“What Books Should I Read?”: Essential Readings in Mormonism for Every Member

The Mormon books on my "Currently Reading or Recently Read" shelf.

The Mormon books on my “Currently Reading or Recently Read” shelf.

I get asked this question often: “what books on Mormonism should I read?” Probably every other week or so. It comes from a broad range of people, including non-Mormon academics who have a small interest in the field, sunday school teachers who want to be better prepared to teach the Doctrine and Covenants, or fellow reading nerds who just want to banter about their favorite books. But most often, the question comes from average members of the Church who just want a better understanding of their faith tradition and its history. I usually refer them to my post on The LDS History Canon I wrote for JI a couple years back, but I often do so grimicingly because of three problems: 1) it is both out of date and flat-out wrong on some inclusions, which I hope to correct in a new version soon, 2) it is academically-oriented, and modeled more for an academic historian’s interest’s than the general member’s, and 3) it is only history.

So I decided to attempt to make, with everyone’s help, a list that is interdisciplinary, approachable, and relevant. Put simply, a list of books I wish every member of the Church would read.

(Note for those who are itching to make this comment: yes, the scriptures, General Conference addresses, and, if you’d like, the Brethren’s shopping list is the most important thing for members to read. Sure. We are taking the importance of scripture reading for granted in this list; if it makes you more comfortable, label this “The List of Books You Can Read After Your Three Hours of Morning Scriptural Study,” or TLBYCRAYTHMS, for short.)

Now, for some rules and outlines. It is ridiculously easy to just give a laundry list of books people should read, but that almost defeats the point of the list. This is about prioritizing. This is about making tough decisions. As such, I am putting a limit on the number of books included on the list. There can only be ten in the “Essential” category and another twenty in “Nearly Essential.” If you suggest adding another book to these two categories, and I really hope you do, you not only have to make a case for it but you have to tell me which book to drop. I could make a case for a hundred books, but if I am forced to limit myself to twenty-five, it requires a lot more work. However, I know that it is also helpful to include lots of other books, so feel free to nominate “further reading” suggestions that fall in a category under the two mentioned.

The primary audience is the average member of the Church who sits next to you every sunday. If you had your wish, what books do you wish every member would read? With that said, though, there is the reality that there is a certain type of person who would read books in the first place, so I have tried to take that into consideration, even if I can’t clearly elucidate the difference. And besides the important content (which is definitely a criteria), and beyond the quality of writing (which I wish we had a better standard against which to judge), I have tried to select books that provoke a lesson or idea I find significant. So, for instance, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, as a book and a topic, may not justify its inclusion in the “Essential” list, but its lesson in the fallibility of human leadership and the pitfalls of blind obedience make me wish every member of the Church knew its tale.

Other factors that I invoked: I’d like every reader to experience the broad swath of cultural production, thus I think history, literature, philosophy, and personal essays, as well as other disciplines and approaches, should be included. I also aimed for better gender representation, though we still have a ways to go on that front. And I wished to have every major issue dealt with: polygamy, race, dissent, gender, etc, so that each member will have something to draw from when presented with crucial tensions and questions.

Note that this is not a “Most Important Books” list, a “Best Mormon History Books” list, a “Best Written Books” list, or even “My Favorite Books” list; those would look very different. Again, these are books that I wish the average member of the Church was familiar with.

Enough talking. On to my list. (And many thanks to fellow BCCers and the handful of people I reached out to yesterday for helping me craft it.)

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Essential (10 Books)

Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of An American Faith (New York: Random House, 2012).

  • Even though it’s just a year old, it is already the best one-volume history of the Church. I would argue that before jumping into all of the other issues, moments, and themes, it is important to have an overall grasp of the Church, and this book provides that.

Claudia Bushman, ed., Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1997).

  • Though the volume is somewhat uneven, it exposes readers to something we need a lot more of in the Church: women’s history. It may sound simple, but I think it is crucial to adjust how we view historical characters in order to be more inclusive of women within Mormonism, so these articles point us in the right direction.

Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005).

  • I would imagine this book would receive the most votes if this list were put to a poll. Everyone has to come to grapple with Joseph Smith, and Bushman’s book is still the best introduction.

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

  • Everyone needs to deal with polygamy, and Daynes’s book is the best on the topic. (At least in Utah, anyway; her Nauvoo period chapter is a bit lacking, but Bushman can (kinda) help buttress that section.) Within the next few years, though, Daynes will have competition from both Kathleen Flake and Laurel Ulrich, as those books promise to be important examinations of polygamy.

Jill Mulvay Derr, Janeth Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).

  • Still the best overall history of Mormon women, and gives the sweeping narrative of the Church since the Nauvoo period until 1990.

Terryl and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012).

  • We need more discussions concerning our beliefs, and I believe The God Who Weeps is the best introduction to our theology for the average member. I honestly wish this were the assigned curriculum for institute classes.

Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989).

  • Yes, it is date; yes, many of Nibley’s claims are confusing; yes, much of the book is problematic. But it is still one of the most innovative and creative looks at the potential for Mormon cultural, economic, and political thought and, even if you vehemently disagree with it, it can still get you thinking. Which is what a book is supposed to do. (Make sure to read the fantastic series on Approaching Zion currently taking place at Times & Seasons.)

Levi Peterson, The Backslider (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986).

  • A classic Mormon novel, and captures the tensions of (desired) sacred and profane in everyday life. We are all fallen, imperfect people, yet within that status there is still beauty.

Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • Not only an important event in LDS history, but the carrier of an important lesson.

Maurine Whipple, Giant Joshua (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1942).

  • Another classic Mormon novel. I think it’s important because it humanizes historical figures and makes our pioneers look human. Also, it’s story is moving and makes our past seem a lot more, well, real–much more than academic history, I would argue.

Nearly Essential (20 Books)

Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986).

  • It is important to look at the institutional rupture that the end of polygamy brought, even if it overstates the changes in everyday life. Alexander’s is a classic, and looks at how the Church began the process of cultural assimilation after decades of isolation. (Personally, I like Kathleen Flake’s Politics of American Religious Identity more for this time period and issue, but it is likely a bit to academic and theoretical for most readers.)

Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

  • Besides the fascinating content and sweeping scope, it teaching the multivocal history of Mormon scriptural interpretation. No, we haven’t always read the Bible the same way, and we have a dynamic (and, at times, quixotic) history of scriptural hermeneutics.

Martha Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005).

  • A crucial moment in modern Mormonism told by a master historian. The tensions of gender issues, women’s rights, and the tension between church and state will continue to be a major element of today’s Church, so this is especially relevant.

Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (New York: Free Press, 2012).

  • A poignant, sweet, and thoughtful story of what makes Mormonism so powerful, frustrating, and, in the end, rewarding. It is also designed to build emphathy and demonstrate diversity.

Samuel Brown, In Heaven as It is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

  • Besides being a brilliant reconstruction of early Mormon thought, the book is an important introduction to tough issues like treasure seeking, polygamy, and the relationship between masonry and the temple.

Eugene England, Making Peace: Personal Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995).

  • It has been argued that the personal essay is the best form of Mormon cultural expression. And Eugene England was the master of it. Would that all Mormons were exposed to his thoughtful, peaceful, and worshipful version of Mormonism. (Also, note that you could pick up any of England’s collections, like Dialogues with Myself and Quality of Mercy, and still turn out alright.)

James Faulconer, Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2010).

  • One of the best works written on faith and reason by a Mormon and for Mormons; it should help develop a more sophisticated, rigorous, and rewarding approach to faith in general and scriptural reading in particular.

Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

  • Arguably one of the best Mormon history books to date, it is a beautifully-told tale of Mormonism’s relationship to Mount Timpanogus. But it is also much more than that: it is a reflection on Mormonism’s influence on culture, colonialism, environmentalism, and consumerism.

Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

  • This is a classic in the Mormon history field, and an important telling of not only how the Book of Mormon came to be, but how we have come to interpret the Book of Mormon.

Angela Hallstrom, ed., Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction (Salt Lake City: Zarahemla Books, 2010).

  • We’ve had an explosion of great short stories of late, so something needed to be included. This compilation is worthy of the list and a great read.

Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  • One of the best books on the Book of Mormon itself, and a great introduction to the complexity within the text.

Edward Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005).

  • Among many other things, a significant account of Official Declaration 2.

Armand Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).

  • Race will always be a sticking point for Mormonism. This provides a good overview, and the chapters on the priesthood ban should be read by every member.

Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

  • This was the last cut from the “Essentials” section, so consider it #11 on this list. Crucial to understanding the tensions of 20th century Mormonism, and Mauss’s sociological approach will encourage readers to examine their tradtion in new and provocative ways.

Steven Peck, The Scholar of Moab (Torrey, UT: Torrey House Press, 2011).

  • Even the approach, speculative western, merges the sacred and profane in a way that perfectly captures one of Mormonism’s paradoxes. And though a comedic tale, it asks fundamental philosophical questions that will last long after the laughs. Bonus points if you also read his A Short Stay in Hell, which might make you start hating our doctrine of eternity.

Gregory Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005).

  • How did the modern church come into being? McKay presided over one of the most crucial moments of the Church’s history, and this book, because of its access to key sources, provides key insights into the transition.

Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992).

  • Beautifually written, and makes our pioneer stories come alive in tragic and moving ways.

Stephen Taysom, Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011).

  • There is something in here for everybody. It would serve as a very useful introduction to the broad, dynamic, and evolving field of Mormon studies.

Brady Udall, The Lonely Polygamist: A Novel (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010).

  • Though about a fictional modern polygamist in a fundamentalist group, it touches on notions of solidarity, community, and fallibility that are at the crux of the Mormon tradition.

Laurel Thatch Ulrich and Emma Lou Thayne, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1995).

  • Another collection of essays by phenomenal writers, this compilation offers poignant reflections on the experiences of Mormon women.

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My “further reading” list includes Jan Shipp’s Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (as much as I wished members could be exposed to a sympathetic outsider’s take, I concluded it would be difficult for them to weather the religious studies/theoretical arguments; plus, many of her best points have been appropriated by other books on the list), Ronald Walker’s Wayward Saints (it’s the best written book in Mormon studies, and deftly deals with the issue of dissent), John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (probably a bit shocking to the average member, but an important read once they have a foundation), Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question (perhaps the best book in Mormon history, though probably not relevant enough for the average reader), Eric Eliason’s useful collection Mormons and Mormonism, Michael Hick’s Mormonism and Music, Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines (just a step too difficult for the average reader), and Joe Spencer’s An Other Testament (I really wish there were more scritpural study books). I really wanted to include a compilation of poetry, and likely would have used Tyler Chadwick’s Fire in the Pasture.

I’m sure I’m not including many; indeed, some of my favorite books (like those by Spencer Fluhman and Patrick Mason) didn’t make the list.

Now, the fun starts. How would you change the “Essentials” and “Nearly Essentials” list? What would you add to “further reading”?

Comments

  1. Stephen E. Robinson, obviously. Everything he ever wrote. Especially “Are Mormons Christians” for those of us not living in Zion. I would take out “On Zion’s Mount” and some of the pioneer history stuff because that’s just not relevant to the majority church membership who don’t live in Utah and aren’t descended from those pioneers.

  2. Much as I love fiction, I’d drop all of it, or put it on a separate list, in order to include other things.

  3. liz johnson says:

    I know it isn’t a book like the rest, but I’d put the Fall 2003 issue of Dialogue somewhere up there. And I’d take off one of the (many) books that I haven’t yet read… or, if I had to pick one that I had read, I’d take off “The Lonely Polygamist.” It’s an excellent book, but not as fundamental to the study of Mormonism as this volume of Dialogue.

  4. Kent Larsen says:

    No poetry?

  5. I remain a strong defender of the fiction, because I think it is an important expression of our culture and makes us think of our faith in new and provocative ways. And I think it speaks to many people in ways that other books can’t.

    I could be persuaded to include poetry. I list Chadwick’s Fire in the Pasture in my fighter reading, and I seriously considered having it in the list.

    Robinson is an interesting suggestion, and I feel bad for not considering him. I don’t know if I would include him, but I’m mulling it over, so thanks.

    And I don’t include any pioneer history just to cover pioneer history. I include any book based on its merits, importance, and ability to convey a broader, important lesson. Zion’s Mount, for instance, is much, much more important than Utah history, as it is a case study in the intersection of religion, culture, and environment.

  6. Lisa O. says:

    I would add “Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements” by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery to the “Essentials” list. Misunderstanding of the First Presidency’s stand on Evolution and Ancient Age of the Earth is rampant in the Church. I have to deal with well-meaning Seminary and Sunday School teachers who inculcate my children’s classes with false doctrine almost every year, not to mention the adult classes, where I must decide whether I should stand up for truth or just let it go in the name of not getting everyone mad at me.

    My husband, now deceased, was a geology professor. It broke his heart to see young members begin to question the truthfulness of the gospel, wondering that if their Sunday School teachers were wrong about this, what else were they wrong about?

    What to remove to make room? I’d like to see separate lists for fiction and non-fiction.

  7. Great list, Ben. Though it pains me to say this, since it’s one of the earliest Mormon studies books I read and one I still admire, if I’m thinking of what I would recommend to the common member, I’d pick Paul Gutjahr’s “The Book of Mormon: A Biography” over Givens’s “By the Hand of Mormon.” 2 reasons: 1) Gutjahr’s book is shorter and an easier read, and 2) I’d want the common member to get more comfortable and less defensive with hearing what non-LDS have to say about Mormonism.

    And keep the fiction.

  8. Lisa:great suggestion. While compiling the list, I really wished to include a book on science. If and when I do a list of articles, I have several science-related near the top of the list.

    DLewis: I also considered Gutjahr, but decided to “punt” that inclusion for a few years to see how the book sticks. A definite candidate, though.

  9. Fiction is the low-hanging fruit of any assigned reading list. Not saying it’s unimportant, it’s just a completely different category that deserves its own list.

  10. DLewis says:

    Also, Blake Ostler’s “Exploring Mormon Thought” I feel has to be on this list. It is still a go-to for classic Mormon theology, and is also a great introduction to some to the variety of early Mormon theological thinking. I would replace Taysom’s edited volume with it, only because that book is probably better for a specialist than the average member.

    (And I guess you addressed my reason #2 above with Stegner)

  11. DLewis says:

    “Exploring Mormon Thought” vol. 1, I mean.

  12. I know you’re looking for books here, but I think something core/critical about Mormonism is found in this article titled “Spencer Kimball and the Service Station Guy”:

    https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/071-10-15.pdf

  13. Wow. I would not recommend these books to the “average” member of the Church; perhaps the very well-educated member.

    Before recommending anything, I’d ask people a few questions to gauge their level of historical awareness. Here are a few questions off the top of my head.

