Which Mormon Historian Is the Best Writer?

By November 15, 2007

Over at Religion in American History, John Fea asks:

Which American religious historians are the best writers?

Being unimaginative today, we’re going to ask the same question at the Juvenile Instructor, but modified to Mormon history. Who’s the Joseph Ellis of Mormon history/studies?

Article filed under Polls/Surveys


Comments

  1. My vote? Grant Underwood

    Comment by David Grua — November 15, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

  2. Kathleen Flake.

    Comment by Christopher — November 15, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  3. I personally love Bushman’s writing. Ron Walker is really good, occasionally a little slick. Klaus Hansen is fun to read. Perhaps it should be said that some of our stuff is great on historical sources and knowledge and really poor on writing style.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — November 15, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  4. I like Ron Walker.

    Comment by Justin — November 15, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  5. Another vote for Ron Walker. Do biographers count? I think Greg Prince has a good style.

    Someday we will have David McCulloughs and Barbara Tuchmans of our own.

    Comment by Steve Evans — November 15, 2007 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Sam Taylor

    Comment by Jody — November 15, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

  7. My vote is for Willard Richards, more recently Flanders. Perhaps you want to make the question more specific to eliminate my votes.

    Comment by Alex — November 15, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

  8. I suppose if we eliminate handwriting from the criteria, then Willard Richards fits.

    Comment by David Grua — November 15, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  9. I think that Susan Easton Black should be included.

    Comment by Mitch — November 15, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  10. Mitch: I suppose that if we eliminate history from the criteria, then Susan Easton Black fits.

    Comment by David Grua — November 15, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

  11. A response to Steve (#5)

    While you wait for a McCullough of our own I’ll wait for a Cronon of our own.

    Sorry, I missed the Mormon “studies” part of the question. Add Doug Davies to the list.

    Comment by Alex — November 15, 2007 @ 3:06 pm

  12. David, I think we’d have to eliminate “best” as a description of the writers for SEB to qualify.

    Comment by Christopher — November 15, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  13. Bushman. He’s just a great writer.

    Comment by Joseph — November 15, 2007 @ 3:20 pm

  14. Juanita Brooks

    Comment by Randy B. — November 15, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  15. I concur with Joseph. Richard Bushman is probably our best historian and writer.

    Comment by Chris — November 15, 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  16. Whatever one may think of Bagley’s interpretation of Mountain Meadows, I think there’s an argument to be made that he’s a great writer.

    Comment by David Grua — November 15, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  17. My vote goes for Givens. But, I guess thats cheatings since he’s a literature professor.

    Comment by Ben — November 15, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  18. Where’s DKL? Someone needs to make an argument for Brodie.

    Comment by Christopher — November 15, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

  19. My vote is for Bushman. I don’t think anyone else has the reputation both in and out of the Church to match his.

    But I refuse to participate in any contest in which Susan Easton Black in a nominee. We once invited her to give a scholarly talk to a group of university students (mixed LDS/non-LDS) and she did a weak quantitative analysis of how the number of times that the words “Jesus” or “Christ” appeared in the BOM proved that it testified of him.

    Comment by AHLDuke — November 15, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  20. AHLDuke, rest assured SEB is not a nominee (for the reasons cited in comments 10 & 12). Also, I think we should be clear that this post is aimed at answering who’s the best writer in Mormon Studies, not simply the best (or most respected) historian.

    Comment by Christopher — November 15, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

  21. Some good quips so far. Chris (#18) I had the exact same thought. I’m not sure who I would vote for. Walker, I guess.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 15, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

  22. Chris (#20), that’s how I read the question. I have enormous respect for Bushman, and he is as close as we have to _the_ Mormon historian. But Brodie is hands down the better writer. Not. Even. Close. (I still think Juanita edges out Fawn, though.)

    Comment by Randy B. — November 15, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

  23. How about Leonard Arrington?

    Comment by john willis — November 15, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  24. I don’t think that SEB needs to be so harshly judged. I feel like her books draw you in, and they give you a good, positive feeling about things. What is wrong with that? Bushman is good, but to be honest I don’t find RSR to be a good page turner.

    Comment by Wufanda — November 15, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  25. Wufanda, I highly suspect you’re a troll. But I’ll humor you anyway and respond. Susan Easton Black is neither a good writer nor a legitimate historian. As the aim of this blog is academic in nature, she is irrelevant to this conversation.

    Comment by Christopher — November 15, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

  26. Yeah, but she’s one hell of a public speaker!

    If only I could find my earplugs.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 15, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  27. Also, I think we should be clear that this post is aimed at answering who’s the best writer in Mormon Studies, not simply the best (or most respected) historian.

