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The Mormon History Comps List (2014 Version)

By: Ben P - April 10, 2014

MoHist BooksOver three years ago, I posted my first attempt at a Mormon History Canon. Since a few years have past, a few new books have shaken the field, and I am bored post-dissertation, I thought it was time to do an update. I’ve also refined the type of list this is, which is discussed below.

The goal of the list was to name 25—and the number had to stick to 25—books that every student of Mormon history should read. It is designed as a template for a grad student’s theoretical comprehensive exam list (though I should again emphasize that I’d think it’d be a stupid idea for a grad student to dedicate a portion of a comprehensive exam merely to Mormonism). Thus, books need to cover a broad swath of topics, chronologies, and approaches in order to be inclusive, but they should also match a particular level of quality. I’m also shying away from (most) biographies, edited collections, and documentary sources; those can have separate lists.

IMPORTANT: Of course, attempting to make a “definitive” list is a silly task, and is subjective to the nth degree. My list will reflect my own interests, assumptions, and taste. It is, on a more serious note, meant to promote discussion. For instance, I personally give preference to books that shed light on broader themes and use sophiticated academic methodologies; the accusation that I am a theoretical snob is legit. Also, you’ll notice I have a massive recency bias, because I believe scholarship builds on itself, and many titan works of the past have served as a foundations for recent work: John Turner built upon Leonard Arrington, Matthew Bowman built upon Arrington/Bitton/Allen/Leonard, everyone built upon Quinn, etc. That is why I have left off a number of “classics” from my list, including seminal volumes (Great Basin Kingdom and No Man Knows my History), the best written books (Wayward Saints), and crucial authors (Quinn). Indeed, if I were to do a list on books that have shaped the field over the years, or the most important books in Mormon historiography, this list would look different. As a reflection of this refined approach, I have removed “Canon” from the title of this list. Perhaps later I’ll do another list with “classics” in the field, which would truly serve as MoHistory’s “canon.”

To put simply: these are the books that I feel anyone who wants a firm understanding of the current state of Mormon history should read.

These types of posts mostly give cause to discuss the state of the field, the development of topics, and the need for future scholarship. I am intentionally capping the list at 25 titles (and 1 article). That means if you want to add some books, you need to remove others. It is much too simple to just list book on book on book. I’ll include my “comps list” below, but I’m mostly excited to see what changes everyone else would do.

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Broad Chronological Sweep

Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion (1991; 2013)

Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of An American Faith (2012)

Jill Derr, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (2002)

Terryl Givens, A People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (2007)

Armand Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (2003)

Thomas O’Dea, The Mormons (1957)

Stephen C Taysom, Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries (2010)

Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (1985)

Origins

John Brooke, Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (1994)

Samuel Brown, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (2012)

Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (2005)

Terryl Givens, By The Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (2002)

Utah, Part I: Settlement

Leonard Arringon, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900 (1958)

Claudia Bushman, ed., Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah (1997)

Kathryn Daynes, More Wives than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (2001)

Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (2008)

Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America (2001)

Paul Reeve, Making Space on the Mormon Frontier (2007)

John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (2012)

Transition and Twentieth Century

Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1830 (1986)

Martha S. Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Religious Rights (2005)

Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle(2003)

Philip Jenkins, “Letting Go: Understanding Mormon Growth in Africa,” Journal of Mormon History (Spring 2009): 1-26.

Edward Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (2005)

Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (1994)

Gregory Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (2005)

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Toughest omissions: Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy (most insights adopted into other works), Fluhman’s Peculiar People, Mason’s Mormon Menace (though they deal with Mormonism, of course, Fluhman and Mason are more focused on those reacting to Mormonism; however, they are equal quality and importance to many books on the list),Walker et al.’s Massacre at Mountain Meadows (most insights translated into Turner’s bio), and JB Haws’s Mormon Image in the American Mind (too recent to assess its staying power). And works by Paul Reeve, Laurel Ulrich, David Howlett, and Kathleen Flake that are set to be finished/released soon may change the list again.

Alright, now for the debate: what did I miss? What would you add?

But remember the rules: if you add a book, you have to take one away. And hopefully we will make other lists that deal with articles, biographies, article collections, and primary sources.

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38 Comments

  1. Looking for a book about the history of blacks and the priesthood. From Joseph Smith giving the priesthood to a black brother to the 1978 declaration. Does LETTING GO address this? Or the last book listed with David O. McKay in the title?

