The best Quakers books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the Quakers and why they recommend each book.

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Mary Dyer

By Ruth Talbot Plimpton,

Book cover of Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker

Mary Dyer is a forgotten American hero, who suffered unbelievably for her faith. In early Boston Quakers, Baptists, Jews, Catholics—everyone but the Puritans—were banished. She became a Quaker missionary and led what became a hopeless cause: freedom of worship. Her whole story is painful, shocking, and cannot be summed up here without spoilers. The Puritan men who settled the Bay Colony hated and feared women who spoke up. They banished or destroyed them.


Who am I?

After living in, while restoring, an old farmhouse built in the late 17th century or very early in the 18th, it was impossible for me not to want to know the history of the house and the people who lived there. Combine that with the stories my grandmother told me about our ancestor, the suspected witch Mary Bliss Parsons of Northampton, and I felt destined to know her story. That led to many years of research and writing. At the moment I am writing another 17th century New England historical fiction. I love this period of history and so few write about it. 


I wrote...

My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton

By Karen Vorbeck Williams,

Book cover of My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton

What is my book about?

Based on the lives of Mary Bliss Parsons and Sarah Lyman Bridgeman My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northampton, takes us back to 1630s Puritan settlements along the Connecticut River. Amid Puritan superstition and religious piety, Mary’s father struggles to feed his large family, while Sarah’s father is well off. They spend their married lives in the villages of Springfield and Northampton. Sarah marries a carpenter and Mary’s husband becomes one of the richest men in the territory. Sarah’s babies die and Mary’s thrive. Jealousy festers into a reason to hate and then to fear. Sarah believes Mary’s good fortune is an act of witchcraft.

This fictional account of a true story describes two lives in conflict--one cursed and one blessed.

Flowers from the Storm

By Laura Kinsale,

Book cover of Flowers from the Storm

Laura Kinsale is another magnificently individual voice, and her unusual, complex, emotional stories are among the best in the genre. Flowers from the Storm is probably her masterpiece. I’m in awe of how she brings off this heartrending story of a humble Quaker girl and a duke. Maddy’s religious conviction is woven into her personality in a way that’s true to the time but rarely explored in romantic fiction. Even more unusual, while rakish dukes are a staple of the genre, rakish dukes who suffer a stroke and end up in a madhouse are less common! What lifts this Cinderella story above most entries in the category is how true to life it is, how the characters genuinely suffer to achieve their happy ending, and how Kinsale leaves her characters no easy choices. 


Who am I?

I’ve always loved historical romance, ever since my mother gave me my first Georgette Heyer when I was eight, and my grandmother gave me my first Barbara Cartland shortly after. The fascination has never waned, which is a good thing because I grew up to become a historical romance author myself. Since publishing my first romance in 2006, I’ve written nearly 50 books, mainly set during the Regency period (first quarter of the 19th century). I’ve always adored how a good historical romance whisks me away to a larger-than-life world replete with dashing rakes, smart-mouthed ladies, and glittering high society, not to mention witty banter, glamour, and heart-stopping romance.


I wrote...

One Wicked Wish: A Scandal in Mayfair Book 1

By Anna Campbell,

Book cover of One Wicked Wish: A Scandal in Mayfair Book 1

What is my book about?

Her secret lover…Lord Halston and impoverished companion Stella Faulkner start a sizzling affair under the cover of a respectable house party. But once this interval of heady delight ends, what will become of the humble governess and the wicked earl? Must they return to being strangers as originally arranged, or will five days of intoxicating sin turn into forever?

“One of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.” 5 stars. Amazon reviewer.

The Movement of Stars

By Amy Brill,

Book cover of The Movement of Stars

Maria Mitchell, raised as a Nantucket Quaker, was the first woman to discover and name a new comet, no easy task in the 1840s when women were not meant to study astronomy, let alone when her only instrument was a small telescope on an island roof. Brill takes artistic license with Mitchell’s story, adding nuance and detail likely outside the scope of her research, and delivers a riveting tale of a woman determined to live her dreams, no matter how high the barriers to achieving them.  