    Do you know when the World Wars happened? Can you explain briefly why they happened? Do you know when the Civil War was fought? Give a brief summary of some of the reasons for the Civil War. When did women receive the vote in the United States? Who instituted polygamy in the Church? When did it end, and under the administration of which two prophets? How much time passed between the Revolutionary War and the founding of the Church?

    If they fail this test, I’d suggest some remedial world and American history before starting on the history of the Church. If they pass the test, I’d suggest starting with a basic history of the Church, and since there’s really nothing better since Bowman is hard to read, that would be James Allen and Glen Leonard’s “The Story of the Latter-day Saints.” (That book needs to be updated.)

    After getting an idea of the basic history of the Church, then I’d find out what type of reading they prefer. Straight history? Biography? Cultural history? Doctrinal explorations? Historical fiction?

    If they answer biography, start with something simple and enjoyable like “The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt.” If they’re good with that and still want to read more, then move onto the new Pratt biography. Then Arrington’s Brigham Young, followed by Turner. (Etc.)

    For historical fiction, I wouldn’t suggest “Giant Joshua.” I wanted to like it, but couldn’t. The language is precious, the plot kind of collapses part way through, the characters are awful stereotypes and don’t speak or write like any person outside the pages of a cheap novel. I haven’t read Peterson’s novel, and really don’t know what I’d suggest for this category.

    I do agree with many of your selections, but definitely not as preliminary reading for the “average” member of the church, since the “average” member may have little grasp of history or historiography. The question of “what to read” really needs a customized flow-chart approach based on an individual’s understanding and knowledge.

    This post really raises interesting questions, Ben. Thanks for the discussion.

  14. Thanks for putting this together. I enjoy seeing others’ syllabi of essential readings. I’m assuming from your list and from your parameters that being a General Authority disqualifies an author from being considered. I would think their exclusion may lead to a skewed list, as there are worthwhile books out there written by people who served as General Authorities, if one really wants to know about Mormonism. If that is not true, then that would change the list I have brewing, so let me know.

  15. I’d dump Lonely Polygamist in a heartbeat, because not only does it not speak to Mormonism, it distorts the already stereotyped and ignorant misconceptions most “average Mormons” have of historical Mormon practices of marriage and cooperation. I would drop several other selections for the same reason (but naming them would get me kicked out of the Bloggernacle): while these unnamed others are darlings of academics or favorites of one end of the spectrum of online Mormonism, I would prefer and think most of the Saints I meet with on Sunday would find more useful to have them familiar with books that align more closely with and give them a better understanding of and appreciation for the Mormonism they know and practice — I’m not so much supportive of the goal of enlightening or liberalizing the views of the saints in the pews next to me simply because it would be “good for them,” which I think is the point of more than a few of your choices. I’m not immediately sure which titles I would replace them with, but I know what “feel” I would prefer those replacements to have.

  16. Unlike, Ben S. I think fiction is essential. As I’ve said many times, fiction often contains more truth than non-fiction. It adds dimension and depth to the list. Of course, I’m someone who likes Homer more than Herodotus.

  17. Sincere thanks for all the comments, everyone; lists like these are meant to provoke more discussion than serve as a static statement, so this is exactly as I’d hoped. Just a few brief responses:

    Liz: that Dialogue issue is fantastic and worth consideration. I may include some of those articles when I do an article list. Same goes with Danithew’s suggestion.

    Rob: being authored by a GA does not disqualify a book from my list, necessarily.

    Amy and Ardis: these types of list reveal more about the person creating them than an objective construction of the most essential books, of course. They reflect what I genuinely believe are important and relevant book, and I sincerely tried to confront my own academic bias; I’m sure I failed in some instances, but I promise I put in the effort. These are what I think would prove relevant and important to most members of the church.

    That said, and building off of Amy’s list, of course it is important to tailor to individual people; I do that all the time. But I still usually draw from books on this list (which exceptions, of course), and I think it is good to attempt the books I think are most commonly used and recommended on my part.

    And I will defend Lonely Polygamist till the day I day. Yes, it uses caricatures and may be problematic for those who want to equate its portrayal of polygamy with the 19th century, but I think it, similar to the realist novels of Frank Norris, uses the extremes (and often absurdity) in litarary figures to tap into deep tensions and significant themes. It might not work for everyone, just like many books on the list; that’s fine. But it was extremely moving to me and a number of people I know, from many backgrounds.

  18. DLewis says:

    Ardis, I understand your sentiment, but if we start with Ben’s original question, “What books on Mormonism should I read?”, there is already an implied interest in a perspective on Mormonism that is, at least on some level, different from the one they are already familiar with. If the list was about deepening Mormon identity or practice, this would be a completely different list and I would have a different list of books in mind as well. Also, unless you’re willing to be more specific, these vague swipes at Ben’s list don’t add anything to the conversation.

  19. DLewis, I’d prefer it if you left Ben to police his own discussion. Disagree with me if you will, but you have no right to declare my serious participation to be unwelcome.

  20. Mark B. says:

    Joanna Brooks. “Essential”? Are you serious??

  21. Mark B: yes, serious. (Though, for the record, her book is in “nearly essential.”)

  22. Nice list. I tend to tell people to read Jim and Glen’s Story of the Latter-day Saints and Matt’s Mormon People, then RSR, and then I chat with them to get a sense for how they are processing it. Later books will depend on what they liked and/or wanted from the encounter.

  23. ShawnC says:

    Decent list. I would add Quinn’s 2, (soon to be 3?) Mormon Heirarchy books. Also Snuffer “Passing the Heavenly Gift”, and “The Second Comforter”. Even though they are deep, they teach a vital principle.

  24. Snuffer? Yikes.

  25. Nate Oman offered some important critiques on my facebook page. I won’t list all of them, but I do feel ashamed I didn’t include MORMON ENIGMA, which would probably replace MORMON SISTERS.

  26. MikeInWeHo says:

    I think this would work better if you made three lists:
    1. Essential readings in Mormon history.
    2. Essential readings in Mormon theology and devotion.
    3. Essential readings in Mormon culture.

    Obviously there is a lot of overlap between these categories, but they might bring some clarity. The list as it stands has lot of interesting titles but does come across as a bit of a mish-mash.

  27. DLewis says:

    Ardis, I’m sorry that my comment came across so heavy-handed. Let me try again: you, of all people, have enough Bloggernacle clout to be frank in your opinions without any chance of being kicked out. And I for one would be very interested in hearing your opinion about this list. But just saying a lot of these books are problematic, or that some of Ben’s choices are condescending, doesn’t give us something specific to think about.

  28. JamesM says:

    I would recommend “Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction” by Richard Bushman as worth consideration. It’s not necessarily academic as most of what you’ve listed, but it is the most effectively concise survey of Mormon history, culture, and doctrine I have read. I found it extremely valuable as a model for how we can describe the gospel in understandable terms for those who are interested in learning more about the church without being proselytized.

  29. I feel happy that I’ve read some of them and heard of others and own some I’ve yet to crack. I am curious about the ones you would exclude Ardis. You know where to reach me if you decide not to tell it here. I have this vision of time in my near future, summer break, where I might have some time to read for edification, curiosity and pleasure, and I’d like to stock up on a few titles. I also like having good stuff around to read, just in case any of those that fall into my sphere of influence feel to pick up something out of their regular genre interests.

  30. JamesM: I really considered including both Bushman’s (on Mormonism) and Givens’s (on the Book of Mormon) Very Short Introductions. Both are stupendous and should be widely read.