    Comment by Kara — April 10, 2014 @ 7:56 am

  2. All Abraham’s Children covers that ground.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — April 10, 2014 @ 8:02 am

  3. Yup, Mauss is the main source on Mormonism and race until Paul’s book comes out. The McKay and Kimball biographies do a good job with the end of the racial restriction.

    Comment by Ben P — April 10, 2014 @ 8:06 am

  4. I love when you do this. I think you have to have something on the wider world of Mormonisms – Mormon Enigma or Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet or even Paul Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: A Biography could fix this. Also Strangers in the Land (Bradley’s book on Short Creek) or one of the recent sociological studies of Mormon Fundamentalism seems like a necessity for claiming expertise in Mormon Studies.

    Comment by Chris Blythe — April 10, 2014 @ 9:10 am

  5. Great list! I am thankful that you did not stay exclusive to historians, but also included a few sociological works. I am particularly thankful that you included Pedestals and Podiums, Mormonism in Transition, and The Politics of American Religious Identity. One book I would add is Marvin C. Hill’s Quest For Refuge.

    Also, I love the word “howevery.”

    Comment by Brian Whitney — April 10, 2014 @ 9:38 am

  6. Great list, Ben!

    Comment by Nate R. — April 10, 2014 @ 10:03 am

  7. I really like Solemn Covenant (Hardy), but it’s hard to argue with Daynes on the list.

    I’m also glad to see Shipps still on the list. Hers is the best religious studies approach to Mormonism so far. I don’t completely agree with the 4th religious tradition, but that’s a topic for another day.

    Comment by J Stuart — April 10, 2014 @ 10:16 am

  8. Chris: you would argue for a Mormonisms book. [grin] And you’d be right. Hopefully Howlett’s book will fill that role.

    Thanks, Brian and Nate. (I fixed the odd “howevery” typo.)

    J: I had to think long and hard about Shipps. In some ways, her book is very dated; in other ways, her most important arguments have been expanded and refined by other books on this list. But I still think it’s a crucial text, and the list is already lacking theory so I would hate to cut it.

    Comment by Ben P — April 10, 2014 @ 10:20 am

  9. Good point on Howlett’s forthcoming book!

    Comment by Chris Blythe — April 10, 2014 @ 10:50 am

  10. Ben,

    I’d like to extend praise of your work and this list. This is exactly the type of list, and discussions that come from it, that the discipline needs. Great work.

    Comment by Zach Jones — April 10, 2014 @ 11:11 am

  11. Thanks for this list. My list of books to read is now greatly expanded.

    One point of correction though, Paul Reeve’s book is actually titled Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes.

    Comment by Tyson — April 10, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

  12. It makes me sad that Mormon Enigma was left off this list. It’s better written than most books and is very important to Mormon women’s history. SIGH.

    Comment by Amanda HK — April 10, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

  13. SIGH! ;)

    Mormon Enigma is certainly a great book and worthy of discussion. Perhaps worthy to bump one of the books on the list; I’m open to the idea.

    Comment by Ben P — April 10, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

  14. Kara: I’d recommend “The Church and the Negro” by John Lund, published in 1967. It was the church’s unofficial attempt to justify its withholding of the priesthood from blacks from a doctrinal perspective. It also reveals, unintentionally, perhaps, the roots of Mormon racism.

    Comment by Jim Kelly — April 10, 2014 @ 1:59 pm

  15. That is a peculiar suggestion, Jim Kelly. You might not know that this is a serious history blog. The book you mention is a self-published book written by an eccentric and does not represent the church’s position on anything, official or unofficial.

    Comment by Amy T — April 10, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

  16. Excellent list, Ben. Hard to argue with it.

    Comment by WVS — April 10, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

  17. Pretty good list, but I think it needs more Quinn. People have built on his work, sure, but Mormon Hierarchy has not yet been surpassed as a study of Mormon religious politics and violence, which are important themes in the current Religious Studies literature.

    O’Dea could be omitted, IMO. Barlow’s book was alright, but not earth-shattering. I’d probably go with Quest for Refuge instead.