Who am I?

I was never much of a history student. Facts and figures rarely stick in my brain until I have a character—their feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams—to pair them with, so I rely a lot on historical fiction to understand different places and times. I’m also a believer that our culture too often serves up the impression that marginalized people have forever hopelessly struggled, held back by those in power. But there are so many true stories that reveal the opposite, in this case, women fighting for their dreams and winning! I aim to bring these stories to light in a way that keeps the pages turning. 


I wrote...

Leaving Coy's Hill

By Katherine Sherbrooke,

Book cover of Leaving Coy's Hill

What is my book about?

Leaving Coy’s Hill is inspired by Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and the first woman to speak out on women’s rights in the US. While she was perhaps the most famous woman in the country in the mid-1800s, she was rather purposely erased from history by her own friend, Susan B. Anthony. In writing this novel I wanted to breathe new life into a woman driven to create change in a deeply divided nation and determined to stand on the right side of history despite painful personal costs. NY Times best-selling author Caroline Leavitt says, “What could be more timely than Sherbrooke’s gorgeously fictionalized and page-turning account of Lucy Stone?... A stunning look at timeless issues…all told through the lens of one extraordinary heroine.”

Sheppard Lee

By Robert Montgomery Bird,

Book cover of Sheppard Lee: Written by Himself

Robert Montgomery Bird was a Renaissance man and author, working as a doctor, novelist, playwright, and farmer, and writing across multiple genres. His most experimental and worthwhile novel is Sheppard Lee, a piece of proto-science fiction in which the spirit of a recently deceased loafer travels through the bodies of a merchant, a dandy, a moneylender, a Quaker, an enslaved man, and an aristocrat. Bird’s novel satirizes social mobility in the early nation, articulates contemporary medical philosophy on mind/body dualism, and reveals anxieties that young white men may lose their place in society.


Who am I?

I’m a lecturer at the University of Liverpool who researches 19th century American literature. A year studying in central Pennsylvania sparked my interest in early US writing and led me to a PhD in the subject. I’m fascinated in how American literature of this period both upholds and challenges the founding myths of the nation - liberty, egalitarianism, progress – and how new genres, such as science fiction and the gothic, develop over the century.


I wrote...

Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction

By Hannah Murray,

Book cover of Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction

What is my book about?

In Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction, Hannah Lauren Murray shows that early US authors repeatedly imagined lost, challenged and negated white citizenship in the new nation. Reading canonical and lesser-known writers including Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville, Murray argues that white characters on the borders of life and death were liminal presences that disturbed prescriptions of racial belonging in the early US. Fears of losing whiteness were routinely channelled through the language of liminality, in a precursor to today’s white anxieties of marginalisation and minoritisation.

Albion's Seed

By David Hackett Fischer,

Book cover of Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America

This masterpiece is the equivalent of an MRI scan of America’s cultural history. Its 900 pages are packed with scintillating insight into patterns of behaviour and belief underpinning the lives of ordinary Americans. Fischer uncovers ways of thinking and acting that traveled with migrants from the British Isles: Puritans from East Anglia, Cavaliers from the South of England, Quakers from the North Midlands, and English/Scottish Borderers. The author explores and explains American ideas of liberty, time, property, family, ways of working, law and order, and so much more.


Who am I?

Tristram Riley-Smith was posted to the British Embassy in Washington DC in the aftermath of 9/11. Alongside his day job he applied his skills as a Cultural Anthropologist to understand the greatest nation of the 20th Century as it crossed the threshold of the 21st. His interest is in all forms of invention, from those narratives and performances that give meaning to people’s lives to the material objects that furnish their world. In his book The Cracked Bell, Riley-Smith weaves his observations together in a literary portrait of America, revealing the alchemy of opposites that makes up this extraordinary nation.


I wrote...

