I ran into a second hand version of the 1985 Dutch translation (“Zin en Betekenis van de Vrijmetselarij”) of this book and in the same week I noticed that this translation is still in print when I got a fund-list of the publisher. Funny how these things can go.
This little book (170 pages) is written by an American mason and not -as with many books about the subject- by an outsider. This has pros and cons. The disadvantage when insiders write about their own group/tradition is that you often get to read how great everything is, the official stories and of course the ideal plate of how the organisation should be. This is not the case with this book by Bailey. Bailey writes very openly and honestly about the Masonic tradition and gives critique and points to flaws. Not that this is a negative book, Bailey remains a Mason and proud of being so, but his way of writing gives a very nice inside view of the subject.
The book starts with the purpose of Freemasonry. This is (among other things) helping mankind (and not just Masons) on the path of evolution.
Then follows a nice part about the origin of Freemasonry. There are three major theories, supported inside as outside the Masonic lodges. The first is that Freemasonry originated in the 17th century. The second that the origin goes back to the building of the temple of Solomon. The last theory says that Freemasonry has been there since the dawn of mankind, but not under the specific name. Also the Jewish influece is dealth with at lengh.
Other chapter speak about the symbolism, landmarks and the building of the temple.
Then there is a second part which speaks about the Masonic community, the good and ‘bad’ people in it; Masonry in society and the future of Freemasonry.
As I said, Bailey is open, honest and critical and even though the book is almost 50 years old, it is a very nice read.