My main interest in this book is because my father was a Freemason. He never divulged the secrets he had sworn not to. The Craft does, although to what extent, I don’t know. It is a brilliantly written history of Freemasonry, from its beginnings in late 16th century Scotland, to the present day.
The structure follows the conflicts that Freemasonry has endured. It begins with its persecution by the Catholic Church. It flows through America and the British Empire, charting the separation of lodges by race. It explores the demonisation of Freemasonry by Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. Having them as enemies, is probably the best testimonial an organisation can have.
It concludes with the current direction of travel. Freemasonry is essentially a brotherhood. There are now women’s lodges, but they are separate, although affiliated. In that way it seems reminiscent of the Prince Hall lodges in the USA, for black brothers, same organisation, rituals, and values, but separate. The author draws a distinction between Freemasonry in France and the English speaking world. In France he spoke with Olivia Chaumont. Olivia was the first woman to be elected as a Lodge Master. However, when she was first initiated in Freemasonry, in 1992, she was biologically male.
There is so much more in this fine book than I can cover in a short review. I have already posted about Medgar Evers, P2, and Intolerance. There is also a chapter about the Italian mafia. The sub-title is apt. It is a book as much about the modern world as Freemasonry’s role in it. I bought The Craft when Claire and I visited The Grand Lodge in Covent Garden on an open day a few weeks ago. Freemasonry’s values of Integrity, Respect, Friendship, and Charity are much in evidence. Claire summed up their approach as “It’s basically Men Shed before Men Shed.”