I became interested in the Masons after reading Robert Anton Wilson's books. I also thought Masonic pocket watches were cool looking. When I told my friend's father that the Masons intrigued me, he revealed that he was a member and invited me to join ("To be one, ask one"). I joined about 6 or 7 years ago, but have been inactive ever since my second daughter was born. (I'm just a Fellowcraft at this point; I need to complete my 2nd degree proficiency!)
A lot of histories of Freemasonry have been written over the years. I tried reading a few, but they seemed fake and/or boring. The book Born in Blood, by John Robinson (linking the Knights Templar to the Masons) was the only one that was interesting, but according to Jay Kinney, author of a new, terrific book called The Masonic Myth, the claims in the Robinson's book (and most other Freemason histories) are unsubstantiated.
I've known Jay for many years. He was the publisher of the late, great Gnosis Magazine, the author of several books on Western esoteric and occult traditions, and the author of The Masonic Enigma, "a journey of discovery into the real facts (and mysteries) of Masonry's history and symbols." He's also an amazingly talented cartoonist, and contributed to The Whole Earth Review. (His 1987 WER article, "If Software Companies Ran the Country," where he compares Al Capp's Shmoos to infinitely-copyable software, remains as fresh and powerful today as it did 22 years ago).
In the introduction to The Mason Myth, Kinney (a Mason himself) wrote that he wanted his book to be an antidote to both the "imaginative speculations of 'alternative historians,'" and to those Masonic histories that "succumb to the tyranny of minutiae, where a never-ending stream of names, dates, jargon, and organizational details numb the brains of all but the most dedicated reader." In my opinion, he succeeds in both counts, having written a book that's both highly-readable and down-to-earth. Backed up by much scholarly research, Kinney methodically examines, and then busts common myths about Masons (the dollar bill design, links to satanism and the occult, conspiracy to take over the world), replacing the phony facts with the real story.
Jay's latest book comes out at the same time as Dan Brown's new novel The Lost Symbol, which reportedly distorts the history of the Masons. (I plan to read Brown's new book, anyway. My friends heap scorn and ridicule on me for the fact that I enjoy Brown's novels. Is it my fault they have no taste?)
The Masonic Myth: Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry