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The book that got me was Early Mormonism and Magic World View by Quinn. Read it on my mission no less.

For me it was "The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power" by Quinn. Sooooo much I didn't know...

As a missionary, I found No Man Knows My History in a used bookstore, and read it in a couple of days.

Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch


Many years ago I happened to pick up a book titled something along the lines of "The Mormon Corporate Empire." I found it pretty interesting since it made the Mormon church sound so powerful and wealthy. I was talking about it to a friend's father who happened to be a corporate banker. Specifically, he was involved in making loans to small countries around the globe. I happened to mentioned the amount that the book said the Church was earning daily (maybe a million dollars). My friend's father just chuckled. He said that to most large corporations that amount of money was "petty cash."

At that time, reading this book and that short conversation gave me some perspective on things.

The D&C.

Oh, and BH Roberts Comprehensive History. Of course I think it is so large I only use it as an occational reference.

Mormon Corporate Empire caused a small stir back in 1986. A church spokesman publicly criticized the book for its "pervasive bias" and called the book's thesis "fundamentally flawed."

I didn't think The Mormon Murders was a good LDS history book, but it was probably the first interesting one I read (Essentials in Church History didn't do it for me). Particularly interesting is the authors' reference to "the great, grinning goodness of Mormon culture,...a vast landscape of mashed potatoes."

That is a great quote Justin.

My first was probably Words of Joseph Smith. A peak into popular Mormon historiography.

The Story of the Latter-day Saints by Allen and Leonard. It was supposed to be required reading on my mission, but nobody had it because it was already out of print. After I'd been out a year or so, I met an elder who loaned me his copy. I read it straight through and then just kept reading the extensive bibliographic essay at the end.

"The Best of Lowell Bennion," ed. Eugene England, more intellectual history than history. Bennion is a giant among Mormon thinkers but is oft overlooked.

Jed, I'll take that as a recommendation to go dig up a Bennion book and read it. For all that I've heard about him, I've never actaully read anything he's written. I really don't even know where to place him in terms of discipline or philosophy, except that he is known as the classic exponent of the liberal view of Mormonism, sort of an anti-McConkie.

I can't remember what I first read. Probably "Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism."

Dave, I had my BoM class read three short Bennion pieces a few years ago, and the pdf turned out to still be on my server.

"Mormon Polygamy," by Van Wagoner, which Left Field loaned me when we started dating (Hi Left!). After over ten years in the church, it was the first thing I read that made me think that Joseph Smith might have been, um, Human! And had flaws!

"Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons" by Jan Shipps

I think the first book of Mormon History that I ever read was _The Burned Over District_ by Whitney Cross. While not explicitly a work of Mormon history, it did help me to understand the setting for Joseph's religious confusion and fervor. I read this book for a book report in my junior year of high school. I chose it rather randomly off of my father's shelf of history books. My high school teacher was quite interested in my Mormon-ness and enjoyed my report about this book. I think it was the first time I combined my religious and academic interests, which set a precedent for all that has followed since then.

The first Mormon History book that really challenged me intellectually and spiritually was _Mormon Enigma_, which I read during my freshman year of college. Reading this book completely changed the way that I view early church history and the complexity of Joseph (and Emma, of course).

Dave: This is a fun question. I think that I read _The Mormon Experience_, _The Story of the Latter-day Saints_, and _Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism_ at about the same time.

I think, however, that the first book on LDS history that I ever actually read was probably:

Richard L. Jensen and Richard G. Oman, _C. C. A. Christensen, 1831–1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist: An Exhibition at the Museum of Church History and Art_ (Salt Lake City: Museum of Church History and Art, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1984)

"I really don't even know where to place him in terms of discipline or philosophy"

Bennion is a sociologist by training but earned the Ph.D. (in 1933) while the disciplinary boundaries were still fluid, well before the heavily technical prose entered the discipline. His European training helped him think beyond the categories that often constrained American thinkers. This high thinking interdisciplinarity--part history, part sociology, part religion, part philosophy-- gives even his dated prose a refreshing feel even today.

I wouldn't pick up any Bennion book. It is a mixed bag, especially the later work. The England collection, however, offers a good cross section of writing, early to late, including the interesting passages from his journal while on his mission in Germany. "The Things that Matter Most," a small little gem in which Bennion offers his pyramid of values, is probably his most popular work, but his early church manuals are the sharpest analytically. I think "Religion of the Latter-day Saints" is quite good.

Bennion, as you suggest, has taken on a reputation as a foil for conservative, especially neoconservate, Mormonism. But I don't think his early work fits that discription particularly well. We must remember that he was placed in positions of great trust early in his career, first by John A. Widtsoe, who was instrumental in his being hired as the founding director of the Institute of Religion at the University of Utah, and later by David O. McKay, who praised his work and kept him writing church manuals well into mid-career. McKay even once gave Bennion the pulpit in General Conference in the 1960s, quite an astonishing move by today's standards. His demotion (or firing, some would say) from the Institute is not a simple affair, as Mary Bradford explains in the biography. I think he is best viewed as a man who did not make the conservative turn with the rest of the church. He held to a strong subject-object distinction his entire life, the subjective holding all the power. He can aptly be called a neo-Kantanian, which in Bennion's case means he viewed conscience as inviolable and in perpetual tension with claims to authority coming from "the outside." When conflict arose he could not back down. For a time, though, in more liberal times, there seems to have been no conflict with his Mormonism and that of the authorities. He was as mainstream as they come. In other areas he remained conservative to the end. It is this odd mixture of parts--the conservative and liberal, the old and new Mormonism, the interdisciplinarity, and the attempt to link religion with life--that makes his life so interesting to me.

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