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.
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“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.”
“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
“Visually, this is an attractive book: large format, profusely illustrated, just on the right side of coffee-table-ish.”
“The real history of Freemasonry is arguably more interesting than all the tales woven about it.”
-U.S. News & World Report