Book Reviews: Variety Pack

May-June 2011

James T. Tresner II, 33°, Grand Cross, Book Review Editor

I remember the old television variety shows with a certain nostalgia. Even if you did not like what was on at the moment, you knew that only a few minutes would bring something different. We have the same sort of variety this month. I hope you find something you enjoy.

Hammer, Brother Andrew, Observing the Craft: The Pursuit of Excellence in Masonic Labour and Observance, Mindhive Books (2010), paperbound, 145 pages, ISBN 978-0-9818316-1-9. Available on the Internet from about $16.

Worshipful Brother Hammer was the Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 when the book was published. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a meeting of the Lodge of the Nine Muses No. 1776 in Washington, D.C.


The task we have before us is no less than reclaiming the dignity of what we have been told is the greatest fraternal organization in the world. To be a member of which we are told is an honour more important than any other. In doing so, we reclaim and enhance our dignity as brothers and as men, and restore the real meaning to what has become an empty slogan.

The men who established our rituals and codified the structure of the Craft would be appalled at the notion that nothing was ever to be questioned, studied or understood, but merely followed in a manner more befitting sheep than seekers of light.


In some ways, it is easy to describe the book—in other ways it is very difficult. Essentially, Brother Hammer is telling us that details matter, and that how Masonry is “done” matters as well. He says much that makes me want to cheer loudly.

I could not agree more. On the other hand, there are some things I see a little differently. I think the roles of the Scottish and York Rites are more important than Brother Hammer does. But, at that, he points out: As the freedom of thought is undeniably at the core of our institution, it is only natural that free-thinking souls will find different paths within what is the same landscape of Masonry.

I really recommend this book to everyone. You may find things with which you disagree, and if disagreement leads to thought, it is a great benefit. But you will find much with which you do agree, and many things that are very well and tellingly said. It is an intelligent and thoughtful book, by an intelligent and thoughtful Brother.

Claudy, Bro. Carl H., Old Tiler Talks, The Temple Publishers (orig. pub. 1925; this edition, 2010), paperbound, 215 pages, ISBN 0-9724445-6-4. Available for $15 + S&H from theTemplePublishers.com.

For Brothers unfamiliar with him, Carl Claudy was one of the most prolific writers in Masonry. Marked by a fine sense of history and an uncommon common sense, he produced histories, novels, plays, and many short articles. Of these, the Old Tiler Talks are among my favorites.

I have always hoped to be known as a sage old codger (I’ve managed the last two) and the Old Tiler was that in spades. The characters are almost always the same, the Old Tiler, sitting in his place outside the Lodge, and the New Brother, who is usually bent out of shape about something. The Old Tiler, sometimes with gentle persuasion, and sometimes with a downright acid tongue, helps the New Brother gain insight and perspective (and does the same for the reader at the same time).

It is possible to say that some of the stories are hokey—much the same can be said of any parable or teaching fable, but they reveal important truths. I’m delighted that this book has been reissued and I strongly recommend it—especially, perhaps, to New Brothers.

Tabbert, Brother Mark A., Museum and Memorial: Ten Years of Masonic Writings, New Orleans: Cornerstone Book Publishers (2011), paperbound, 165 pages, ISBN 1-934-935-83-2. Available for $16.95 + S&H, purchasing the book through the George Washington Masonic National Memorial helps to support the Memorial building. To order, go to the website GWMemorial.org, click “Enter”, then “Gift Shop”, and then “Books.

Here is a variety pack in a single book. I sincerely hope you already own a copy of Brother Tabbert’s book American Freemasons: The Centuries of Building Communities (by the way, if you don’t you can also purchase a copy of it and of Observing the Craft through the Memorial book store web site), which is a beautiful book that I love to show to people interested in Masonry. Mark started his career working with the Scottish Rite Masonic National Heritage Museum as Curator of Masonic and Fraternal Collections, and then moved to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as Director of Collections; hence the title “Museum and Memorial.” The book is a collection of essays and articles written over that time.

The book ranges over topics such as, the importance of presenting the physical assets of Masonry in a compelling way, the Internet, the impulse to memorialize, and much more. And it is written in Mark’s clear and easy-going style, which makes reading his work more like a conversation. I’m sure you will enjoy this book, and by purchasing it through the Memorial, you not only get a good read, you help in a very important mission.