    Comment by Chris — April 10, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

  18. As a complement and counterpoint to Ben’s list, I thought I would list the books I assigned in the latest iteration of my “Approaches to Mormonism” graduate seminar (which is designed primarily as a historiographical survey):

    Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History

    Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom

    Jan Shipps, Mormonism

    Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible

    John Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire

    Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive

    Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One

    Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon

    Ethan Yorgason, Transformation of the Mormon Culture Region

    Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount

    Patrick Mason, The Mormon Menace (yes, I’m one of those professors who is audacious enough to assign their own book)

    Samuel Brown, In Heaven As It Is on Earth

    There are a number of other titles I would label as “essential” that I did not assign in this course because they appeared on the reading list for other courses that most of the students had already taken, or simply because they’re difficult to handle in one week of a seminar due to length (then again, GBK isn’t exactly short). And of course, assigning books for a class is admittedly a different exercise than what Ben was admirably going after here.

    Comment by Patrick Mason — April 10, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

  19. Speaking of Shipps–her book represents Mormonism in the class I’m currently taking on American religious exceptionalism, and is a fixture on our comps list. Very much still the representative text in the field.

    I might quibble with Brooke. (Sorry Steve.) If we’re tracking influence in the field, that’s a strike against RF (even if it did win the Bancroft). Maybe Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magical World View is more apropos?

    Comment by Ryan T. — April 10, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

  20. Also: Great job, Ben. Fun stuff.

    Comment by Ryan T. — April 10, 2014 @ 7:53 pm

  21. I have to agree with Ryan. I’d add “Early Mormonism and the Magical World View” and remove Barlow. Naturally, I would also like to see Davies’ “The Mormon Culture of Salvation”, but I realize that this is meant to be a history list.

    Comment by Adam Powell — April 10, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

  22. I’ll third Ryan and Adam’s suggestion on replacing Brooke with Quinn. I also say we should drop O’Dea – since Shipps covers pretty similar materials with a slightly different angle. Definitely keep Barlow. With O’Dea out, put in Quest for Refuge – which is essential. This is the most enjoyable blog I’ve read this week (or month).

    Comment by Chris Blythe — April 10, 2014 @ 9:02 pm

  23. Kara, Kevin, and Ben (#1, 2, 3):

    Thanks for recognizing the “chronological sweep” of my All Abraham’s Children as a study in changing Mormon conceptions about race more generally, for it does cover much more than just relationships with people of African ancestry. For a specific treatment of the history of LDS relationships with black people specifically, Kara would probably get a fuller picture from reading the collection of Dialogue essays that Lester Bush and I put together in our book entitled Neither White nor Black (available electronically through the publisher, Signature Books: http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=438).

    Comment by Armand L. Mauss — April 10, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

  24. Thanks for the responses, all. These are worthwhile questions to raise.

    I admit I have a bias for O’Dea’s book, mostly because when I read it in 2008 it seemed much better and, well, more current than any other 50-year-old book I’ve ever read. But you’re right: most of its ideas have been appropriated elsewhere (especially by Shipps and, to a lesser degree, Givens), and probably belongs on a “Classics” list instead.

    I have a hard time taking Brooke off because of two reasons: 1) besides Shipps and Brodie, I imagine it is the the most-read and most-influential book on Mormonism in the broader academy*; 2) I think it is a lot better than is typically acknowledged, and I’m constantly surprised on my return to the text at its insights; 3) I think it is much more sophisticated than Quinn, and succeeds in placing Mormonism in a much broader context; 4) it is one of the very few (only?) books that successfuly sees Mormonism as a transatlantic phenomenon; 5) I am drumming up attention to Brooke in anticipation for a 20-year retrospective roundtable I’m putting together for Journal of Mormon History next year!

    I must admit I’m not as much a fan of Quest for Refuge as others. Indeed, much of my own work is in direct response to the book, which I see more a series of somewhat-connected essays rather than a cohesive monograph with a driving thesis. And I think its staid boundaries between “Mormonism” and “American culture” is the exact type of framework today’s scholarship is trying to overturn. (But, I guess the fact that the book still looms large over even my own work attests to its importance.)
    _____________________
    *What does it say that the three most influential books on Mormonism in the broader academy are all written by non-Mormons?

    Comment by Ben P — April 11, 2014 @ 2:06 am

  25. So, upon later reflection, and a long consideration of points made, I think I’m dropping O’Dea in favor of Mormon Enigma.

    Comment by Ben P — April 11, 2014 @ 6:18 am

  26. Don’t make the mistake of over favoring the new. O’dea’s book is amazing and include more of the seminal older books. Juanita Brooks, Fawn Broadie, Arringtons Brigham Young, etc.

