Over 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.
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)
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)
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.