the world of Masonry Universal.
  • Freemasonry Universal: A New Guide to the Masonic World, 2 vols., by Kent Henderson and Tony Pope (Global Masonic Publications, 1998)—For those brethren interested in Masonry Universal, this two-volume set is the single modern guide book which offers a comprehensive and profound examination of how Masonry is practiced in every country where it exists. Based on years of work by two eminent Masonic researchers, these volumes provide essential details on the boundaries and distinctiveness of the Fraternity.
  • American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities by Mark A. Mark (New York University Press, 2005)—This book is a starting point not only to learn about the unique history and culture of American Freemasonry, but more importantly it provides the philosophic foundation from which to develop a spiritual attachment to it.

For Deeper Study

  • King Solomon’s Temple in the Masonic Tradition by Alex Horne (Aquarian Press, 1972)—This insightful tome provides the perspective necessary to comprehend the Hiramic Legend in Masonic Ritual and its evolution throughout the history of the Fraternity.
  • Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States: 1734–1850, 2 vols. by Kent Logan Walgreen (American Antiquarian Society, 2003)—This two volume set is the finest and most comprehensive bibliography about the formative period of American Freemasonry ever compiled. And for professional researchers, it is the single source of historiography which traces the path of the establishment and development of the Masonic Fraternity in America up to 1850.
  • Freemasonry and American Culture: 1880–1930 by Lynn Dumenil (Princeton University Press, 1984)—Covering a period of history when American Masonry was at its peak of power and influence, this volume analyzes the impact of Freemasonry on society and culture, a topic in Masonic literature that is very rarely encountered. Written by a non-Masonic scholar and academic, it employs an approach that could be useful as a model methodology for modern inquiries.
  • The Scottish Rite Ritual, Monitor, and Guide by Arturo De Hoyos (Washington, D.C.: Supreme Council, 33°, SJ., 2007, scottishrite.org)—This essential volume is a work of profound scholarly excellence. It is an indispensable source of insight and comprehension for inquiry into the veiled philosophical meanings of Scottish Rite teachings.
  • History of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States of America and its Antecedents, 2 vols. by Samuel Baynard Harrison (Boston, 1938)—This deep and multilevel literary endeavor is an essential work from which to study and reflect upon the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.