Cecil Rhodes and Shaquille O'Neal; Mozart and Peter Sellers; Duke Ellington and the duke of Wellington; Benjamin Franklin and Rudyard Kipling. These Masons, and many others, people The Craft, but even more compelling is the overarching narrative of Freemasonry itself. As a set of character-forming ideals and a way of binding men in fellowship, it proved so addictive that within a few decades of its foundation in London in 1717 it had spread as far as India, Australia, South Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.
Under George Washington, the Craft became a creed for the new American nation; Masonic networks held the British empire together; under Napoleon, the Craft became a tool of authoritarianism and then a cover for revolutionary conspiracy. The Mormons borrowed their rituals from the Craft. The Sicilian mafia stole the Masonic organisational model.
Amid all this strange diversity, Masonry's core rituals and values have remained unchanged, inspiring both loyalty and suspicion. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, Freemasonry has always been a secret den of atheists and devil-worshippers: all Masons have been excommunicated since 1738. For Hitler, Mussolini and Franco the Lodges spread the diseases of pacifism, socialism and Jewish influence, so had to be crushed.
Professor Dickie's The Craft is an enthralling exploration of a movement that not only helped to forge modern society, but still has substantial contemporary influence. With 400,000 members in Britain, more than a million in the USA and around six million across the world, understanding the role of Freemasonry is as important now as it has ever been.