  31. Hunter says:

    It’s great fun to read someone else’s list. Thank you, Ben.

    Having not read many, many of the titles on your list, I feel ill-qualified to “bump” a title off your list while promoting another. I just wanted to say that I disagree with your characterization as too “academic,” Kathleen Flake’s book “The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Smoot”. It’s a slim volume (well under 200 pages) and a quick read. It openened up to me an important and fascinating era of Church history (post-Manifesto, early 1900′s, second Manifesto, American politics, church governance, doctrinal development, etc.). Yeah, it might be used in college courses as a case study in American political and religious tensions, but it’s not academic in feel; Flake’s writing style is (gasp!) readable. If someone who is earnest comes to me asking for a recommendation on a book about Mormonism, it’s Rough Stone Rolling everytime. But if I sense that they might not make it through RSR, it’s Prof. Flake’s book. It’s an exciting page-turner. I just can’t say enough about this excellent book.

    Now, I should go get my hands on Alexander’s “Mormonism in Transition” to compare. Thanks again.

  32. Echoing the comments above – no list on essential readings in Mormonism can ignore Denver Snuffer. Or, for that matter, James Strang’s Book of the Law of the Lord.

  33. Steve B. says:

    Obviously, these lists by their nature invite easy criticism regarding categories and who’s left off. I congratulate Ben P. for his provocative stab at it. IMHO, Lowell Bennion is a serious omission. I think his writings on Mormon Christian theology and practice strike the best balance between deep thought and accessible presentation to the masses. Of course, he also walked the walk.

  34. If not the whole of Approaching Zion, then every members should read at least selected essays from it. Back in my pre-mission days when I first discovered FARMS and was suspicious of books from not explicitly faith-promoting perspectives, Nibley was the first Mormon author I read who made me realize “Oh wow, it’s possible to think about my faith in a completely different way and even criticize it while still be uplifting!” Had I not internalized that idea, I wouldn’t be commenting on BCC today :)

  35. One thing I would also add is George Handley’s Home Waters. It is exceptional memoir and filled with theological and environmental truths that need to be spoken.

  36. Great list, Ben. It’s hard to quibble with so many spot-on titles, but quibble I will ;) I admire this as a list for the average church goer, and it’s also possible, as one who doesn’t sit in the pews week after week, that I’m out of touch. That said, I echo Mormon Enigma; I think even the best treatments of Joseph Smith (and Nauvoo polygamy) often miss opportunities to talk about Emma and her perspective. While I understand hesitancy to include Turner’s biography of Brigham Young for the average Mormon, I think it’s an indispensable account of Mormonism during the early Utah years, something most members probably define by the miracle of the gulls and the federal government being mean to the church. Finally, by my quick count, 17 of the 30 titles were published within the last decade. This may represent the quality of Mormon scholarship in recent years, but it also may show a bias towards what’s new and en vogue.

  37. Very strange list. Did I miss EARLY MORMONISM & THE MAGIC WORLD VIEW, IN SACRED LONLINESS and THE THINGS THAT MATTER MOST (Bennion) – or did someone mention these (almost unforgivable) oversights? Will also say the McKay bio belongs in top 10.

    Was happy, however, to see Whipple’s novel even mentioned. Great book.

  38. I would add Mormon Enigma

    And also a couple volumes of the JSP!!! Journals 1 for example with its raw and varied accounts of our founding events! R&T facsimile Ed. (for $20 at DB) and both histories 1 and 2. Ok only add one of them if thats too much but I still feel general membership would love, appreciate, benifit from etc etc these volumes!

    And definitely Massacre at Mountain Meadows for precisely the reason you outline-well said!

  39. I can’t believe I forgot Snuffer.

    All great comments. Besides Mormon Enigma, I agree that Turner, Bennion, Flake, and Handley all deserve serious reconsideration.

    And totally guilty of the “en vogue” bias, John. Not only am I conditioned by the same cultural influences that led to many of the books from the last decade, but I didn’t even know there was such a thing as serious Mormon writing until 2007 and I’m still working to catch myself up. :)

  40. DLewis, I don’t think Ben’s list is condescending, and I can’t figure out how you came to choose that word to apply to my criticism. If anything, I think Ben’s list is too academic, too broad, too all-encompassing for the typical member who, I think, would be more interested and more helped by books that deepen his understanding of the Mormonism he already knows.

    You earlier assert that the point of such a reading list is to give typical Mormons “a perspective on Mormonism that is, at least on some level, different from the one they are already familiar with”; I respond that Ben asked “If you had your wish, what books do you wish every member would read?” with a wish that every member would read books that ground him or her in the real history of mainstream Mormonism rather than the fanciful and superficial history that he’s picked up from who-knows-where. Ditto for books that make his faith concrete, and his theology pure and his understanding of culture more specific than wherever he stands now.

    As long as I am not recommending specific titles, but only a general principle, I’m not violating Ben’s request that for every book added, one book must be struck from his list. Since I have described the general type of book I would include, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to identify which books on his list are the general type I would exclude.

    Except Snuffer. And Strang. And the collected works of Ogden Kraut and Warren Jeffs. Obviously I agree with Steve Evans that those are essential reading for everybody everywhere, and I simply cannot understand why they are not sold at Deseret Book and quoted in General Conference.

  41. Hmmm…no Talmage? Is that too difficult a read? I would think that “Jesus the Christ” paints a great picture of our view of the Savior, and how that differs from traditional Christianity.

  42. kevinf says:

    Ben, breve list. I agree that including fiction is important, and I think you’ve hit most of the best ones. I do think a poetry book ought to be in the second set of nearly essentials, but I am at a loss to specify which one makes the best collection. And thanks for including Eugene England, whose essays had a huge impact on my developing appreciation for learning how to think about my religion.

    I think I have to agree, though, with Amy that some of this is a bit of a reach for the “average member” sitting in the pews next to me. I am currently working my way through Sam Brown’s “In Heaven as it is on Earth.” It’s an important book, well worth reading, but it is still a bit of an uphill climb for me, as a slightly more than average member (in my own opinion, your mileage may vary.) Not sure what I would specify to replace it, but I think it is over the head of half the folks in the pews around me. Nearly essential for your above average reader, but Amy makes a good point about making sure folks have a good grasp of history to begin with.

    Up until a year ago I would have recommended Truman Madsen’s “Eternal Man” as an essential reading for the average reader, but the Given’s “The God Who Weeps” is an instant classic and covers the same ground and can be found in Deseret Book, where the “average” LDS reader goes for books. That, and “Eternal Man” is currently out of print, and only available apparently in ebook format.

    Finally, another book that was instrumental for me, even with some problematic elements, was Sterling McMurrin’s “Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion,” which took a deeper dive into the complexities and vagueness of our theology, and helped me understand these issues at a deeper level than Madsen’s. I would likely pull “The Lonely Polygamist” to put this or a similar volume int.

  43. kevinf says:

    Sorry, “brave list.”

  44. Levi Peterson’s The Backslider makes the cut, but Richard Lloyd Anderson’s Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses doesn’t?

    Wow.

  45. Mike:

    1. I am good friends with Richard, and really like his book.
    2. There were many tough decisions in making this list, and demonstrate more of my own interests than others.
    3. Choosing Peterson over Anderson was not one of the toughest decisions.
    4. You are free to make your own list with Anderson front and center :)

  46. Whilst we’re asking members to read Ogden Kraut and Strang, how about John J Stewart’s Mormonism and the Negro and Mormonism vs Communism?