Carroll, James, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited our Modern World, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011), hardbound, 432 pages, ISBN 0-547-1956-1-2. Cover price $28, available on the Internet from about $18.

This is another “feather alert” book (one recommended to me by M.W. Richard Fletcher, Executive Director, Masonic Service Association), and it is a heck of a ride! You don’t buzz through this book, it demands more than that from you. It is a book to read slowly and to take time to think. Spiritually, it is not a comfortable book. The author, as he tells us, is a former Priest of the Church of Rome, who left the priesthood after a spiritual crisis, and we participate, not in his personal crisis, but in humanity’s.
In some ways, the author seems to see Jerusalem as the creation of all the least-noble attributes of humanity—the result of religion and violence, which he sees as natural companions. It seems one can hardly have one without the other, at least in the western tradition. As I said, this is not a comfortable book to read.

There are references to Freemasonry, which is why the book is in this column. But it is hard to characterize those references. In spite of the tone, I think they are not really either dismissive or patronizing. It seems to me that he does not really understand the spirit or motive of Freemasonry, but I may be wrong.

It is a book very much worth reading and considering. Just don’t lose your faith in mankind in the process.

Koltko-Rivera, Ph.D., Bro. Mark E., Freemasonry: An Introduction, New York: Penguin, this edition (2011), paperbound, 196 pages, some illustrations, ISBN 978-1-58542-853-3. Cover price $11.95, available on the Internet new and used from about $6.

Brother Koltko-Rivera is familiar to many Masons because of his many contributions to Heredom, the Scottish Rite Journal, and the Philalethes magazine. He is also a distinguished author in the field of psychology, and author of the blog Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend (theMasonicBlog.blogspot.com).

The 2007 edition of this fine little book is already hard to find, and it is reasonable to assume that this edition will be as popular. This is a reader-friendly, non-nonsense introduction to the Fraternity. It is a great book to lend a friend who wants to know more about the Craft, but it is also a good general overview for those who are already members. General topics include “Freemasonry: What is it?”; “Why Men Become Freemasons”; “How Freemasonry Works”; “Masonic Symbolism”; “How Freemasonry Began”; “Masonic Controversies”; “Anti-Masonry: Accusations Versus Truths”; “Freemasonry in Fiction: Myth Versus Reality”; and “How to Become a Freemason.”

There are wonderful little “nuggets” tucked into the pages of the book, and as a whole it is an interesting and informative read. Buy one for yourself and one for that friend.

McClintock, Bro. Chris, The Craft and the Cross, Aesun Publishing (2010). Available online from theCraftandtheCross.com for about $30, including shipping from England.

Lomas, Knight, Picknett, Baigent and others have well documented the idea of a Templar, Cathar, or other Gnostic influence in Masonry, and in that regard The Craft and the Cross does not cover new territory. But that is where the similarities end. Brother McClintock does two things that I am not certain have been done anywhere else. He approaches the similarities in origin from an Irish Masonic perspective. Some of the oldest and most continuous Masonic rites, little tinkered with, have survived in the Lodges in Ireland. With this lack of ritual revision, if Brother McClintock’s research and correlation are to be believed, there are some startling revelations, which include new Islamic influences upon the Templars with a mixture of very private and very public groups, a distinct singular set of origins for the birth of Christianity, and Gnostic solar imagery in Masonry.

I am certain that The Craft and the Cross will bring similar academic reaction from those whose mantra is always the same when Masonry and Templarism are mentioned in the same breath. You will do yourself a disservice if you listen to that mantra or cry it out without first reading this book. If only for a glimpse at the Irish approach to Masonry and one man’s journey to finding what he believes the origins of our symbolism and Christian worship to be, the book is well worth the read.

It is available at the address above, and is soon coming to Amazon. Until then, for American Masons, you must whip it across the pond, but it is worth the cost of shipping to have this one on the bookshelf. (Review by G. Cliff Porter, 32° K.C.C.H.)

I have the book on order, but have not yet had a chance to read it. But almost any book on the origins of Masonic symbols is worth reading and considering, and I have been told this is especially good. (J.T.)