Book Reviews

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As many of you know, the Grand Master really likes to read.  Carol will tell you that he likes it too much.  He will say that it is impossible to read too much.  His taste in books is highly variable, ranging from popular fiction to science fiction to classical literature to history.  Even some classic poetry gets into the mix.  Below are some recommendations.

Note: I have categorized the books loosely.  However, many of them cross the categorical boundaries, so don't take the categorization too rigidly.

Volumes of Sacred Law

The Holy Bible, King James Version
The Koran
I cannot say anything more about these that hasn't already been said.  You can read them from the links above.
The Talmud is available at this link.

History

Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage
A fascinating description of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery as they plan and execute their amazing journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It In The World
An interesting and compelling description of the building of the transcontinental railroad.  Describes the politics, the business, the technology, the mechanics, and the personal aspects of this continent expanding task.

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Beginning with the revolutionary advances in physics in the early 20th century, transitioning to the planning and execution of the Manhattan project, and finally, the use of the bomb to hasten the end of WWII, this book is an interesting combination of science, history, and literature.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense
This is not, technically, history.  Rather, it is a historical commentary.  It as a defining pamphlet describing why the colonies should separate themselves from England.  And of course, it does embody a great deal of Masonic Philosophy at the same time.  Read it HERE.

 

Science

Brian Green, The Elegant Universe
This is an amazingly accessible description of String Theory,  a scientific attempt to reconcile and combine the proven scientific principles, Quantum Theory and General Relativity.  It includes the most understandable description of Relativity, both Special and General, that I have ever read.

Kip S. Thorne, Black Holes & Time Warps
This book provides a very readable and fascinating exploration of General Relativity, and some of the counter-intuitive behavior of black holes.

Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality
Math haters, beware, this book is not for you.  Penrose starts with an introduction of Pythagoras, and a description of the Platonic concept of beauty and reality.  Then it gets really interesting.  Starting with numbers (integers, reals, imaginary, etc.), Penrose rapidly expands to Reimann surfaces, Tensors, manifolds, and other mathematical concepts.  And this is all in the first 10 percent of the book.  And then the physics really starts.  A truly great book, but not for everyone.

Jared Diamond, Chaos, Why Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
This book explores the reasons why societies such as the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi Indians, the Mayans, and the Norwegian colonies on Greenland and Newfoundland, all failed, while other societies facing similar problems succeeded.  They all faced problems from changes in one or more common area:  environment, trading partners, and enemies.  In each case, the result was determined by their recognition of a problem, their willingness to effect change, and the appropriateness of their selected change.  Frequently, the change needed to be significant, in a society altering way.  Sometimes the paradigm change was determined to be less acceptable than the failure of the society. Hmmmm.  See any parallels?  That's right.  There are major lessons to be learned for our fraternity from the pages of this book.  Read it!!!!

Fiction

Ian Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost
This is a murder mystery, set in England, shortly after the restoration or the monarchy.  Characters include many real-life personages, the most interesting (to me) of whom are some of the early members of the Royal Society.  The story is actually told four times, each be a different participant in the drama.  And of course, at the end of each section, the person who obviously committed the murder is somebody totally different than the obvious culprit in the earlier sections.  This sounds like it would be boring, but believe me, it is not.  (Pears also has a series of books involving an Italian policewoman from the department which investigate crimes involving art, usually the theft thereof.  Again, this sounds uninteresting, but is actually fascinating.)

Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle
This is actually three books:  Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World.  Collectively, they take you on a earth-wide journey spanning the age of enlightenment.  Real life characters are prominent, including Isaac Newton.  Primarily focused on the development of modern economics, it revolves largely around an interconnected group including members of the Royal Society, Peers of the Realm, and a bunch of absolute rapscallions and ruffians.  Gives incredible insight into the development of modern western civilization in a brisk and highly readable story.

Matthew Pearl, The Dante Club
Set in Boston right after the civil war, this serial killer mystery pits the police and a group of real literary personages, include Longfellow, against a killer who models his killings after the penalties that Dante describes in The Inferno.  Of course, Longfellow is creating the first English translation of The Divine Comedy, so guess where the suspicion falls. Nobody else in Boston knows anything about Dante, or do they?