  47. Meldrum the Less says:

    I guess i got my work cut out for me. I ahven’t read more than 1 or 2 of the books on that list.

    My grandparents, born around the time of the Manifesto were well educated people for their time and had hundreds of books intheir house. As a youth I read every one of them. I have tired ot read widely over my lifetime between a demanding job and family and church callings. i atend church and read the church magazines and interesting church books but obviously I ahve missed the boat.

    You know it wasnot mu fgault that I couldnt afford to go to the mighty BYU. I took all the institute courses at USU and I took several elevtives inhistory, literature andphilospphy as electives that had nothing to do with my major becaue I senses the institute program was lacking.

    I doubt anyof the members of my ward are any vbetter informed than I am. i would love to see a survey of active members and how many of those books or anyother like them have been brought to their attention.Notmany. I feel cheated,swindled , duped bambozled by a life time of religious study leading to near complete ignorance. I ahve given my heart and soul to this religion, and done my level best to be informed. How did this happen? Damnit I want to know. If the common people of the church knew how much and how thick the wool is being pulled over our eyes there would be an uprising , a revolution.

    I would like you to giveme one reason why I should not insist that my ci ollege age children skip the last 2 hours of the 3 hour block and begin reading these books. One reason! They are in top schools far ffom Utah and A students.Theire knowlwedge of the LDS faith is probably 10% of mine whichis sorely lacking. With my coronaries in their current condition I won’t live long enough to read half the list, There is gonna be hell to pay when I get tot he other side., I kid you not.

    Please excuse the typos , i am too angry to correct them and I need to take a couple of nitroglycerines right now and put away this damn computer.

  48. “On Zion’s Mount” was a (mostly) fun book, but it certainly doesn’t belong on this list. Instead, consider more important books that were left off such as “By the Hand of Mormon” and “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy.”

  49. Oh, and fantastic comment, kevenf.

  50. Trevor:

    1. “On Zion’s Mount” is actually one of my favorites, and I think deserves a solid spot. Very important and well told, that one.

    2. “By the Hand of Mormon” is on the list.

    3. I wouldn’t expect an average member to wade through a heavy, three volume work.

  51. “If you had your wish, what books do you wish every member would read?”

    In other words, the idiosyncrasies of this and any other similar list aren’t related to the likelihood of the average pew-sitter actually reading them. Whatever other disagreements I have (and I have several), I think much on here would simply not get read. It’s too far out of the norm, and doesn’t push the envelope so much as tear it up, “for the average member.” So this is a “here’s the spinach, kids, and you’re going to eat it because I think it’s good for you” list. As such, as you’ve said, it reveals more about you than the books in question, and is itself a type of personal essay.

  52. What a cheery response, Ben S! Cheers!

  53. I suppose I might as well do this, because I’m sitting here waiting for students to turn in their final papers. So, my Ten Essential (Scholarly, Non-Fiction) Books for (Academically-Inclined) Mormons:

    Alexander, Mormonism in Transition
    Barlow, Mormons and the Bible
    Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling
    Faulconer, Faith, Philosophy, Scripture
    Givens, By the Hand of Mormon
    Gordon, The Mormon Question
    Lucas and Woodworth, Working Towards Zion
    Newell and Avery, Mormon Enigma
    Nibley, Approaching Zion
    Yorganson, Transformation of the Mormon Culture Region

    A lot of overlap with Ben’s original lists, but some differences as well. There’s no Eugene England here, which is a shame, because he was, I think, flat out the best general Mormon thinker and writer in the second half of the 20th century, but I wanted to stick with books, rather than picking out essays.

  54. And, stupidly, I can’t make the close-italics tag work.

  55. To add one more voice:

    Keep the fiction. The list would be incomplete without it. What Mormon literature tells us about the Mormon people is just as valuable as what works of history, sociology, philosophy, and theology tell us.

    I also have to disagree with those who think The Lonely Polygamist doesn’t belong. It is, in my opinions, one of the best imaginative works on Mormon masculinity. True, Udall’s characters are polygamists, but the issues he deals with are relevant and familiar to lives of Mormon men. It’s a excellent comic novel and one of the best examples of Mormon “hysterical realism.” Udall’s novel is less about Mormon fundamentalism than it is about the effects Mormon cultural ideals and expectations about patriarchy, marriage, priesthood, and fatherhood have on Mormon men. Polygamy is a tool Udall uses to explore these issues on a macro level.

  56. lowtechworld says:

    For what it’s worth, I’d also add Nephi Anderson’s Dorian (1921) to the list as the forerunner of the modern Mormon novel.

  57. BHodges says:

    Sparking great discussion, Ben, nicely done.

    I would have Tom Mould’s Still, the Small Voice in my top ten. I think I will make a list of Top Ten Books that even most of us elitist stuffy intellectuals haven’t cracked which we could benefit from, as well as your average American Latter-day Saint (acknowledging the cultural biases of our output to date).

  58. Oops. I guess I overlooked “By the Hand of Mormon” in my disbelief that you included “On Zion’s Mount.” ;)

    Really, though, the history of American Fork Canyon and the Provo area is of little interest to most. I think I mostly enjoyed the book because that’s where I currently live.

    And I think there are a lot more people that would “wade through” the Hales series on polygamy than would be interested in a very long and boring discussion of lovers’ leaps. :)

  59. J. Stapley says:

    I love book lists, and this one is particularly interesting. I should probably buck up and start reading fiction and personal essays more.

  60. fevertree says:

    Interesting list, but it is based on the elitist assumption that the ‘average’ member has that much time to read. How would you par down the list for those of us who at best have time for 15 minutes of reading.

  61. Trevor: I totally understand the desire to avoid non-essentializing topics that are only interesting to Utah County. I share it, actually. In this instance, though, I think “On Zion’s Mount” is essential because it is, as I mentioned above, a beautiful and important case study of the potent blend of Mormonism, culture, the environment, and consumerism. I’m sure others would think that Nibley’s work is a better approach, of course, but I’m an academic snob and thus like the message packaged in sophisticated historical analysis. :)

  62. Fevertree: great question. That’s why I narrowed the “essentials” down to 10.

    Also, at some point in the future, I do hope to do a list of articles and essays, which should be much more pragmatic, time speaking.

  63. kevinf, Eternal Man has recently been rereleased as a paperback by Deseret Book (though the ebook is still cheaper).

  64. Ardis,

    Why snuff Snuffer? :-)

  65. One more…

    The Words of Joseph Smith. Not to be confused with the Teachings of the PJS.

  66. No mention, either, of Fawn Brodie, though NO MAN was a direct and acknowledged precursor to ROUGH STONE and a seminal Mormon study. Sorry, folks, but it’s part of our history, and even though Bushman arrived at different conclusions, the facts on the ground were pretty much the same. OF course, Bushman wasn’t excommunicated – though (to boot) I heard him a few years ago on NPR with my own ears discussing polyandry with the gleeful encouragement of the host.

  67. Why in the world would Bushman be excommunicated for discussing polyandry, paul, and why would “No Man” have any place on a list like this? It may be important to read Brodie if you want an understanding of how Joseph Smith has been portrayed by his biographers, but it’s definitely not essential to an understanding of Mormonism.

  68. I’ve read a couple books this week that I think every member should read. Terry Eagleton’s _On Evil_ and _Why Marx was Right_. Also, I think the most recent Leonard Cohen album is something no one, certainly not any Mormon, should live without.

