"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Monday, May 06, 2024

MAGI: Robert Cooper and Mark Tabbert Launch Masonic Book Review Podcast

by Christopher Hodapp

Masonic authors and historians Mark Tabbert and Scotland's Robert Cooper have recently embarked on a new joint podcast, a unique book review program called MAGI Reviews: The Masonic Authors' Guild International.  Mark and Robert started their podcast a couple of months ago, and they've done 16 episodes so far. 

Mark Tabbert

Both of these knowledgeable Brothers have held unique positions over the last couple of decades, and as Masonic authors and researchers, neither of them could be considered to be a slouch. Mark Tabbert is a past president of the Masonic Library & Museum Association, a former curator for the Scottish Rite NMJ's museum in Lexington, Massachusetts, and most recently, curator at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial's museum in Alexandria, Virginia. He's the author of American Freemasonry: Three Centuries of Building Communities and most recently, A Deserving Brother: George Washington and Freemasonry

Robert L.D. Cooper

Robert L.D. Cooper served for almost 30 years as the curator for the Grand Lodge of Scotland's Library & Museum in Edinburgh. He the author of The Red Triangle, an indispensable work about the history of anti-Masonic movements and persecutions; the outstanding Rosslyn Hoax, that examines the many legends and theories about the Knights Templar, Freemasonry, and the enigmatic Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Both of these brethren are members of the Society of Blue Friars, an honorary organization of  Masonic authors.

Because they are academic historians and not just a couple of aged, obsessive Masons with a warm glow in their hearts for dusty old Masonic books (not that there's anything wrong with that), they approach their reviews by discussing the pedagogical, academic value of the works themselves. Are they well-researched and well documented? Are they truthful? Are they backed up by useful, in-depth footnotes and references? Are their premises serious, looney, or just plain wishful thinking? Are they really thought-provoking, or are they so far off the rails that you'd be better off using them to prop up a rocky table leg? And what makes a more useful and more trustworthy Masonic book, from an academic point of view, anyway?

Consequently, there's been a good mix on the podcast so far – Masonic classics like Joseph Fort Newton's The Builders and David Stephenson's excellent Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century; academic works like Mark C. Carnes’ Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America and Steven C. Bullock's indispensable Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840. Over in the deep end of the pool are the more... let's call them speculative books, like Stephen Knight's paranoid fairy tale book The Brotherhood: Secret World of the Freemasons (the completely unsubstantiated book of nonsense that launched England into a three-decade anti-Masonic fervor) and David Ovason's inexplicably popular astrological Secret Architecture of our Nation’s Capital: The Masons and the Building of Washington, DC. 

So imagine my surprise when Mark and Robert featured my second book:  Season 1, Episode 16 reviewed Solomon's Builders: Freemasons, Founding Fathers and the Secrets of Washington, D.C., which was written some 14 years ago. After all this time, and despite the panicked circumstances under which it was written, I was pleasantly surprised that they felt it still was of value today.

Let me explain.

Back in the early 2000s when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the Earth, the entire publishing industry was attempting to cash in on novelist Dan Brown's as yet-unreleased sequel to The DaVinci Code, rumored at that time to be entitled The Solomon Key (eventually The Lost Symbol). By 2003, Da Vinci Code was already the 6th most popular book in the history of the English language, and readers all over the world were breathlessly awaiting the next entry in his series of stories featuring Harvard University 'symbologist' (whatever that is), Robert Langdon. While speaking off the record at a small gathering of local citizens in his New Hampshire hometown, he let it slip that the title of his next book would likely be The Solomon Key and be about Freemasons in Washington D.C. That bit of seemingly innocuous news turned into an international headline, and the feeding frenzy began. 