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Possibly the greatest novel ever written, certainly one of the longest.  Many translations are available, including a new one that I am currently reading.  (I read an abridged version in college.)  One of the MAJOR characters in this book becomes a Mason, and is largely guided by that throughout the rest of the book.  Read an excerpt HERE.

Nonfiction

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City
The combines the stories of Daniel Burnham (architect and Freemason) and Dr. H. H. Holmes in Chicago, circa 1893, during the years leading up to and during the Chicago Worlds Fair. Burnham was the architect and Director ofWorks who built the "White City", a.k.a. the Worlds Fair grounds.  Dr Holmes was a serial killer, preying on young women who came to the city for work.  Burnham has a wonderful quotation, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."

Classical Poetry

Homer, The Illiad, Translation by Robert Fagles
Homer, The Odyssey,  Translation by  Robert Fagles
I don't need to write anything about either of these books.  I will say that Fagles' translation captures all the grit and dirt and blood and guts of the story.

unknown, Beowolf
I love this story.  Mighty warriors fighting against terrible monsters for glory and gold and lots of beer and mead.  Why else would I have named my new dog Beowolf.  'Nuff said.  Available in several translations.  It is short enough to read several translations and see which one you like.  (You can read one translation HERE.)  I also have a very speculative theory about the origins of the Hiramic Legend. I  propose that it is actually based on Norse Mythology and is largely taken from the Poem Beowulf.  Read my paper on the topic HERE.

Milton, Paradise Lost
The poetic story of creation, Satan's fall from grace, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the temptation, and finally the loss of Paradise.  Powerful  language, great story, incomprehensible references (to the typical modern reader), and a moving experience.  (You can read this, and Paradise Regained, HERE.)

Dante, The Inferno
How did Dante escape being burned at the stake for writing this book.  Mighty powerful stuff here. (You can read a translation of the entire Divine Comedy HERE.)

Freemasonry

Christopher Hodapp, Freemasons for Dummies
This is an excellent description of Freemasonry.  It is suitable for the Mason and non-Mason alike.  It provides both a basic description of the craft and a more detailed view for those who want to read deeper.   Buy two.  Read one and keep it for your reference.  Loan the other one out to anyone who might be willing to read it.

Robert Lomas, Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science
OK, OK, Lomas and Knight have written some highly questionable books about the craft.  This is not one of them.  This is a solid book that explores the creation of the Royal Society in England, its significant contributions to modern science and the scientific method, and the close ties between its originators and the craft.  Excellent.  (This book could have been categorized as history, science, or Freemasonry, but it had to go somewhere.  And since this is a Masonic site, I figured, lets go with the flow.)

Joseph E. Morcombe, History of Grand Lodge of Iowa, Volume 1
William F. Cleveland, PGM,  History of Grand Lodge of Iowa, Volume 2 (parts 1 and 2)
Ernest R. Moore, PGM,  History of Grand Lodge of Iowa, Volume 3
Ralph E. Whipple, History of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, Volume 4

This multi-volume work is highly recommended.  It describes in riveting detail the creation of the Grand Lodge of Iowa from its roots,  directly but not solely from Missouri.  The first volume, written by Morcombe, a historian, is filled with the passion that obviously infected the craft at that time.  It covers the period from pre-1844 through 1865.  Both Cleveland and Moore were PGMs of Iowa.  Their volumes extend the history through 1938, and exhibit a passion and quality similar to Morcombes.  Unfortunately, Whipple, who was Grand Secretary, lacked either the passion or writing skills, and possibly both, of his predecessor authors.  The final volume, which extends the history through 1969, and actually contains the names of a few people I know, is lackluster and uninteresting, despite the fact that it does contain some interesting information.
 

Keith Arrington, Freemasonry in Iowa
Why, oh why, didn't Brother Arrington make this book longer.  The material is fascinating; his writing style is excellent.  And while I have heard a few who will dispute some of his facts, the book is still outstanding.  Read it and ask for more.

