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American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities Paperback – October 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This slender history begs the question: who is really qualified to write about secret societies? Tabbert, a Master Mason, doubts the "ability" of non-Mason historians to "fully understand the craft" since they "have not actually witnessed the rituals performed" within the society. His personal investment, however, makes his volume sound so defensive at times, even emotive, that his lavishly illustrated history of U.S. Masonry-from its Revolutionary origins to its currently moribund dotage-reads more like an apology for, or a love letter to, the society than a work of measured, scholarly rigor. The opening chapter recounts, in compelling detail, Masonry's European germination in the hotbed of the Enlightenment. But the second chapter initiates Tabbert's book-long habit of overstating Masonry's centrality to U.S. history-and its virtue. For example, while the "quarrelsome man" who threatened to publicly expose Masonic rituals in 1826 is vilified as a "restless, jack-of-all trades drifter," the faceless criminals who kidnapped and killed him (severely tarnishing Freemasonry's reputation in America) are given the author's reprieve: "What actually happened remains a mystery, but most likely he was killed by his abductors either accidentally or in a fit of passion." The book makes a strong case for the Masons' outward missions of civility, charity and community-building. Also notable is its attention to the Prince Hall Order of African-Americans. Yet can the institution's 40-year decline in membership really be blamed on such "social earthquakes" as television, shopping malls, "teenage drug use and pregnancy"? Maybe the lodge is an "anachronism," as Tabbert says, but his claim that Masons "are almost completely incapable of entering into a conspiracy (except to do good) or keeping a secret (except in hiding private acts of kindness)" appears disingenuous nonetheless.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Visually, this is an attractive book: large format, profusely illustrated, just on the right side of coffee-table-ish.”

“Tabbert, curator of the National Heritage Museum and master of a Masonic lodge in Massachusetts, writes from the inside out, offering an interesting overview of the history of Freemasonry and its attributes.”
-Choice, Recommended

“The real history of Freemasonry is arguably more interesting than all the tales woven about it.”
-U.S. News & World Report

“This beautifully-illustrated book is the best introduction to the Masonic past now available for brothers and for curious outsiders.”
-Steven C. Bullock,author of Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840

“From colonial times to the present, Masons have always been central to community life in America. Mark Tabbert tells their story in a fresh and arresting way. . . . This informative and visually delightful book introduces us to a vital aspect of our nation's civic history.”
-Theda Skocpol,Harvard University


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (October 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814783023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814783023
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 8.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Howard Upton on January 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Tabbert presents an effective and intriguing look into the fabric that is American freemasonry. A society with secrets, but more importantly a brotherhood of philanthropy, freemasons helped shaped early America into the wonderful country that it is today. Tabbert shares the good, bad and ugly that is, and was, freemasonry.

The author takes into consideration his reader and doesn't shroud his writting so that a non-mason could not understand its (masonry) history. This is extremely important for someone to know that may not pick this book up because he/she is afraid that it doesn't contain a true depiction of the fraternity.

Tabbert's intent is clear from the beginning--share with the reader a history that doesn't hide anything (as many historical texts often do), and present something he is obviously passionate about with the world.

If you are intersted in the history of masonry in America, please don't hesitate to add this book to your library! It truly is a great investment.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Smith on June 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mark Tabbert has done a fine job exploring the evolution of Freemasonry in America and giving us a small glimpse of its possible future. It is obvious that he has great affection for the "craft" but its very refreshing to see that he has taken the time to respectfully recognize the ties Masonry has had in the development of other fraternal orders and their organizational descendants. There is no mysticism here, only clear documented history and analysis (coupled with outstanding illustrations) which should be of interest to Masons and non-Masons alike who are truly interested in learning more about the world's oldest "secret" fraternity.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Pierre Normand on July 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully illustrated book. The dust jacket is the colorful Allyn Cox mural of "George Washington Laying the Cornerstone for the National Capitol." Its hard to believe this is available for only $19 and change.

The author's expertise as a Museum curator is readily apparent, as looking through this book is like walking through a comprehensive museum of American Freemasonry. The pages are filled with photos of old Masonic prints, glassware, Knight Templar swords, fraternal regalia, ceramics, jewels and medallions, embroidered banners, stained glass windows, old postcards of Masonic Temples and Lodge buildings, stage settings and costumes, pocket watches, Masonic furniture, altars, working tools and trestleboards. Its a visual treat.

However, the best thing about this book is that it is without a doubt the best book on the market to explain the history of American Freemasonry to both the Mason and non-Mason alike. For the Mason, it will introduce him to many aspects of Masonic history that he was not aware of. For the non-Mason, it will give him or her a comprehensive view from Freemasonry's beginnings in Europe, through the American Revolution, up to the present day.

Unafraid to venture into the controversial, Tabbert even has a chapter that deals with the anti-Masonic period of the late 1820's and 1830's, as well as the fundamentalist anti-Masonry of the 1990's.

If some have felt that Tabbert is an apologist for the Masonic fraternity, it is only because he, as a historian, has not added to the mass of nonsense written by anti-Masons and conspiracy theorists. As a professional Museum curator, Tabbert has stuck to historical facts and that will naturally place his book on a higher plane than many of the more sensational books on the subject.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Tony Fels on September 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book, written by a thoughtful, knowledgeable and sensitive Freemason, offers the best recent overview of the fraternity's history in the United States. Its magnificent illustrations alone, covering all aspects of the organization's history, make this volume extremely valuable to any student of the subject.

Equally noteworthy is how well balanced and historically informed Mark Tabbert's account is, given that its chief purpose is to introduce non-Masons to the fraternity. One learns, for example, how Masonic universalism helped bring men of different classes and backgrounds together in mutual support and yet how white Freemasons could still draw the line at the acceptance of African American members (or even the recognition of black Masonic legitimacy) until just the very recent past. It is particularly to the author's credit that he includes the evolution of African American (Prince Hall) Masonry as a central part of his story, along with the spread of Masonry to women and young people. Throughout the book, the author draws on most of the best historical scholarship about the brotherhood to be produced in recent decades both in the universities and in the fraternity itself.

Mark Tabbert's book will also prove stimulating to all those, both in the fraternity and outside it, who believe that many of the most important historical questions about Freemasonry have not yet been answered. How exactly has this very private institution served as a foundation for American public life? Did the enormous expansion of the fraternity between 1900 and 1960 mark the success or the dilution of its mission? Is the long trajectory of Masonic history better understood by the model of a voluntary association or a religious denomination? Readers will find plenty of evidence in this fine book to begin to suggest answers to these and other questions about one of America's most popular and yet still most mysterious institutions.
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