2020 Christmas book list

Another year, another book list. Though unlike previous years, some of us have had a little extra reading time. Before diving in, we aught to recognize that the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introductions of the Books of Mormon were largely published after the curriculum had moved on, but remain highly valuable resources. Be sure not to miss them. Additionally, I have a separate post if you are looking for resources to aid in the study of the Doctrine and Covenants in 2021. As always, be sure to check out all of these volumes at local book sellers. If you are in Utah, Benchmark always does a great job, and their shipping policy is reasonable.

Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier (Liveright, 2020), $21
They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty (Yale UP, 2020), $22

Two volumes of religious history that have caught the attention of the larger American market are Ben Park’s history of Nauvoo that ties into very relevant political questions, and John Turner’s history of the pilgrims. The latter is a universe ahead of that silly Hypothesis volume. Check out the New Yorker review of Ben’s, and the National Review review of John’s.

Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity (UU Press, 2020) $45 soft, $70 hard
Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism (Oxford UP, 2020), $35

This was also the year of “translation,” with some groundbreaking work on the topic. Though a bit spendy, Producing Ancient Scripture is a splendid one stop shop for all of your JS translational needs. Check out my Q&A with the editors. Sam Brown’s volume is also an important addition to the conversation. It is filled with big ideas. My review is forthcoming in Dialogue, but you can get a sense of what is going on in this Q&A, and this review.

Miracles Among the Rubble: Bringing Convoys of Humanitarian Aid, Hugs, and Hope to a War-torn Region (Kofford, 2020), $18 soft, $28 hard
Devotional volumes are hard to nail correctly, though it appears that Carol Grey has done precisely that. As this reviewer writes: “I often tease that I’m a hard-hearted old crone. I don’t cry at commercials. I hate reading glurge-filled pass along stories that are meant to prey upon your emotions. For me, it’s like the difference between small talk between strangers, and a deep discussion between close friends. I long for real-ness. This book made me cry. Not just once. Several times…in the first forty pages.”

Contingent Citizens: Shifting Perceptions of Latter-day Saints in American Political Culture (Cornell UP, 2020), $21 paper, $89 hard
Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right (UU Press, 2020), $35 paper, $70 hard
The Little Purple Book (BCC Press, 2020), $10

Politics. This was also the year of politics. And while we all might be ready to move on, it is probably in the best interest of all of our people if we were a smidgen more self reflective. Our friend Kevin Folkman has reviewed both Contingent Citizens and Watchman, the latter potentially being a difficult read for people who have only read devotional biographies in the past. Mormon Women for Ethical Government is a non-partisan advocacy group. The founders describe this little volume: “Grateful for the chutzpah of their pioneer Mormon foremothers a century before them, MWEG is proud to share its institutional history, inspiration, and a look at the phenomenon of strong women standing up and speaking out for ethics and justice.”

This Is the Plate (UU Press, 2020), $34
Future Day Saints: Welcome to New Zion (Independant, 2020), $25

Recipes, folkways, explanations for why people think fried bread is called a scone. It looks absolutely fun. And Matt’s Future Day Saints is a fantastic collapse of genres into a surprising and entertaining volume. Check out the AML review.

Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism (UNC Press, 2020), $30 paper, $34 hard
Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse (Oxford UP, 2020), $43
Pioneers in the Attic (Oxford UP, 2020), $30

Taylor Petrey’s analysis of gender and sexuality in the church is really fascinating. While I sometimes argued with him, I learned quite a bit along the way. Check out Ben Park’s review. I reviewed Blyth’s Terrible Revolution when it was released. It is about the end of the world–timely.  Word on the street is that Sara Patterson’s volume is really, really smart. Publisher copy states that she answers questions such as “Why do thousands of Mormons devote their summer vacations to following the Mormon Trail? Why does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Day Saints spend millions of dollars to build monuments and Visitor Centers that believers can visit to experience the history of their nineteenth-century predecessors who fled westward in search of their promised land? Why do so many Mormon teenagers dress up in Little-House-on-the-Prairie-style garb and push handcarts over the highest local hills they can find?” The UVA Saints and Scholars podcast recently published an interview with her, discussing the book.

Reapproaching Zion: New Essays on Mormon Social Thought (BCC Press, 2020), $13
Spencer Kimball’s Record Collection: Essays on Mormon Music (Signature Books, 2020), $18
Mercy without End: Toward a More Inclusive Church (Signature Books, 2020), $19

The essay collection that pushes our mind and hearts towards God and his kingdom has a long tradition. Sam Brunson and Nate Oman have edited a collection that returns to perhaps Hugh Nibley’s most lasting work: Approaching Zion. Michael Hicks is our best musicologist and music historian. Check out this enthusiastic review of his essays. And there is hardly anyone that labors in the fields of Mormon history who hasn’t been touched by Lavina Fielding Anderson. And many more know her story of coming to church for decades regardless of having her membership rescinded. This review will help give you a sense of what Lavina has to say.

Song of Names: A Mormon Mosaic (Independent, 2020), $11
An Imperfect Roundness (BCC Press, 2020), $11

It was a really good year for Latter-day Saint poetry. First is a collaboration between poet James Goldberg, historian Ardis Parshall, and artist Carla Jimison. Together they offer our people in time and place, and do them justice by their various talents. Check out this podcast about Song of Names. Melody Newey Johnson’s poetry has created a volume of poetry that can captivate someone who is “not a poetry guy.” See this reviewer fall in love with it.

Prophetic Authority: Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood (UI Press, 2020), $23
Exploring Mormon Thought: God’s Plan to Heal Evil (Kofford, 2020), $35

On the technical front there are a number of strong offerings. I reviewed MacKay’s Prophetic Authority and it is an important contribution for your nerdy friends interested in arguments about priesthood. And for your philosophy nerds there is Blake Ostler’s recent volume. The question for this one is probably whether someone has read any of the previous three volumes in the series.

The Wilford Woodruff Journals (Benchmark Books, 2020), $750.
So this is for the high rollers. A new edition of the Woodruff journals, with new transcription of the holograph, including the short hand.


  1. And Jana just highlighted a COVID Christmas activity book that many people may want to check out.

  2. To say that the NAMI brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon are highly valuable, is pretty silly. The presentism embodied in them is transcendent and often out of touch. Nephi the prophet of Yahweh becomes a racist and a misogynist who never really gets over being mad prejudiced against his brothers. Laman and Lemuel are transmuted into the heroes because victim hierarchy. Jacob some how becomes the darling of the woke. All of this just illustrates how bereft of theology this series is so far. Not to mention the stark anachronisms introduced by the authors. As if Jacob would whole heartedly subscribe to the dictates of a soulless philosophy such as post modernism.

    On a more ecumenical note, a lot of the other books on this list I have bought and enjoy, and I look forward to a couple of your recommendations especially the song of names.

  3. levidiki, are you sure that it’s not reading the Book of Mormon in the way you prefer that’s presentist and out of touch?

  4. As an FYI, I just got a note from Oxford UP that they have a 30% off “new releases” sale in conjunction with AAR. My book is almost three years old and it still qualifies, so there is a lot to choose from. Check it out: https://global.oup.com/academic/promo/exaar20/

  5. Love these reviews. They are a big help. Thank you!

  6. Get J. Stapley’s book, even if at full price. Its excellent.

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