Introductory Booklist

Readings about Quakers and Quakerism

This is a list of suggested readings for beginners in Quakerism. It is slanted towards the liberal branch of American Friends and reflects the biases of the person who compiled it (Chel Avery). It is a selective, "starter" list of titles to choose from in several categories. There are many other fine Quaker books in print, and if someone suggests another title to you, please don't assume that its absence from this list is necessarily a criticism of it.

All the books listed below are available from the Friends General Conference Bookstore ( or 1-800-966-4556). Most are also available from the Pendle Hill Bookstore ( or 800-742-3150 ext. 2).

[For different booklists, see the one posted by Friends United Meeting (includes pastoral Friends): or the one posted by the Friends General Conference bookstore at]

Overview - who are Quakers?

  • Hamm, Thomas, Quakers in America. (A concise history of the Religious Society of Friends, an introduction to Quaker beliefs and practices, and a vivid picture of the culture and controversies of Friends today. Freshly published.)
  • Brinton, Howard, Friends for 350 Years. (A slightly updated version of the classic Friends for 300 Years. Either one is fine. Even the more recent version of this book is a bit dated, but it is still a classic, definitive explanation of who Quakers are and how we function, socially and religiously.)

Guides for entry into the Quaker world:

  • Birkel, Michael, Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition. (Introduction to Quaker thought, practice and spiritual life. Interlaces historic writing and current thought.)
  • Brinton, Howard, Guide to Quaker Practice. (This booklet provides an overview of how the Friends community works--worship, structure, decision making, testimonies, and more. A bit dated, but still excellent.)
  • Punshon, John, Encounter With Silence: Reflections from the Quaker Tradition. (A small, rich, and readable book on Quaker worship. The writer speaks personally from his own experience as a Christian Friend.)
  • Pym, Jim: Listening to the Light: How to Bring Quaker Simplicity and Integrity Into Our Lives. (Summarizes liberal Quaker thought and spiritual practice. Language and descriptions of Quaker structures are British. The writer speaks personally from his own experiences as a universalist Friend.)
  • Smith, Robert Lawrence: A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service and Common Sense. (Personal reflections by a lifelong Friend who came of age in the World War II generation, looking back on his roots in a Quaker family and community. Easy read.)
  • Taber, William: Four Doors to Meeting for Worship. (This pamphlet describes the different levels on which we prepare for and experience silent worship. A good guide to deep and authentic worship.)
  • The Faith and Practice book of your yearly meeting. (These publications, sometimes called "Disciplines," serve as guidebooks for members. See for the ones that are available online.)


  • Kelly, Thomas, A Testament of Devotion. (A short book of devotional essays written in the mid-twentieth century. Still widely read among Friends.)
  • Moulton, Phillips, ed. Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman. (Classic American and Quaker literature. An 18th century New Jersey Friend records his efforts to "walk the walk" of his Quaker faith. Other editions by other editors may be found in libraries, and are equally worthy. Also available on audio cassettes.) Earlier version available online in digital form at Bartleby.
  • West, Jessamyn: Quaker Reader. (Selections from writings of well known early Friends.)


  • Bacon, Margaret Hope: The Quiet Rebels. (Lightweight history of American Friends.)
  • Newman, Daisy, A Procession of Friends. (Quaker history and principles related as a series of short narratives.)
  • Punshon, John, Portrait in Grey: A Short History. (More scholarly than the other two, but still very readable.)

If you are considering applying for membership in the near future:

  • Your yearly meeting's Faith and Practice (see above). If you haven't already taken a good look at it, now is the time.
  • Gates, Tom, Members One of Another. (This pamphlet describes ways that we evolve in our relationship with the meeting community, what we need, and what we have to offer at different points in the process. Highly recommended.)

For children:

  • The Quaker Way by the Religious Education Committee of Friends General Conference. (A simple guide to Quaker faith and practice for upper elementary and middle school students. Could be read and discussed with a younger elementary child. The essentials in clear and simple language.)

Advanced reading:

The books below are classics (or in one case, will be), but are perhaps better saved until you have gotten your feet wet.

  • Bownas, Samuel, A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister. (An early Quaker work providing practical and spiritual guidance on how to nurture and deepen spoken ministry in meetings for worship. Slightly revised for modern readers.) - Available online in downloadable pdf format from Google Books.
  • Journal of George Fox - any edition. (Currently in print is the version edited by John Nickalls-other editions can be found in libraries. Considered by many to be the founder of Quakerism, Fox provides an account in his journal of his experiences during the early years of the movement.) - 1694 version available online in downloadable pdf format from Google Books. Searchable, digital version available online at the Digital Quaker Collection at Earlham School of Religion.
  • Freiday, Dean, Barclay's Apology in Modern English. (Classic systematic statement of Quaker faith by the first Quaker theologian. Shorter and annotated versions are also available. Or if you're a serious scholar, go to a library and get the original, unaltered version of Robert Barclay's Apology in 17th century English.)
  • Wilson, Lloyd Lee, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. (Wilson gives the reader both a historical perspective and a contemporary understanding of the deeper meaning of basics like meetings for worship and for business, spiritual gifts, leadings and ministry.)