Book Reviews: How Cool Is That ? !

July-August 2010

By James T. Tresner II, Book Review Editor

Subsequent to a slight tumble down a short flight of stairs a few months ago, I decided that, much as I disliked the thing, I needed to start carrying my cell phone with me. I then discovered that it was lost. Calling upon friend and Brother Damon Devereaux (who I know understands the arcana of such things), I asked him to take me shopping for a new phone—determined to purchase the least-expensive one I could find. Being me, I ended up purchasing an iPhone. There was a reason; it has by far the largest “buttons” of any phone out there, and I could actually use it. I then discovered the world of iPhone applications (“apps” to the cognoscenti). One can download information or programs to do almost anything. One, called “Stealth” and recommended to me by Damon, produces a sound which those older than 21 can’t hear, but which drives young urchins wild. I haven’t actually used it yet, but it is a comfort (when, for example, I am in a restaurant filled with screaming little ones) to know that revenge is only a press of a button away.

I bring this up because there are some very useful apps for Freemasons. More are being developed all the time, so this will be out of date before it is printed. You can find a lot of information if you do an Internet search on Masonic iPhone apps. Most of these can be downloaded at the iTunes store. (Editor’s Note: I found it easier to do a Google search on “[app name] iphone app” to find the app in the iTunes store.)

The Ultimate Freemasonry Library, Version 1.0. The usual price for this app is less than $9, but it is sometimes available for free. At either price, it is an incredible deal. You get eleven books downloaded to your iPhone, including the following:

• Illustrations of Masonry by Morgan (yes, the book which caused the “Morgan affair” )
• Morals and Dogma by Pike
• Devil Worship in France by Waite (the Taxil Hoax)
• The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Mackey
• Shibboleth: A Templar Monitor by Connor
• The Builders by Newton

Talk about holding an entire classic Masonic library in your hand!

Masonic Traveler created by FraternalSoft. This app costs $7.99 at the iTunes store, but it’s well worth it. Especially if you like to visit Lodges as you travel, this application will give you the location of more than 10,000 Lodges in the United States. It will use your current location to search for nearby Lodges, or you can search by Lodge name, area code, jurisdiction, or Lodge type. For most Lodges, it will give you the name, the physical address, the days and times of meeting, and, in some cases, telephone numbers and other contact information. How cool is that!

iNitiator downloads for 99¢ from the iTunes store. Speaking of cool—this is. Masonry draws many of its teaching symbols from alchemy, the Kabbalah, and from the zodiac. This app is like a set of flash cards teaching those symbols and others so that they are more easily recognized and remembered. As the description has it: iNitiator is intended to be a training instrument which supports the student in memorizing symbols, attributions, representations, qualities and so forth whilst accelerating the progress of his studies. Also, it’s just fun to use. (Note: you can download iNitiatorLite for free, but it has much less; it’s well worth springing for the 99¢.)

Now to the books.

Redman, Graham, Masonic Etiquette Today: A Modern Guide to Masonic Protocol and Practice, Hersham, Surrey, UK: Ian Allen Publishing, 2009, hardback, 198 pages, ISBN 978-0-85318-297-9. Cover price $27.95 available on the Internet from about $16 used, $20 new.

As the book cover points out, Brother Redman is Assistant Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England and has “acquired a compendious knowledge—and understanding—of the Book of Constitutions, which is probably unequalled at present in the English Constitution.” This is an interesting book for anyone fascinated by the differences in the Masonic cultures around the world. It is of limited used as a practical guide in most American Grand Jurisdictions (which is not its purpose, after all) but it is an interesting insight into Freemasonry as practiced by our British Brethren.

Heisner, John R., The Secrets of Hiram Abif: A “Key” to Understanding Masonic Symbolism, Baltimore: PublishAmerica, LLLP, 2009, softbound, 329 pages, ISBN 1-60836-847-5. Available on the Internet for about $30.

This is Brother Heisner’s third book on the topic, following Meditations on Masonic Symbolism and Advanced Meditations on Masonic Symbolism. I found the first two to be interesting and helpful, and that is certainly true of this new book.

I must utter again the usual caveat—no one speaks officially for Freemasonry, especially when it comes to interpretation of symbols. Read the book as a source of ideas for your thinking, but not as something with which you must agree.

That said, the book really challenges your thinking in useful ways. The first part is organized by the episodes in the legend, with chapters titled “A Motive for Murder,” “The Murder Weapon,” “The Places of Burial,” “At the Gravesite,” etc. The remainder is organized around themes and ideas. Just to give a single example, there is a very short chapter devoted to the sea captain and the wayfaring man. I had primarily thought of these two characters as necessary plot devices. Brother Heisner convinced me that I needed to take a much deeper look. This is one of those books I read quickly for purposes of a review, but then put in a special stack to read again, slowly, and with highlighter in hand.

Creason, Todd L., Famous American Freemasons—Vol. II, Lulu.com, 2009, softbound, 294 pages, ISBN 978-0-557-07088-6. Cover price $17.95, available on the Internet, new and used, from $11.99

Brother Todd Creason, 32°, has done it again. Volume I was a great deal of fun (cleverly disguising a great deal of information). If anything, the second volume is even better. His narrative style remains the same: devoting short chapters to each person, but starting each chapter with drama, or comedy, or whatever is appropriate to the subject matter. Just as a teaser, let me quote the opening of chapter 11.

“A Vewwy Twicky Wascal!”
It was a horrific car accident. He had broken nearly every bone in his body and lost nine pints of blood before he reached the hospital. One of the fireman on the scene said, “We should just have put him in a sack.” He was given a one-in-a-thousand chance of surviving … He was in a coma for three weeks, swathed in a full body cast with his head covered in a thick layer of bandages…. The doctors feared that he might’ve suffered brain damage. They tried everything to revive him to no avail.

On the 21st day of his coma, his neurosurgeon was in the room, checking his chart. The television set was on. A famous cartoon rabbit was being chased by a famous cartoon hunter. Inspiration suddenly struck the doctor. He leaned over the man and called through the bandages, “How are you feeling today, Bugs Bunny?”

Faintly, from within the mass of bandages, came the muffled reply. In distinctive Brooklynese, he said, “Eh, just fine, Doc. How’re you?”

The man, of course, was Brother Mel Blanc. As I’ve suggested before, these chapters make great Masonic education pieces; short enough to read aloud in Lodge and sure to keep the attention. Highly recommended.

MacCullouch, Diarmaid, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, New York: Viking Press, 2009, hardbound, 1,160 pages, maps, color and b&w illustrations, ISBN 978-0-670-02126-0. Cover price $45, available new and used on the Internet from $17.

MW Richard Fletcher called this book to my attention, for which much thanks! Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote of this book: A triumphantly executed achievement. This book is a landmark in its field; astonishing in its range, compulsively readable, full of insight even for the most jaded professional and of illumination for the interested general reader. It will have few, if any, rivals in the English language.

True enough! Starting a thousand years before the Advent, MacCullouch traces the faiths and events which led to the founding of Christianity, and have played so major a role in human history since. The author does a remarkable job of taking all this chaos and bringing a coherent and understandable history from it. It becomes easier to understand how the faith has developed. It is simply the best treatment of the subject I have ever read. And our Fraternity makes it into this history on several occasions, with discussions of the ways in which Freemasonry has been a part of the great cultural and intellectual contexts of religion. While we say, and say truly, that Masonry is not a substitute for religion, it is nevertheless true that some people have tried to use it for that purpose. MacCullouch suggests, in passing, some of the ways in which the Fraternity has interacted in the great pageant of human belief.

In spite of being intellectually rigorous, the book is easy to read and encourages page-turning. At a thousand pages it isn’t a quick read, but it is a most enjoyable one.

Sutherland, Denise & Koltko-Rivera, Ph.D., Mark E., Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies, Hoboken: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2010, softbound, 324 pages, illustrations, ISBN 978-0-470-59100-0. Cover price $9.99, Available new and used on the Internet from about $6.

Bro. Christopher Hodapp, 32°, wrote the foreword to this enjoyably frustrating book. The authors are Denise Sutherland, puzzle creator with an international following, and Brother Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, Ph.D., 32°, and Knight Templar. That combination tells us something.

Codes and cryptograms have been an important part of Freemasonry from the beginning, as Brothers sought ways to write down ritual without writing down ritual. Many invented codes of their own which have only recently been broken and transliterated (Dr. S. Brent Morris, 33°, managing editor of The Scottish Rite Journal, is a leading expert in the field of Masonic cryptography). Chapter 8 is devoted to Masonic ciphers and includes seven different ciphers. Included are the usual Masonic or York Rite or “pigpen” cipher based on the octothorn (#, also octothorp, octothorpe, sharp, etc.), a cipher once used by the Rose Croix, and one once used by the 31°.

This is a fun book, but don’t think of it as casual browsing; you’ll work for what you get!

McKay, Brett & Kate, The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man, Cincinnati: HOW Publishers, 2009, softbound, 275 pages, ISBN-13 978-16006-1462-0. Cover price $16.99, available on the Internet, new and used, from $6.

As Homer Simpson takes the helm as the icon of the incompetent male and metrosexuals grace the airways to explain why tears and pedicures are lawful editions to manhood, it was refreshing to pick up this useful and well written tome of masculinity. The Art of Manliness reads in many ways like a Masonic guidelines and recommendations manual.

It has long been my opinion that among the many purposes of the Fraternity, Freemasonry is a sort of masculine finishing school, a refinery of warrior poets. The McKays capture that same essence of well-rounded and balanced masculinity without trampling the dignity of others or recommending misogyny. One thing which is specifically recommended—the Craft as a Fraternal Organization. The authors suggest Freemasonry is valuable and important as a social, charitable, and philosophical rite of passage.

Brett McKay, a recent graduate of the University of Tulsa School of Law and webmaster of the wildly successful artofmanliness.com has heeded his own advice and petitioned a local lodge in Oklahoma.

I highly recommend this read. Specifically, I recommend buying a few and keeping them close. The next time a young man asks you, “What is Freemasonry all about anyway?” Square your shoulders, stand up straight, look ’em dead in the eye and say, “It’s about honor, it’s about the courage to improve and it’s about being a man.” Hand them a copy of the book and make a plan to get together and discuss it. Let’s be honest, the art of manliness and the art of Masonry go hand in hand. (Review by Cliff Porter, KCCH)

To which let me add “Amen.” The description of the benefits of fraternal association is among the best I have ever read. (J.T.)