Tim Wallace-Murphy provides an illuminating sweep through masonic history, viewing the past through the lens of the craft, providing sketches of personages of note and various movements and even schisms that have been made manifest in the 'world's oldest secret fraternity', or as Wallace-Murphy highlights, a peculiar organization that makes good men better by means of allegory and ritual.
The author begins in Greece, citing the general move toward understanding the cosmos in a rational manner, and as the focal beginning of the mystery cults which were characterized by initiatory rites. The mystery cults are carried forward to Rome, where they flourished.
Wallace-Murphy then seques to the beginning of the common era after the execution of Jesus the Teacher on grounds of sedition. The author throws light on the Desposyni, those blood relatives of Jesus who at the formation of Christianity, held positions of power in the early Jerusalem Church. James the Just, or Jesus's brother, is highlighted as the receiver of the Gnosis his brother imparted to him before his brother's passing. This bloodline, these Desposyni, are shown to preserve the ancestry as well as the inner teachings of Christianity until 70 C.E., at the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem. At this crucial point in history, the Desposyni flee Jerusalem, some just a little east to their homeland, others to Europe. The bloodline, as well as the teachings, survive in families, now called Rex Deus. The bloodline survives by inter-marrying while the inner teachings survive by oral tradition. This Gnosis in turn is passed on to the Knights Templar, which many masons claim as their secretive forebears.
Such is, the author states, the existential and spiritual conduit through which the Gnosis of freemasonry has travelled.
The author travels through history and continents, tracing the spiritual legacy of the freemasons through it's antagonism to the Holy Mother Church, and various political upheavals, culminating in the French Revolution and eighteenth century Enlightenment. Throughout the text, we are reminded freemasons are not the precursors, originators, or manipulators of such historical events as the French Revolution or the formation of the American Republic. But the author does show that masons were indeed participants in said world events, falling on both sides of the political coin, those of loyalty to the crown, those others calling for freedom, and that they did contribute to various hinge world events. I would say that the author reveals that the American Constitution, and therefore the American Republic, was the culmination of freemason thought in it's distibution of powers and embodiment of democratic principles. Masonic leaders, for example, had been elected by it's members for centuries before democracy flourished in America.
The book itself is handsome and contains colorful and relevant illustrations throughout.
I highly recommend this for anyone interested in esotericism, world history, or more obviously and more specifically, freemasonry.