Christopher Jones has a post over at the fine group blog Peculiar People listing ten books on modern Mormonism. The post deserves more discussion, so I thought I’d post my own short comments on the first four books from the list and invite readers to add comments on the others as well as reflection on the original post by Jones.
The topic of Mormonism’s second century also deserves more discussion. The action-packed first century of Mormonism generally overshadows the second century and its quieter themes of Mormon diaspora, institutional growth and retrenchment, LDS neo-orthodoxy and the rise of Correlation. Fortunately, as evident from the ten books listed at the PP post, the second century is finally attracting more scholarly attention. If you haven’t already, you should read some of these.
Matt Bowman’s The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (2012). A lot of history and scholarship has happened since the last good one-volume history of Mormonism was published in 1992 (the second edition of Arrington’s book). Bowman updates the story and does it in just 250 pages. Importantly, he devotes two full chapters to the decades after World War II, titled “Correlation” and “Toward a Global Church.” If you made a list of books every Mormon should read, this one would be right at the top. We should all know our history.
Claudia Bushman’s Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in Modern America (2008). This book didn’t seem to get the attention it deserved, perhaps because it was a thematic treatment rather than a narrative history. But it covered all the right themes, the topical ones that get recycled every week on the blogs. I’ll bet an updated second edition would get more attention in this lengthy Mormon Moment. I reviewed the book for Dialogue, so I gave it two careful readings. You should give it at least one.
The Angel and the Beehive (1994) and All Abraham’s Children (2003), both by Armand Mauss. As a sociologist, Mauss makes sense of the institutional dynamics of 20th-century Mormonism in his first book, then does the same for Mormonism’s racial doctrines (which includes the whole “blood of Israel” topic) in his second book. General histories are good reading, but unless you read these two books you won’t really understand 20th-century Mormonism. I posted longer comments on these books here and here.
Have you read any of the others, particularly the biographies? Is the second century of Mormonism finally becoming as interesting as the first century? (Our third century starts in just 18 years!)