    Still living or not? Euguene England was an excellent writer and critic, but he’s not with us anymore. If we’re talking about living, then it’s Terryl L. Givens.

    But that’s only if we mean “stylisitically best.” Givens also works if we mean “rigorously best”, though.

    Comment by Ivan A. Wolfe — November 15, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

  28. I have been thinking about this and it has been a while, but I remember Andrew Ehat’s thesis being quite a compelling read.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 15, 2007 @ 5:39 pm

  29. J: I agree with you. I remember picking up Andy’s thesis during finals week my freshman year. Needless to say, I hardly got any studying done that week. However, I dont know whether it is so compelling because of great writing, or just compelling information.

    Comment by Ben — November 15, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  30. Ben, you make a good point and honestly, I can’t remember what it was.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 15, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  31. Fawn Brodie, hands down! Surprised none of you got that one yet.

    Comment by stan — November 15, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

  32. Randy B.: I guess I should have read through the thread more closely; I second your vote for Fawn. And I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Juanita Brooks yet (can I say that on hear and still maintain any credibility?). I’ll repent…next semester.

    Comment by stan — November 15, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

  33. David: Having heard over and over the argument that Bagley’s greatest strength is his ability to turn a phrase, and that’s about it (a weak argument), I was surprised to find his style rather straightforward and pedestrian in Blood of the Prophets. He’s no Brodie. His strength was in the amount of research he did, not so much in style alone, which didn’t really send me spinning like Brodie does.

    Comment by stan — November 15, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  34. Stan, You not having read Juanita Brooks will not lose you your credibility, but graduating with a BA in English and mispelling “here” as “hear” will. Now hurry up and read Brooks.

    Comment by Christopher — November 15, 2007 @ 7:14 pm

  35. But if solemn, tentacled grandeur is what you’re looking for, you gotta go with O. F. Whitney. An epic for the ages (his words, not mine).

    Comment by stan — November 15, 2007 @ 7:14 pm

  36. One more thought: if we can stretch the boundaries of history wide enough to include folkways: Wallace Stegner.

    Comment by stan — November 15, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

  37. Chris: “hear, hear.”

    Comment by stan — November 15, 2007 @ 7:19 pm

  38. Yeah, but she’s one hell of a public speaker!

    Thank you Mark B. for agreeing with me!

    Comment by Wufanda — November 15, 2007 @ 8:19 pm

  39. Having heard over and over the argument that Bagley’s greatest strength is his ability to turn a phrase, and that’s about it (a weak argument), I was surprised to find his style rather straightforward and pedestrian in Blood of the Prophets. He’s no Brodie. His strength was in the amount of research he did, not so much in style alone, which didn’t really send me spinning like Brodie does.

    Stan: I didn’t argue that Bagley’s strength was “in style alone.” I think he’s a great researcher too. What I said was that people around hear (wink, wink) may not agree with his interpretation of the data he collects. He may not be as great a writer as FMB, but at least he tells us where he got his sources, and he does it in a way that is fun to read.

    Comment by David Grua — November 15, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

  40. #39, I’ve finally gotten around to reading Blood of the Prophets, and yes, Bagley is a good writer in my opinion.

    Comment by Jared — November 16, 2007 @ 12:51 am

  41. Wufanda: either you didn’t catch Mark B.’s sarcasm (or his second line) or I didn’t catch yours.

    Comment by stan — November 16, 2007 @ 2:38 am

  42. I agree David–I probably exaggerrated the pedestrianness of his prose. It probably seemed less than dazzling to me because I had heard it hyped up so much. I did find his response to Levi Peterson over at By Common Consent rather dazzling though, if a tad overdone.

    Comment by stan — November 16, 2007 @ 2:44 am

  43. Ron Walker is one of our best in my opinion, but we’ve got so many good writers which have already been mentioned, including Givens and Bushman.

    Comment by Rob — November 16, 2007 @ 10:53 am

  44. I like Tom Alexander and Milt Backman. And I appreciate the work of Mike Quinn, if you can wade through all of the footnotes.

    Comment by larryco_ — November 16, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  45. I second the vote for Leonard Arrington.

    Comment by Bret — November 16, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  46. SEB = quota

    Comment by Jack — November 16, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  47. Who’s the Joseph Ellis of Mormon history/studies?

    I’ve actually got some serious problems with Ellis. His Jefferson was quite good, but his Washington and Founding Brothers were, to me, almost too dumbed down to consider him a serious scholar.

    Comment by jimbob — November 20, 2007 @ 11:24 am


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