    I agree with adding Mormon Enigma. Drop Brown or Turner-fine books but not instant classics.

    More than 1 book before 1985 please.

    Comment by rl — April 11, 2014 @ 11:43 am

  27. Thanks for the comment, rl. Like I said in the post, this isn’t a list of “classics,” but rather the books that represent the current state of the field; many of the canon books pre-1985 are not only dated but have been built upon by the books listed. I hope to do a future post that shows the proper respect to all of these classics.

    Comment by Ben P — April 11, 2014 @ 11:52 am

  28. ah, I didn’t catch that. One of my favorite books on Mormon history that not enough people talk about is “From Mission to Madness”

    I’ve only read one Mormon History book by a RLDS author. Are there a lot of great RLDS History books written by those in the alternative universe?

    Another question are there any Mormon Memoir’s scholarly enough to be included in history?

    Comment by rl — April 11, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

  29. Fantastic list, Ben. While I might quibble with one or two selections, I especially like your paragraph at the end. There has been a lot of great work done in Mormon studies over the years, and it’s always worth remembering what came before. There are those “classics,” some written when doing Mormon studies was a lot less en vogue and academics had little motive to pursue them, or in a few cases, even caused the author some serious headaches (Quinn) or were groundbreaking steps forward by the church itself (Mountain Meadows).

    I’d perhaps swap “Adventures of a Church Historian” for O’Dea, just because I think any grad student approaching Mormon history should understand the excellent new scholarship created today did not take place in a vacuum. But perhaps that reflects my own historiography interests.

    Comment by John Hatch — April 11, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

  30. rl, I highly recommend March Scherer’s two-volume history of the Community of Christ, “The Journey of a People.” The first volume covers the Joseph Smith years, and it’s a fantastic general history of the church that anyone from any branch of the Latter Day Saint movement can appreciate.

    Comment by John Hatch — April 11, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

  31. […] Ben Park, writing for the Juvenile Instructor Mormon history blog, posted a list of twenty-five essential books that “every student of Mormon history should read.” Park offered his criterion and methodology, […]

    Pingback by Signature Books » Mormon News, Week 15, April 7–11 — April 11, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

  32. Under Utah section I’d have to give a shout out to David Bigler’s Forgotten Kingdom: Mormon Theocracy in the American West 1847-1896.

    Comment by Dallas — April 11, 2014 @ 6:32 pm

  33. Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi
    Wes Walters, Michael Marquardt, Inventing Mormonism
    B H Roberts Studies of the Book of Mormon
    Dan Vogel, The Making of a Prophet
    Homeward to Zion – William Mulder
    The New Mormon Challenge Mosser & others

    Comment by noel — April 11, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

  34. Glad to see “David O. Mckay, The Rise…” made your cut! I’ve read several off your list, now I have my birthday and Christmas lists taken care of fo the next few years.

    Comment by Brian — April 16, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

  35. Are there really no good monographs on the Mormon Exodus– which must be one of most important events in church history? I’m not a academic, but I have read many of the books on your list.

    You’ve got Turner’s Book (good, but I think it is a premature canonization)and Arrington and Claudia Bushman, and I haven’t read Reeve and some of the other titles. But it seems to me that these are books about something else that happen to include the exodus. I liked We’ll Find a Place by Bennett, but I don’t know if it is definitive. What is the best book devoted to the exodus? That book should be included.

    Comment by Ken — April 17, 2014 @ 7:13 pm

  36. Great suggestion, Ken. I prefer Mormons at the Missouri more than We’ll Find the Place, even though it is a bit more limited in scope.

    Comment by Ben P — April 18, 2014 @ 4:13 am

  37. When Arrington was attempting to put together a seven volumes of church history, Reed Durham had the book on the Exodus. Only the first few volumes (Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism and The Heavens Resound, I think) were released before Arrington was removed. Some of the later books were revised much later by others and released. But I don’t think Durham’s was ever released. That was a real loss. I think Reed finished or almost finished the book.

    Comment by Ken — April 18, 2014 @ 11:59 am

  38. I think a good book on the Exodus is Establishing Zion by Eugene Campbell. We miss Durham’s contribution (which would have been excellent), but Campbell is good, too.

    Comment by Terry H — May 1, 2014 @ 5:39 pm