Essential Books on Mormonism

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Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, by Leonard J. Arrington (University of Illinois Press). A masterful account of the policies and practices that enabled Mormons to settle in the hostile environment of the Great Basin. Arrington, the dean of Mormon historians for many years, shows that the Mormons achieved this feat by imposing a managed economy on a frontier society.

Mormonism in Transition, 1890-1930: A History of the Latter-day Saints, by Thomas G. Alexander (University of Illinois Press). Alexander describes how the Church of Latter-day Saints transformed itself in almost every dimension in the decades after polygamy was ended and statehood was achieved. These were the years when Mormons assimilated into American society as the church sloughed off the practices that had long alienated them from the rest of the country.

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman Bushman (Knopf). A practicing Mormon attempts to understand the founding prophet of Mormonism in realistic but sympathetic terms.

By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion, by Terryl L. Givens (Oxford University Press). An account of how the Book of Mormon was received by believers and unbelievers. Givens presents the ongoing debates about the book's historical authenticity in evenhanded fashion. …