  69. Thomas, FTW.

  70. No Women & Authority? Tsk tsk. :)

  71. Sam’s book and Steve’s Scholar of Moab should both be on the essentials list. Hardy’s Solemn Covenant probably should be too. Maybe Great Basin Kingdom as well. On the second list, I’d only include one Mauss title (probably A+B), and I’d put Shipps over Farmer (maybe Yorgason over Farmer too). I assume there are several stellar titles missing (like Miller’s RGM) because they’re not generally accessible?

  72. Thomas: we really need to make a list of essential non-Mormon books for Mormons

    Brad: yes, accessibility played a huge factor for some, and kept works by people like Miller and Gordon off of the list.

  73. @Amy T – I think most people that you approached with those questions would lose interest quickly… and why do you want to be the gatekeeper of information in the first place? Seems that is a common gripe that the COB has too long assumed that role.

  74. Les Blake says:

    I’m just a lay reader, and I didn’t feel that Faulconer’s Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (made the list) was any more accessible than Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines (didn’t make the list, barely). I love both both books and find myself continually returning to them to leaf through my markings.

    This list makes me think of all our non-English speaking members throughout the world who suffer from not having many resources/scholarship in their native language. Definately could use some more translations of some great historical surveys.

  75. “This list makes me think of all our non-English speaking members throughout the world who suffer from not having many resources/scholarship in their native language. Definately could use some more translations of some great historical surveys.”

    Amen.

  76. My point, Amy T, was that Brodie was x’d for revealing essentially the same information that Bushman used in his own history, but that the culture had changed (read: Internet) to the pt. that x’ing was/is no longer an option, even if the brethren are less than pleased. For that reason alone, BOTH of these volumes should be included on any must-read list. Part of Mormon history is tracking that stubborn progressive streak rarely evident over the smoke & shrieking of the conservatives but, to the culture’s vast credit, not only alive but vital (BCC).

  77. Gatekeeper? Goodness, jeffc. That’s not a literal list. That was an attempt to point out that the “average” member of the church may not have the historical background or interest to work through Ben’s list. Hence the recommendation to find out the potential reader’s background and interests before making suggestions. We may have a higher level of literacy in the church, both educational and religious, but when I go into members’ homes, I’m much more likely to see DVDs on the bookshelves than books, and when there are books, they’re more likely to be Stephenie Meyer than Armand Mauss.

    (Sad but true.)

  78. Yes, paul, history writing has changed in the church, and that could be an interesting point to make in a reading list. I personally wouldn’t make it, since this proposed list structure already includes history and culture and doctrine and literature, and wouldn’t a point about historiography be secondary or tertiary to the other goals of the list?

  79. Antonio Parr says:

    Best of Lowell Bennion.is essential, and belongs at the top of the list. (So do half a dozen or so other books by Brother Bennion, but the “Best of” compilation is pure wisdom.)

  80. Paul,

    Or maybe because Brodie called Joseph Smith a philandering con-man, and Bushman didn’t.

  81. I second the recommendation of Quinn’s “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View”. It’s an important subject, and most members don’t know enough about it to understand Joseph well – or to avoid misunderstanding him, which I think is just as important.

    It isn’t a standard suggestion, and it isn’t one I would end up placing on a top-ten (or fifty) list, but I am enjoying Terry Tempest Williams’ “Refuge” greatly – especially since I remember the Great Salt Lake flooding that frames her book very well.

  82. You know what the beautiful thing is, Mike? – the truth about our beloved, unknowable Joseph is somewhere between Brodie and Bushman, who both work with the same basic sources and reach different conclusions. A wise woman – Sonia Johnson to be exact, years after her own excommunication – advised me, on the subject of Mormonism, to “enjoy the ambiguity.” I’ve taken that to heart. It makes for a richer, more inclusive world view.

    Guess I’d better add FROM HOUSEWIFE TO HERETIC to that must-read list. If you’ve not read this thing, you’re going to be blown away. As a record of that ERA of church history it is absolutely without parallel. The prose is beautifully literate, fluid, confident and genuine. It is, additionally, an invaluable historical record. If you are an LDS feminist especially, get it, read it!

  83. Tucker says:

    Many ‘average’ members of the church have no possible way to access any of these books. Even if these publications existed in the language of these members, they would have no means or opportunity to obtain or read them. They don’t have food storage, wash their clothes by hand, hope the power stays on all the time, might have plumbing, and hope and pray for one or just a few temple visits in their lifetime. I don’t mean to diminish for a moment the higher-order thinking and understanding we should all pursue, but there is so much more–and so much less–to following the strait and narrow than these lists. You can follow that path just fine from a hut in the Andes or Zimbabwe with none of these books; it may even be easier to do so.

    And I’d be more ashamed than I could ever describe to support Joanna Brooks in any way.

    Fire away–I expect much more than just shots across the bow.

  84. I’d skip the fiction and move Grant Hardy’s book up in the top 10. Otherwise, it seems fair. Thanks!

  85. Observing says:

    I agree, Ardis. I second your Yikes! on the Snuffer books. And his latest — you can buy the contents of his blog in 4 volumes for $100+.

  86. “Fire away.”

    Why bother?

  87. Alf O'Mega says:

    A hearty Amen to [i]The Backslider[/i]. In further reading, at the very least, I’d add Douglas Thayer’s [i]Under the Cottonwoods[/i] (a collection of short stories). I was enormously impressed with his “Carterville” in the Fall 2005 [i]Dialogue[/i]. It is just about a perfectly crafted short story.

  88. Alf O'Mega says:

    Hmm. Was it html I was supposed to use?

  89. Alf O'Mega says:

    Yes, Yes it was, Alf.

  90. Tucker says:

    Ray: to enlighten me. Acknowledging that many Church members can never access these essential tomes–how essential are they? I would genuinely like to hear thoughts on that subject. Maybe I’m missing the whole point–is it that this post is about what is essential to be able to tread the higher levels of Church-related academia and study, but not about what is essential to keep the commandments, keep and defend the faith, march the path to eternal life, etc.? I think I have observed those being frequently equated. Isn’t such equation a mistake?

    Actually, I see it. My questions are not what this post or these comments are about at all; they are a tangent. Still I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on them in a more proper forum.

  91. Tucker,
    They are essential to understanding the full history and scope of Mormonism (and even then, they are inadequate). Obviously, the member in a hut in the Andes will experience another form of Mormonism; I hope that we someday have the opportunity of getting a better, fuller sense of their experience (such that I can no longer some it up by referring to the proverbial hut in the Andes). But we don’t, right now. Acknowledging that any individual existence is bound by whatever experiences they have, and that therefore it is limited, doesn’t demonstrate a lack of that these suggestions are or aren’t unnecessary to an essential list. Finding essential works to replace them does.

    Now, perhaps you might argue that the universal between the Andean hut and the Upper-Middle-Class-White-American-Mormon-Living Room is the Holy Canon of Scripture. But those works aren’t about Mormonism; they are the stuff that Mormonism (along with a bunch of other stuff) is made of. You can comment on them to talk about Mormonism (as many of the listed essential works do), but they aren’t about Mormonism per se. Now, if the list was, 10 books essential to being a Mormon, you’d be right to note their absence, but that isn’t this list. Does that help?

  92. Tucker, your last comment deserves a response. My comment was focused on this:

    “And I’d be more ashamed than I could ever describe to support Joanna Brooks in any way.”