The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty

By Tristram Riley-Smith,

Book cover of The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty

What is my book about?

The twin concepts of liberty and the free market have been instrumental in shaping American identity. Here, author Tristram Riley-Smith delves into how the perverting of these concepts has led to today's economic crisis and identity crisis for America.


Including President Obama's election and the initial stimulus package, Riley-Smith takes us on a whirlwind examination of America. For three years, he served in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and traveled throughout the country and this outsider's perspective offers an in-depth look at the state of American culture after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, toxic debts, and the credit crunch. With lively, insightful commentary, careful research, and illuminating personal anecdotes, Riley-Smith uses images like the cracked liberty bell to explain just where things went wrong, and how we can make them right. He touches upon big issues and examines America's consumer culture, using recognizable icons like Martha Stewart, Giorgio Armani, artist Barbara Kruger, and Wal-Mart.

Menno-Nightcaps

By S.L. Klassen, Michael Hepher (illustrator),

Book cover of Menno-Nightcaps: Cocktails Inspired by That Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons

I love to cook, and given the passion Mennonites have for potlucks, this list wouldn’t be complete without a favorite cookbook recommendation. The trouble is, which one? There are so many classics. I grew up with the worn and scribbled-on pages of The Mennonite Community Cookbook and later the More-with-Less World Community Cookbook, but ultimately decided on Menno-Nightcaps because, well, I warned you this list is eclectic, right? This book is loaded with not just yummy, practical drink recipes, but loads of Mennonite history. My own husband wooed me with stories of his ancestor who supplied George Washington’s troops with whiskey. How could I not love a book like this? Trust me, it’ll be fun and you’ll never view Mennonites in quite the same way.  


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Kansas and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for golden wheat fields, sunflower-filled ditches, and sunsets that explode colors on the horizon. I always knew I’d write a book set in Kansas, and I’d explore my long Mennonite linage and its seemingly unrealistic theology. Pacifism is a beautiful concept until you’re faced with protecting the people you love. As I grew older, I became more curious about larger, practical questions. It’s one thing to be a conscientious objector to war. It’s another thing to confront the cosmically dark evil of your neighbor. From that, Never Enough Flamingos was born.


I wrote...

Never Enough Flamingos

By Janelle Diller,

Book cover of Never Enough Flamingos

What is my book about?

Ahhh, those quirky Mennonites. They choose peace and forgiveness, but then how do they confront evil in their midst, especially when that evil—the man who steals the souls of little girls—is also the savior for so many in the congregation who are financially desperate. What do they choose to do? Save the farm and sacrifice their daughter, or save the daughter and lose the farm?

Kirkus Reviews says this about Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book Selection: "It is a testament to Diller's authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor... Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner."

Washington's General

By Terry Golway,

Book cover of Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution

The Revolution was an affair of people. Golway does a masterful job of bringing to life one of the most important, and often most neglected, of the American officers. Nathanael Greene was the epitome of the amateur soldiers who led the patriot effort. He was the man Washington selected to take over the Continental Army if Washington himself was killed. The book offers important insights into logistics (Greene for a time served as Quartermaster General). It also illuminates the war in the South, where Greene confounded British plans and set the scene for the patriot victory at Yorktown.


Who am I?

Jack Kelly is a prize-winning historian who has written two acclaimed books about the Revolutionary War. Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America’s Independence provides one of the best short accounts of the entire war. Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty is a suspense-filled account of the crucial northern theater during that decisive year.


I wrote...

Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty

By Jack Kelly,

Book cover of Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty

What is my book about?

The wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America's scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain's sea power.

During the summer of 1776, a British incursion from Canada loomed. In response, citizen soldiers of the newly independent nation mounted a heroic defense. Patriots constructed a small fleet of gunboats on Lake Champlain in northern New York and confronted the Royal Navy in a desperate three-day battle near Valcour Island. Their effort surprised the arrogant British and forced the enemy to call off their invasion. Jack Kelly's Valcour is a story of people. The northern campaign of 1776 was led by the underrated general Philip Schuyler (Hamilton's father-in-law), the ambitious former British officer Horatio Gates, and the notorious Benedict Arnold. An experienced sea captain, Arnold devised a brilliant strategy that confounded his slow-witted opponents.