John Robinson, A Pilgrim's Path
This is one of the first books on Freemasonry I ever read.  It is still one of my favorites.  Every Mason should read this book.  This book talks about some of the history of the craft.  It talks a lot about the detractors and attackers of the craft.  And it is written by a man who was not a Freemason when he wrote the book, although he became one shortly thereafter.  Recommended.  Highly recommended.  Just go read it, OK.

Carl Claudy,  The Master's Book
This is on the MUST READ for any Worshipful Master, or any Warden who aspired to be Master someday.  Although it was written in 1935, the message is timeless, and the techniques proven.  It is short.  You can read it HERE.

These are also included in the education section, but I will repeat them here.

Carl Claudy, Introduction to Freemasonry
These three booklets are commonly given to new Masons as they complete the three degrees.  As such, they provide a significant enhancement to the education of the candidate.  You can read them here:
Entered Apprentice      Fellowcraft       Master Mason

Carl Claudy, The Lion's Paw
This is a MASONIC NOVEL.  What a concept.  It is thought provoking, interesting, and entertaining.  Here is an excerpt of some passages that are more educational than novelish.

Mackey, Masonic Jurisprudence
This is a classic on Masonic Jurisprudence.  I may not agree with all of his "Landmarks", but none-the-less, this book provides a wealth of information.  Read it HERE.

unknown, Regius Manuscript
This is the earliest known Masonic document.  It is definitely interesting.  However, the history it contains is clearly not to be taken seriously, since it is most certainly fabricated.  Read it HERE.

Beyond Categorization

Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis
Is this pure fiction?  It is based on the Freemasonry?  Or is modern Freemasonry based on this story.  Even the experts will argue about this.  Just read it and decide yourself.  Read it HERE.

Francis Bacon, The New Organon
This is Bacons interpretation of Nature.  Interesting stuff.  Read it HERE.  Not for the casual reader.

Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
More Bacon Philosophy.  Worth a look.  Read it HERE.  Also not for the casual reader.

Don Mosier, God, The Observer/Creator of Our Entangled Universe
This is a paper I wrote speculating on the origin of the universe and the ramifications it may have on our responsibilities to ourselves and to God.  Read it HERE.

Other

These are not technically "books".  However, they are very, very important.  Every Mason in the United States (every Person in the United States for that matter) should read and be familiar with these documents.

    United States Declaration of Independence

    United States Constitution

    Thomas Paine, Common Sense, the article that helped incite the American Revolution.

    Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, a book by Paine setting out his thought on the subject.

    The Magna Carta

     Washington's Farewell Address

     Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

To Read List:

Stephan Bertman, The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom, Appears to have Masonic Relevance (to the philosophy, not the fraternity)
                                               Refer to my thoughts on the differences HERE.
Thomas Paine: Common Sense and Other Writings, Ditto See link above.
Kant: The Philosophy of Law, Defines "Rights" and other concepts. Read it HERE.
John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, This may find its way onto the Leadership Training Page
John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You, This may find its way onto the Leadership Training Page
John Kotter, Leading Change, OK, OK, This is getting repetitious.  You get the idea.
Goethe, Faust   (You can read that HERE)

On-Line Book:  For those of you who are interested, there is a web site that points to a large number of e-books which are available online.  Here is the link to ON-LINE-BOOKS.

Controversial

While we're at it, let's stir up some controversy.  I have not read any of the following books.  I own a copy of Collins' book, but have not yet found time to read it.  If anyone has read any of these books, drop me an email and let me know what you think.

Francis S. Collins, The Language of God:  A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief

Richard Dawkins, The GOD Delusion

Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience

Thomas Paine:  The Age of Reason
Paine, the author of Common Sense, which helped incite the American Revolution, was a flaming Diest.  He he believed that all should have the right to worship as the wished, he also believed that all the organized religions were balderdash, based on superstition at best and with evil intent at worst.  This book describes that belief, and provides an extensive argument trashing the Bible.  Read it HERE.

Note:  This page provides links to .pdf versions of several books.  They are all believed to be in the public domain.  If that is not true, please notify the webmaster at once, and they will be removed from this site.