Stacks of books about the Masons were hurled out by the mainstream press; History Channel shows began talking about the Masons; everyone from National Geographic to the stuffy US News & World Report published expensive, glossy, full-color specialty magazines about Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, old cathedrals, the Illuminati, Bohemian Grove, and anything else they could possibly heave into the mix that sounded ancient, mysterious, spooky, and secret society-ish. Then, Disney rushed the Masonic-themed movie National Treasure into production, and it was released in November 2004. National Treasure would never have been made if not for Dan Brown's tardiness in delivering his sequel manuscript; and my own Freemasons For Dummies would never have been published if National Treasure hadn't been the #1 box office hit of 2004. In fact, Bob Cooper's own book, Cracking the Freemasons Code, was released during this same period for much the same reason – to get a jump on what Masons everywhere feared might be bad fictional treatment by Brown's book.

So. In 2005 I was contacted by Ulysses Press, a small, independent publisher located in Berkeley, California, and asked to write a book that would attempt to second-guess Brown's still as-yet unknown story points, debunk any sort of Masonic claims that he might include in his sequel, and explain his as-yet unseen storyline—whatever that might be—from the standpoint of the Masonic fraternity. And I was given a whopping four months to deliver the manuscript (a month longer than Wiley gave me to write Freemasons For Dummies). 

It hit on the Masonic membership and activities of several of America's founding fathers, talked about possible Masonic influences on the Constitution, and explored the run-up to the Enlightenment period in England and how the Freemasons sprung from it. It detailed the Masonic cornerstone ceremonies for the White House, the U.S. Capitol building, the Washington Monument and more. Chapters debunked some of the most common fantasies about the Masons – Albert Pike, All-Seeing Eyes, the 'Masonic' symbols on the dollar bill and why they aren't actually 'Masonic', and, of course, the nonsense about the supposed 'Masonic' patterns in the streets of America's federal city. The back half of the book was a Masonic travel guide to Washington D.C., listing the many Masonic halls around the city, current and former grand lodge locations, Alexandria's George Washington Masonic National Memorial, the Scottish Rite SJ's House of the Temple, the city's original 'cornerstone', plus other noteworthy landmarks, buildings and monuments with both real and imaginary Masonic connections. 

Solomon's Builders still holds up pretty well 18 years after it was published, if I do say so myself.  When I wrote it, I tried to keep the specific Brown-related mentions to a minimum so it wouldn't become obsolete. I'm gratified that it still remains in print today, because so many other really excellent books that were released about the same time by respected Masonic authors have gone out of print and vanished into the anonymity of Half-Price Books metaphysical section. 

Masonic/Dan Brown mania had a big die-back after his The Lost Symbol  was finally published in 2009 – fortunately for us, the Masons actually turned out to be the good guys in the book, and not the evil, bald-headed, cat-stroking supervillains most of us feared. And the fraternity did have a momentary uptick in men joining lodges who were inspired either by Brown's novel or by one of the myriad Masonic books that came out at the time. But that faded after a couple of years.

Yet, Solomon's Builders remains a decent, handy Masonic guide to D.C. today. Albert Pike's statue in Judiciary Square did get yanked down in the fevered summer of George Floyd riot-related statue toppling. And the city of Alexandria and the parks department put some decent money into sprucing up the area around the first boundary marker for the District of Columbia that was installed and dedicated by Freemasons. And a few other changes have happened throughout the city. But most of the information is still valid today. So, many thanks to Mark and Bob for hitting it with a spotlight again. I'm honored just by the mere mention.

As a completely self-serving post-script to this already narcissistic post, I'll add that Ulysses Press also asked me to write a more narrowly focussed book late in 2009, immediately after Brown's The Lost Symbol was released. 

Deciphering The Lost Symbol was based on what really WAS  in his book, AND entirely from a Masonic point of view. There was some crossover with Solomon's Builders, simply because Lost Symbol really did use some of the topics I had and buildings and monuments and other locations in Washington I'd already talked about. But if you've never read The Lost Symbol before AND you want to know the facts and details about the Masonic-related subjects it contains, Deciphering The Lost Symbol is still in print, and still available, at the paltry price of $9.99.

You're welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments will not appear immediately because I am forced to laboriously screen every post. I'm constantly bombarded with spam. Depending on the comments being made, anonymous postings on Masonic topics may be regarded with the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers, as far as I am concerned. If you post with an unknown or anonymous account, do not automatically expect to see your comment appear.