The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison

By Dolley Madison,

Book cover of The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison

Because Dolley Madison didn't keep a diary, her letters are the best examples that we have of her personality. This social butterfly shows us how she slyly tried to set up a young woman to be romantically involved with her son. 

Yet for all of her Southern charm and pretension, Dolley had a steely side. After her first husband died, she wrote to her brother-in-law demanding the inheritance owed to her. After all, women couldn't easily get a job to support themselves. Her letters also show her pride in her parents for emancipating their slaves. Her most famous letter about saving George Washington's painting before the British military burned the White House reveals the chaos of this historic moment and the character of this woman who became known as the first, first lady.


Who am I?

As a writer of ten mostly historical nonfiction books, I tried to rely on the original writings of the people that I wrote about rather than third-hand accounts. What I love about reading people's own words is that letters allow you to see a person's humanity and their emotional reactions to their circumstances. I also love the cinematic qualities of the story of the burning of the White House. Both Dolley and James Madison went through an authentic, organic character change in the aftermath, much like characters in a movie. I also loved the revival of patriotism that took place in the aftermath, which is similar to the aftermath of  9/11.


I wrote...

The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812

By Jane Hampton Cook,

Book cover of The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812

What is my book about?

It's unimaginable today, even for a generation that saw the Twin Towers fall and the Pentagon attacked. It's unimaginable because in 1814 enemies didn't fly overhead, they marched through the streets; and for 26 hours in August, the British enemy marched through Washington, D.C., and set fire to government buildings, including the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

Relying on first-hand accounts, historian Jane Hampton Cook weaves together several different narratives to create a vivid, multidimensional account of the burning of Washington, including the escalation that led to it and the immediate aftermath. From James and Dolley Madison to the British admiral who ordered the White House set aflame, historical figures are brought to life through their experience of this unprecedented attack. The Burning of the White House is the story of a city invaded, a presidential family displaced, a nation humbled, and an American spirit that somehow remained unbroken.

Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia

By E. Digby Baltzell,

Book cover of Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia

Everyone knows that the Puritans settled in Boston and the Quakers settled in Philadelphia. What I found surprising is Baltzell’s argument that the two cities’ founding religions shaped their respective character for hundreds of years afterward. And, he says, the difference between Puritanism and Quakerism explains why Boston and Philadelphia played such different roles in American history.


Who am I?

I’m an economist, now in my fiftieth year as a professor at Harvard. While much of my work has focused on economic policy – questions like the effects of government budget deficits, guidelines for the conduct of U.S. monetary policy, and what actions to take in response to a banking or more general financial crisis – in recent years I’ve also addressed broader issues surrounding the connections between economics and society. Several years ago, in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, I examined the implications of our economy’s growth, or stagnation, for the social, political, and ultimately moral character of our society. My most recent book explores the connections between economic thinking and religious thinking.


I wrote...

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

By Benjamin M. Friedman,

Book cover of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

What is my book about?

The conventional view of the origins of modern Western economics portrays the subject as a product of the Enlightenment, having nothing to do with religion. On the contrary, I think religion exerted a powerful influence from the outset. I show that the foundational transition in thinking about what we now call economics, beginning in the eighteenth century, was decisively shaped by what were then hotly contended lines of religious thought within the English-speaking Protestant world. Beliefs about God-given human character, about the after-life, and about the purpose of our existence, were all under scrutiny in the world in which Adam Smith and his contemporaries lived.  I also show that these long-standing influences of religious thinking on economic thinking help explain the sometimes puzzling behavior of so many of our fellow citizens today whose views about economic policies – and whose voting behavior too – seem sharply at odds with what would be to their own economic benefit. 

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