I have noticed the designation 'Freemason' under the usernames of posts here and I wish to start by correcting this in my case, for I am not a Freemason. I am not sure whether or not my posts here are unwelcome as a result, if so please forgive me ~ I will desist if being a Freemason is a requirement of participating in these message boards.
Sitting at my keyboard a couple of months ago, a picture of the NZ Grand Master came to mind (from an advertisement I had seen some time ago at Christchurch airport) and on a whim I decided to find out more about your organisation. I am in the very early stages of my research, which has become something of a hobby. I have read with interest the references here to some works covering your history that I will follow up on in due course.
I started with "The Freemasons" by Jasper Ridley. This was an interesting read, even if the style of the author was a little dry. Briefly, the author puts forward the belief that the origin of Freemasonry is in early trade unions and that the tools of operative masonry were then utilised to describe a philosophy. The book is packed with information and Mr. Ridley made every effort to ensure that his conclusions were based on referenceable material. The only difficulty with this, while the methodology and intention behind it are certainly laudable, is that it felt at times as though the conclusions were restricted by this strict requirement. That is to say, there seemed to be hints of so much more to the story, but that the author stopped with his references and restricted the conversation within the parameters they laid down without allowing room for intelligent hypotheses. The reasoning behind this of course was to ensure that the conclusions were "correct", however I submit that it is just as easy to arrive at erroneous conclusions that way, as it is by making careful conjecture! He also had the disadvantage (although I'm sure it was also an advantage in some ways) of not being a Freemason. That said, I found the information in the book very interesting indeed and Jasper Ridley is very balanced in his appraisal of your fraternity. He does a lot to dispel a lot of the lies told of Freemasonry and rubbishes (successfully, I would say) the idea of there being one secret Masonic Agenda.
The Hiram Key and The Book of Hiram by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas are a completely different take on things. The authors link modern Freemasonry with not only the Knights Templar but also with the ancient Egyptian concept of Ma'at and beyond. Their belief is that the tools of operative masonry were used to convey teachings that have existed for millennia. Mr. Knight and Mr. Lomas are less reluctant to make intelligent conjecture based on the evidence, sometimes taking this a little *too* far some might say, but their ideas are very compelling. They have other books out that I am yet to read (I'm on my way through the Book of Hiram at the moment) but they do have a website hosted by Bradford University in the UK that others here might find interesting reading:
Morals and Dogma by Albert Pike, while I know this is not so much a historical text, nor is it concerned principally with the Blue Lodge, I have found it to be an incredible book... one I am chewing my way through at my leisure. While I have not read it in its entirety, I must say that so far it is a text that outlines a philosophy that resonates very deeply for me in a way that very few others have. If any of you haven't read it, I would recommend it.
Oh, one other thing, if you are after texts or early editions that are out of print or hard to find that you wish to own try eBay ~ I picked up a 1925 copy of Morals and Dogma, mint condition for USD15... although the shipping was reasonably pricey! Definitely worth it though!