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The Freemasons: A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society Paperback – December 9, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Many books about the Freemasons are hysterical polemics based on ludicrous conspiracy theories. British historian Jasper Ridley offers a welcome antidote to these half-witted tomes with The Freemasons, a sober-minded account of a secret society that has survived for centuries. Most important, Ridley provides the one thing missing from many discussions of the masons: facts. For instance, after noting the "well-established legend in the United States that the Freemasons made the American Revolution," Ridley shows that "of the 55 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, only nine were certainly masons." (Prominent members of the founding generation who were not masons include Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton.) This shows that masons have played a meaningful role in history, though not the domineering one their critics have alleged. Even though Ridley (who is not a mason) defends the masons against the overblown charges made against them, he doesn't quite buy the explanation that "they are no different from a golf club. ...Members of golf clubs do not take oaths not to reveal the secrets of the club." For a level- headed account of how a medieval guild of stone masons developed over time into an offbeat social organization with a powerful membership, Ridley's book is tough to beat. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As Masonic halls throughout America shut their doors because of declining membership Ridley provides an extended history of the group that was in its prime a couple of generations ago. Although its origins can be traced to stonemasons of the Middle Ages, the Masonic movement as we know it today took root in 18th-century England, where the first Grand Lodge was established in 1717. The movement thrived thanks to its ability to attract aristocratic and influential members of society among them Sir Walter Scott, Frederick the Great and George Washington who joined to socialize, dine and exchange views with like-minded and similarly influential men, and get a frisson from engaging in secret rituals in an exclusive club. Despite the catalogue of powerful members, the book's subtitle is misleading. The Masonic movement, as a sympathetic Ridley himself shows, has generally been benign, and tried to steer clear of political controversy, particularly in the two countries Britain and the United States where it has most firmly taken root. Of course, any secret society that boasts influential members is bound to cause suspicion, and Ridley details the waves of anti-Masonic sentiment that arose throughout the centuries, as well as assorted scandals involving fraud and murder allegations. Yes, its members swear to preserve its secrets on pain of death. But the main reason that Freemasonry's mysteries remain hidden appears largely to be a general lack of interest by society at large. Because of the sweeping scope of his study, Ridley often oversimplifies an age or historical figure. Thus, this is less a book for the serious reader of history than for the simply inquisitive or prospective members of the movement who have no inkling how the Masons differ from Rotarians. 15,000 first printing.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing (December 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559706546
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559706544
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,076,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Phillips on August 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I would use the term fair and balanced to describe this book but I am afraid that Fox News would take me to court. So, I will just have to say that this book is a very objective look at both the Freemasons and their critics. Where the Freemasons have made a claim that is not supported by fact or is just plain wrong, the author points out the mistake. On the other hand, he also points out the weakness of most Anti-Masonic arguments, calling some of them ridicules. When the Anti's have a fair point though, it is clearly acknowledged.

Jasper Ridley traces Freemasonry from where he thinks it began, to the present day and also looks at Masonry in most countries of the world. He points out that Masonic Lodges in some countries have been the centers for radical revolutionary movements. Masons often deny this but Masonic opposition to reactionary and oppressive monarchs, dictators, and popes has helped inspire many revolutionary leaders from Simon Bolivar to Giuseppe Garibaldi to George Washington. This is for the most part the reason that the Catholic Church has historically been opposed to Freemasonry. However, Ridley correctly points out that while many revolutionary leaders were Freemasons so to were many Royals. For example, Washington fought to free the American colonies from George III whose brother was the Grand Master of English Masons. In fact, as Ridley points out, during conflicts Freemasons were often the leaders of both sides. It was indeed the Freemason Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who ordered the slaughter of the defenders of the Alamo, Freemasons included. The head of the Texas army, Sam Houston was also a Mason. Jasper's argument here is that the Masonic oaths mean little at such times.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a combination of the history of the Freemasons and the debunking of myths. The Freemasons organization has been accused of many things throughout the world, such as assassinations and revolutions, but Ridley scrutinizes these accusations and explains that most of this is coincidental or that the myth-writer has a different agenda.
The history of the Freemasons covers the beginnings in the British Isles and the creation of lodges in Europe, Asia, and South and North America. He explains how the membership of the lodges has changed through time as well as how the lodge has changed its organization. He does not seek to expose any secrets, but points out that the organization is similar to many others, but prefers to keep it rituals and initiations to itself.
This secrecy, according to Ridley, is the main reason why there are so many conspiracy theories concerning the Freemasons. An example of the theories is that Jack the Ripper was a Freemason, and another is that the Freemasons started the American Revolution. He points out that although some of the American founding fathers were Freemasons, many of them were not. He also points out that less democratic governments tend to fear the lodge and will present any manner of propaganda to suppress it.
This is a good book to read to learn a bit more about the organization. Also, if you are a conspiracy theorist, I would recommend reading this for balance.
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Format: Hardcover
Freemasonry is an incredibly broad topic, and I'm impressed by Ridley's ability to tackle it with such skill. This book is very much a recounting of the last 400 years of European and American history, exploring the influences and inclusions of Freemasonry through the most influential persons and events of the time.
Ridley does tend to jump around quite a bit, and in places it's difficult to tell if you're still reading about the same country and century as you were in the previous paragraph. And in several cases he seems to be slightly confused regarding Masonic symbolism. For example, he refers at least twice to the "name of the Masonic god" revealed in the Royal Arch degree. Perhaps things are different on his side of the Atlantic, but over here in the American Royal Arch, we don't specify anything or anyone as a "Masonic god".
Aside from these tiny quibbles, the book is great. I would recommend it as a valuable addition to any Masonic library. While it perhaps doesn't make a great introduction to Masonry, it will serve well as a reference and detailed Masonic history. Thank you, Mr. Ridley, for your great work.
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Format: Hardcover
Ridley takes a critical look at Freemasonry and its place and members in history. To date this has been the best, most honest, and accurate look at Freemasonry throughout history up to the year 2000.
Instead of looking at just the internal history of Freemasonry, Ridley writes about its influence (and it's members) on the world and how the world has influence it throughout history. The books places the craft in a historical context in the fact that the book explains what historical events were occurring and how it effect Freemasonry. Such as the American and French Revolutions.
Meanwhile, Ridley sheds light on the Masons and sweeps away the lies and half truths of others that have come before him and takes an honest look at the craft.
Ridley makes a solid case that in his work that instead of being some secret world wide conspiracy to control events or the world, Masons are often divided on the great issues of the day. However, English and American Masons forbid any political discussion within their lodges. Ridley points out that in every war, Masons supported and fought for their respective countries, which pitted Masons of different sides against each other. Ridley also documents how Freemasons were often the target of oppression and witch hunts started by dictators who have banned the craft and the formation of lodges.
The Freemasons is a great book for it's historical look at the craft and the history surrounding it both inside and outside. It takes a look at who were some of history's most famous Masons. While at the same time, not all Masons were angels.. but in the end showing that Freemasonry has always stood for the ideals of morality and freedom.
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