    I am not as enamored of Sister Brooks as some are, but being ashamed of supporting someone else “in any way” – almost anyone else – particularly someone doing her best, in her own way, to play her own non-piccolo in the grand orchestra of God (in the wise words of Elder Wirthlin) . . .

    For me, that simply is far too dismissive and uncharitable (“concern for the one” replaced by “total disdain for and dismissal of the one”) for me to desire, in any way, to “fire away” or engage in verbal warfare – and I really dislike war rhetoric in the context of conversation. It also is completely outside the focus of this post, so I won’t fire away in any way other than this explanatory comment.

    That’s all.

  93. I’d like to add a title to the very, very tiny shelf of books providing insights on Mormonism and science: “Science and Your Faith in God,” published in 1958, and edited by Dr. Henry Eyring (i.e., Henry Eyring, the elder). It’s out of print, but there are some used copies floating around on amazon. I wouldn’t label this “essential” or even nearly so for a general Mormon audience, but for the Mormon scientist or science buff, it’s a worthwhile read.

  94. Your list, none of which I like, simply affirms there are still no good books on Mormonism. I agree with some of the comments above that fictional books (for me, Random House’s quick-study synthesis of Mormon fantasy) shouldn’t be included. Random House did that Mormon People book which said Kirtland, Ohio, was on the frontier (it was in the middle of the country), and other too-cutesy and narrowly-viewed things. Didn’t the author admit he wrote it in just 80 days by thumbing-over a stack of secondary books (and copying from them some generous helpings, un-noted)? Barely out of his 20s, and he didn’t handle any source documents to write the book? No footnotes or end-notes? Look to someone working 40 archival years on a book, not 80 days. You have that as “the best” one-volume history? That’s “the best” our whole field of historians can muster, an 80-day throw-together? That little review tells much about the condition of Mormon history.

  95. Antonio Parr says:

    As a postscript, Joanna Brooks instead of Liwell Bennion is like picking justin timberlake over Johnny Cash. Sure, Timberlake is talented and polished, but the Man in Black has wisdom and a distinct voice that will endure. If you haven’t read them, check out Bennion’s missionary journal entries at the beginning of “Best of” and compare them to Joanna Brooks’ book. It is Cash versus Timberlake, Bob Dylan versus Taylor Swift, etc.

  96. Well, looks like we’ve reached the time of the thread where comments start getting silly.

  97. Antonio Parr says:

    Not sure if that last comment was directed towards me, but, respectfully, a flavor of the day book like Brooks’ (whose writings I often appreciate, by the way) pales in comparison to the deep wisdom of a Lowell Bennion, who was one of the true humanitarians and visionaries of our day. Hence the Timberlake/Cash comparison.

  98. Tough to agrue with the essentials list and now I have a list to work down during SS and EQ when I move to my new ward. The one suggestion I would make is making the “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” one of the essential readings for the average, current church member. The book is the best we have the explains how what we see everyday at church was constructed. It provides an important insight into what the church was like right before and at the beginning of correlation and the inflitration of right wing conservative thougt into the church. Its important for understanding the church our parents and grandparents grew up in and how it has changed for members basically 35 and under. Plus it has information every Mormon should know about the struggle with the priesthood ban.

  99. Meldrum the Less says:

    I would like to report this list is killing me, but that is not quite true and not that funny.The trip to the ER last night turned out not so bad. EKG is fine and cardiac enzymes were not bumped up. I notice that you didn’t respond to my rant but didn’t kick me off either. Thanks.

    Let me try this again. (Deep breath.) Somewhere between the rarified heights of BYU academia and the lowly Andean hut is the heart and soul of the Mormon people. I guess about a 1/3 live in Utah right under your noses and maybe another 1/3 in the surround states. A bunch live “back east” (which was defined as east of Denver when I was growing up) . A few are scattered around lands of the former English empire and don’t need any translations. A high percent are college graduates, if not college educated. Almost all know about Amazon.com and can buy these books in seconds. (Of course, I am ignoring the half who speak spanish and another huge chunk in other places who will need translations, but many of them are learning English.)

    What I find amazing is that this vast throng of the Mormon people, who are among the better educated on average, are largely unaware of this their own literature, unless I am mistaken. I showed the list to a couple of my friends who are considered intellectual heavy weights in the ward and they are as clueless as I. These same intelligent people spend hours a week in diligent study of the gospel, at the romper room level. Is this intentional? Or just due to slothfulness at some level? What is going on?

    I would like to issue a challenge to anyone who has read most of these books. Write a short simple article to be published in the Ensign. Explain why it is important for people in the LDS rank and file to study books like these. In many societies the intellectsia are progressive or even revolutionaries. I challenge you make war on ignorance and to get more people in the LDS church to comprehend this material. I will do my part which is to start on that list with the first book.

    My college age children were raised “back east” in a highly correlated ward and they have very little interest. They were around last night, and are A students at universities with better reputations that BYU. Any suggestions what to do about them?

  100. Okay. I am not an academic (not even close). I consider myself a bit more interested in these topics than most in my Ward and Stake, hence I am here at BCC. I have a sincere question. Why no mention of the current or past Missionary Reference Library which would include Miracle of Forgiveness (still recommended by almost every Bishop I know when they are dealing with repentance issues), A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Our Heritage, Our Search for Happiness, and of course, Jesus The Christ? Seems like some of these as required reading for missionaries would be “essential” or “near essential” for a broad spectrum of our members, no?

  101. Great list – whether I’ll admit it in public or not, I’m probably one of those “average” members given that I haven’t read most of these books. I can’t wait to get crackin’!

    I also wonder what this book list would look like if this exercise were reversed. What essentials/near essentials would average members wish that every bloggernacle contributer had read? (Assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that the contributers have not read every book of interest to average members).

  102. “Miracle of Forgiveness” – Please, no. Fine for members with hardcore addictions, but horrible for garden variety, good people sinners like the vast majority of the Church.

  103. it's a series of tubes says:

    Ray, I’m curious. What “hardcore additions” do you think would be well served to be addressed by an approach that included MoF? Drugs? Alcoholism? Pornography? Child abuse?

  104. In my opinion, MofF works for people who have to be shocked into deep remorse for the seriousness of their sins – those who will not see their destructive behavior in any other way – who need to be smacked upside the head, so to speak, and be jolted into recognizing how deeply entrenched they are in habitual sin – who need to be confronted not encouraged – who won’t understand and repent otherwise. My shorthand for that was “hardcore addictions” – and the nature of the addiction doesn’t matter. It’s more about the severity than the nature.

    I also used “hardcore” to distinguish between habits that are deeply entrenched and occasional occurrences, since I think MofF can lead many normal, good people who struggle with something periodically but not habitually to condemn themselves as vile sinners and lose hope in the final point of the book before they get to the last chapters. For that reason, and to eliminate entirely from our collective conversation the “better dead than defiled” idea, I hope it is taken off any required reading list for average members.

  105. Ray, I agree about MoF but it was in the original Missionary Reference Library. Interestingly, not now. Hmmmm…

  106. Klutz, I’ll take a stab at this.

    The devotional books you’re asking about are a very different animal from the (generally) academic books that make up Ben’s list. There may be an overlap in the audiences for the two types of books, and one person (Ben, me, you, and many, many others) might be a part of one audience part of the week and a part of the other audience at some other time. And sometimes one book may speak to both audiences, but that’s uncommon.

    Books like those in the Missionary Reference Library are what you read to study Mormonism (that is, to be a Mormon, to understand the doctrine, to “incorporate it into our daily lives” as the stereotypical prayer phrase goes). These books aim to develop faith, to encourage worship, to intersect with the divine, to improve character.

