Lesley Hazleton and Laurence Gardner have little in common. OK, they were both born in the U.K., and they each wrote a book that I read on the trip to Seattle. I had started Gardner’s The Shadow of Solomon several weeks ago, as part of my continual reading about Templars, and Freemasons and the like. This book promised to reveal “the lost secret of the freemasons”. I thought the book had both positive and negative qualities. The general premise (if I am not giving too much away and not simplifying too much) is that much of the mythical history of freemasonry is just that: mythical. And much of it was created in order to hide the true history of the organization (relating to scientific exploration and alchemy, among other things) because of pre-1715 history freemasonry which was tied to the Stuart dynasty in England and therefore had to be obliterated. To back up his theme (which in fact I don’t believe is entirely novel with Gardner), he includes a tremendous amount of historical narrative, and attempts to go back pre-1715, and describe out certain masonic rituals and practices have disappeared, as well as the basis for the ones that have taken their place. He talks of the difference between operative masonry (actual stone masons) and speculative masonry. He talks of the founding of the Royal Society and its relationship to masons of the time. He has interesting tidbits about word origins, including the origin of “freemason” which he says comes from the French “freres maisons” and has nothing to do with “free” or “freethinking”. Concentrating in England and Scotland, he also discusses French freemasonry (where there was a Stuart/Jacobin connection) and to some extent early American masonry. That is the good. The bad is that the book could have been much more tightly edited. There is some repetition, and a general lack of a good sense of organization. It is a good book; it could have been better.
The second book I read was Lesley Hazleton’s Driving to Detroit. Lesley Hazleton, born in England, resident for many years in Israel, and then/now residing in Seattle, had written two wonderful books that I had read some time ago, Where Mountains Roar and Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Both were books of essays, one containing extraordinarily evocative pieces on the Negev, and one (obviously) on Jerusalem (I remember one Jerusalem essay on a pool hall called something like “The Center of the World”, and how in some respects it was). Then, she gave up on the Middle East and turned, for reasons which she has tried to explain, to becoming an American automotive journalist of all things. Driving to Detroit is about a road trip she took solo in the 1990s, from Seattle to Detroit and back, stopping at auto shows and museums, auto restoration shops, Bonneville Salt Flats, the place where James Dean died, and other automotive tourist stops along the way. I like road trips. I imagine she does, too. But this was an awful road trip. She seemed to be having no fun at all, every stop wound up boring or depressing her, her father died in England when she was in Texas and she flew to and from England for the funeral. It was just awful, topped off with what could have been a very serious accident three hours from home in a serious rain storm, where she should have known better than to drive as she was driving. Bad trip. And not a very good book. But I did read it, in large part out of homage to the former Israeli journalist, Lesley Hazleton.