Mormonism is one of the world's fastest growing religions, doubling its membership every 15 years. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the formal denomination of the Mormon church) is now 10 million strong, with more than half of its membership coming from outside the United States. More than 88 million copies of The Book of Mormon have been printed, and it has been translated into more than 50 languages. Mormons in America tells the tumultuous story of this religious group, from its humble origins in small-town New York State in 1830 to its present heyday. Claudia and Richard Bushman introduce us to charismatic leaders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, go deep behind Mormon rites and traditions, take us along the adventurous trail of the Mormon pioneers into the West, evoke the momentous erection of Salt Lake City in the desert, and draw us into the dozens of skirmishes, verbal attacks, and court battles between Mormons and their neighbors, other religions, the media, and the American government.
In 1999, the Bushmans published Mormons in America, a thoughtful little textbook that was part of Oxford's Religion in American Life series for the young adult market. If you missed that book, never fear: this brief paperback is a slightly edited version of the original YA title. Oxford should be congratulated for having the smarts to realize that adults need basic information about Mormon history, too, particularly in this Olympic month. Here, Claudia Bushman (Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah) and husband Richard Bushman (Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism), both historians at Columbia University, present a balanced, informative and brief introduction to one of the world's fastest-growing religious movements. Theirs is a grassroots approach to history; the Bushmans are more interested in the everyday experiences of ordinary Latter-day Saints than they are in the institutional growth of the church, its financial "empire" or its corporate bureaucracy all of which have been well documented elsewhere. They are not afraid to tackle some of the thorny issues of the Mormon past, such as polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre or the early Mormons' feuds with the federal government. But they don't dwell unduly on these blemishes, preferring instead to focus on how Mormonism as a religion has changed over time, and how those changes have contributed to a shifting sense of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. This user-friendly, perceptive and accessible primer is a welcome counterbalance to the highly specialized literature on Mormon history. (Feb.) Forecast: With a release date coinciding with the winter Olympics in Utah, this title should get off to a good start, but given the dearth of balanced, informative introductions to Mormonism, it is also poised to have a long shelf life as a favorite for course adoption. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.