On the Origin of Free Masonry is a work by the famous and popular Thomas Paine. Paine is of course the well-known political activist who played a role in both the French and American revolutions. His most famous works include Common Sense and The American Crisis.
This book consists of a short essay intended to introduce the reader to free masonry and the background of the fraternal organization. While there is no evidence that Paine himself was a freemason, he was well known as a religious skeptic, and was particularly critical of Christianity. This version of On the Origin of Free Masonry is actually stripped of several passages critiquing Christianity that were included in a later publication of this book.
Paine's short essay begins with a brief literature review of other sources that have detailed Freemasonry. From there, the author discusses some of the underlying principles and beliefs of Freemasonry, and goes through a series of questions and answers for the new apprentice. The book concludes with a brief commentary on the need for secrecy amongst the Freemasons.
At less than thirty pages, this is a very quick read. Paine is knowledgeable about the subject and has prepared a well-crafted introduction to the society. Indeed, this book does provide a short but detailed synopsis that is appropriate for the layman interested in Freemasonry.
Ultimately, On the Origin of Free Masonry will be read as much for its historical significance as for its content. The book is both interesting as an introductory guide to Freemasonry and a glimpse into Paine's anti religious beliefs, and is thus recommended reading.