    Books like those on Ben’s list are what you read to study about Mormonism (its history, the church’s institutional organization and development, how this religion intersects with other churches and with governments and other secular organizations). These books may incidentally strengthen the faith of someone who is already a believer, but their primary purpose is not to enhance worship or develop Christlike character but to develop intellectual understanding. They often acknowledge the role of faith in people’s lives, but they aren’t concerned with inculcating faith.

    I’m pretty sure Ben would endorse the use of devotional books by his fellow Saints, but he would put them in a category closer to the scriptures (which he takes it for granted Mormons are studying), than in a category with these more academic books.

  107. Ardis is right. Plus, an implicit point that I probably should have made more clear, is that if someone is approaching me to ask what books I suggest them to read, I assume a few things:

    1. They know me.
    2. They know my approach to and general background with the gospel. Thus, they know I’m a pseudo-intellectual who has a quixotic approach that may not fit everyone.
    3. They want to know what I read that makes me think the way I do. (Sometimes for emulation, but most likely often for understanding.)
    4. Hence, I suggest the books that have been foundational to how I understand the Church, especially those containing the lessons that I find most important.

  108. Leonard R. says:

    I am someone who has read all the ‘devotional’ books listed, a number of the ones on Ben’ list (great list by the way), and hope to read more.

    I am also someone currently teaching seminary, and today our class spent most of the day talking about science, much of it evolution. Within the last two months we’ve also talked about race and about women in the gospel (yes, even in distant Eastern Canada, women praying and women askingabout priesthood gets picked up by some of our youthy.

    In my view, the reason these books about Mormonism are important, in addition to devotional books and the scriptures, is that the latter do not give sufficient understand for many Saints – from teens on up – to deal with many of the dynamics/developments/changes that lead to the Mormonism of today. While that framework of understanding may not be needed for All, it is needed for Many (many who without it, are lead to believe that their desire to understand means they are weak in the faith/unworthy, and eventually stop thinking or caring and simply leave ).

    These types of books, if read by more saints, would increase the likelihood that those fellow saints – from teens to those much older – will find saints they can talk to, seek answers from and with, and know that it is okay to wonder, think, and ponder beyond simply “strengthening their faith.

    Understanding and knowledge are powerful things. Every morning I try to teach young souls; many get their fill with scriptures and devotion (the vast majority of our time is spent in the scriptures). But there are a number of my students deeply grateful for the “non-devotional” ideas I’ve been able to share and discuss with them – gained from “those books”.

    And faith has been strengthened by it.

  109. Good list. Very heavy on the history, if it were to branch out it would be good to include “faith of a scientist,” a history of elder Eyring’s grandfather, the scientific discoveries he made, and how he reconciled science and faith. (published within the last five years I think, and both very interesting and on a level the average member can understand.)
    Another, perhaps weakness, is that as bad as we can be with our own history, we are even more ignorant of general christian history. I would add “misquoting jesus,” not because it is necessarily the best book on the subject, but it’s the best of what I’ve read and quite a fascinating insight into how early christianity and scripture evolved. I’d also put in my personal favorite, “on wings of faith,” for no other reason than it’s my personal favorite. So, shameless plug for my some of my favorites aside, great list. I’ve just added several to my summer reading.

  110. larryco_ says:

    Any room for “old school”? As a missionary in the 70′s, the 5 books we were allowed to have were: Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Miracle of Forgiveness, and a leadership book by Sterling W. Sill. Still, not a bad list, although to this day I get the shivers at some of the MOF stuff. I believe Kurt Bench (Benchbooks) put together a list of 50 essential books for a Sunstone Symposium many years back. I think the past decade books which are listed here would bring that list up-to-date. Good job.

  111. Eric Facer says:

    I am surprised, and a bit disappointed, that no one has mentioned “This is My Doctrine,” by Professor Harrell and “The Gift and the Power,” by Brent Gardner.

    “This is My Doctrine” completely dispels the myth of doctrinal consistency within a particular era and doctrinal conformity among different eras (i.e., Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Latter-Day era). Next time you hear someone proclaim that church doctrine is eternal and never changes, tell them to read this book.

    “The Gift and Power” is the most thorough exploration of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was “translated” (I use that term loosely). Gardner’s thoroughness in dealing with this issue is remarkable.

    Of all the books published in the last five years on the subject of Mormon history and theology, I would rank them both in the top three.

  112. Meldrum the Less says:

    Now that most have about completed listing their next almost essential books, I would like to propose a more realistic description of the essential books most Mormons have actually read.

    1.Strength of Youth. Keeping commandments is the highest expression of the LDS faith. If nothing else read this and obey.
    2. Daily scriptures. Remember one verse is enough. Maybe a chapter a day during extreme circumstances. Stick to the Book of Mormon with a few detours into the D&C. Avoid the Old Testament. The New Testament was not translated correctly. Paul sounds too much like an evangelical and we must not get ourselves confused with them. The Man from Galilee described in the Bible has about as much significance to modern Mormonism as the man in black has to country music. A deep voice but is largely being forgotten.
    3.Subscribe to the Ensign. Flip through a few pages maybe a couple ties a year.
    $. Read 1 or 2 talks from General Conference. Sleep through the sessions or skip them.
    5. Select a favorite GA and read one of their shorter books; Hinckley’s Standing for Something (what I can’t remember) would be fine. Buy lots of church books to impress relatives and ward members.

    That about does it.

    Special circumstances.:
    1. If called to be a teacher, read the lesson manuel during Sacrament meeting. If you have SM last you will have to read it during the drive to church.
    2. Missionaries. Other churches usually have ministers with a PhD in theology, but a church guided by revelation is so much more efficient. Preach My Gospel is more than sufficient.
    3. Bishops should scan the Church Handbook of Instruction but usually are too busy and can just wing it. Stake Presidents might read it closer but can also just wing it when necessary.
    4. If you are ever tempted to read Brigham Young’s Journal of Discourses or any multi-volume History of the Church, The Work and he Glory series is much better.
    5. I would like to include something from my kinfolk Rod Meldrum the Great but even he admits that his material is non-essential.

    Avoid all material on the Internet except on approved or heavily moderated sites, except while doing family history. The distinction made by Ardis of devotional reading in contrast to reading about Mormonism as a topic is lost on most members since we don’t do neither.

    If you are tempted to read anything longer than about 20 to 40 pages, perhaps you need to:
    1. Have your home teaching routes doubled.
    2. Offer to clean the church more often or more thoroughly.
    3. Attend the temple more frequently.
    4. Go on missionary splits.
    5. Bake cookies for inactives.
    6. Work on food storage.

    I submit this list more closely represents a realistic description of the essential reading completed by the vast throng of the Mormon people. If the LDS academia continues to do (or not do) what they are currently doing this sad situation is unlikely to change. Mormon academia is funded by the tithes of those that should be enlightened by them.

  113. Jason Maxwell says:

    There was a great book published this year by Max Zimmer called Journey (If Where You’re Going Isn’t Home). It’s a coming of age fiction novel and the first in a trilogy. Its a story of a teenage Mormon boy in Utah in the late 50′s early 60′s. His troubled journey into discovering music, in particular jazz is beautifully told and the insight into life as a young Mormon in the 60′s America is fascinating. The author writes from his own experiences so the details given are reliable and honest. I highly recommend this book. http://maxzimmer.com/the-trilogy/

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