The Freemasons (History and Politics)

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9780094794009: The Freemasons (History and Politics)

To the layman, the Freemasons are a mysterious brotherhood. This text follows the development of Freemasonry from the operative working masons of the Middle Ages to the gentlemen masons of the eighteenth century.'

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This is a detailed and wide-ranging history of Freemasonry that resolutely refuses to sensationalise its subject. Not a Freemason himself, Ridley nonetheless treats his subject with respect and even admiration; there are none of the more lurid revelations of a book like Stephen Knight's The Brotherhood. Ridley's freemasons are law-abiding and devoted to charitable work. There are a few "bad eggs in the masonic basket" of course but every organisation has that; and the wilder claims sometimes levelled against freemasonry are brushed aside. Was Mozart, a mason himself, murdered by the freemasons because he exposed their secret rituals in The Magic Flute? Ridley says not: "this is one of the most ridiculous stories that the anti-masons have invented. No masonic secrets are revealed in The Magic Flute; but the beneficial effects of a mysterious cult were emphasised, as the Freemasons wished." Was New Yorker William Morgan murdered by masons in 1826 to prevent him from revealing these same secrets? Probably, but "this is the only case in the history of Freemasonry in many countries of the world in which suc ha thing has occurred" and, moreover, the masons concerned acted as they did "not because they were Freemasons but because of the social surroundings in which they lived." Did Edward VII, a Grand Master of the Freemasons, look utterly ridiculous in his masonic apron and regalia? Well, you can judge for yourself because the book carries a full page photo of the monarch and mason on the back cover. Overall this is an elegantly written and informative book, even if it does sacrifice a certain raciness in order to push home its sensible points. -- Adam Roberts

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