For many of us, our life is demarcated. One of the grand narratives of Mormonism is that of discovery and knowledge often requires modifications in world-view. Perhaps not surprisingly, the intersection of disparate regions in my life is not too distant. Consequently, I offer my thoughts on the reading that at least offers the initiate substantial coverage of Mormonism while minimizing page count, enough to feign erudition.
In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton (1997).
This book outlines the lives of the 33 substantively documented wives of the Prophet. You are able to see the experiences, transcendent and banal, that synthesize the beginnings of our faith. You see faithful women raise the dead and polyandrously marry the prophet. The images are hard hitting. That is the reality of our history, but it is also often sublime.
Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930, by Thomas Alexander (1986).
Alexander takes the reader through a period that is not well described in our modern discourse. Fun details on things like baptisms for healing, changes in how the Word of Wisdom is viewed, post-manifesto polygamy, politics and the Church. Meaty, but dry.
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory Prince & Wm Robert Wright (2005).
This biography not only sketches the life of one of our great prophets, but it also offers a window into the machine of our Church. We peer into the realm of administrators and policy makers as they grapple with issues such as blacks and the priesthood, correlation and finance. I found my place in the church connected to preceding generations.
Power from on High: The Development of Mormon Priesthood, by Gregory Prince (1995).
This was the most difficult to choose. I wanted a book that covered Mormon development of authority, temple worship and ordinances. While this book does not have the best treatments of every specific topic, it does brush over most. In flipping through it, I noticed several things that I imagine the author would change had he the opportunity (or that I think he should). That said, it is a fine little volume.
So, if you had to recommend four books to the neophyte, would they be different? Why?