Book Wish List

By February 7, 2008

This last weekend, while reading a book discussing the transition of Mormonism in the early twentieth century, the same thought came to my mind that has come hundreds of times (and I’m sure that it is the same for many of you): someone needs to write a scholarly biography on Joseph F. Smith.

So, this got me thinking. What other books on Mormon history still need to be written? The comments in a past post show that more work still needs to be done on persecution narratives. In a graduate course the other day, several of us co-bloggers discussed the need for a book to explore the idea of “theo-democracy,” as seen in the early Church. Another book on my “wish list” would be a biography on Oliver Cowdery.

What unwritten books are on your “wish list”?

Article filed under Methodology, Academic Issues State of the Discipline


  1. A book treating the influence of Methodism on early Mormonism.

    Comment by Christopher — February 7, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  2. Well the cover for that one already has your name on it, Chris.

    Comment by Ben — February 7, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  3. I think another great book we need is the influence of Romanticism on early Mormonism.

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 12:40 pm

  4. David: Thats about as needed as the study of Mormon memory.

    Comment by Ben — February 7, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  5. I think a good solid book on so called esoteric influences on early Mormonism needs to be written. Brookes and Quinn’s work we very interesting and important, but not carefully enough argued and suffered from too much parallelitus (and it Quinn’s 2cd edition: polemics) They were both first steps with lots of little asides (such as on neoPlatonism) that need dealt with. Particularly the contextual meaning of parallels. (I recognize that one reason to bring up parallels is to point to a text and not necessarily the contextual meaning of that text – but that meaning aspect is important as well)

    Anyway, after the wild discussion of Kabbalism back in the early 90’s culminating with Quinn’s rather ‘interesting’ chapter in his 2cd edition I kept waiting for the more serious work. It never came. So we’re left with pretty flawed and limited work here.

    The second thing I’d like to see is a more rigorous examination of early Mormons as theologians and philosophers. I recognize that they tend to be uneducated and more than a little naive. But a book taking them seriously, pulling out their assumptions, and then exploring where and why they fail is long overdue. Especially with regards to Brigham Young who’s theological thought is treated fairly superficially. Pratt has gotten a little more attention the past decade – but not in a real book or paper form. I think both Roberts and Talmage need such an analysis as well.

    (Kofford actually contacted me once about doing such a book on Pratt and Young in the context of their famous disputes – but there’s no way I’ll have time for the next few years to even think about beginning such an endeavor let alone finish it)

    I think we still need more books analyzing Mormon history from the context of economic theory. There’s a bit more done here than on other topics. But a lot more could be done and it’s a very interesting topic.

    I also think a book about the military history of the Church which contextualizes the various wars would be amazingly useful. What we have right now tends to be limited (too focused on mere facts or debates about who knew what) rather than putting it in the context of military strategy and military history. The Missouri wars in particular would be interesting considering the battles there after the Mormons left as well as various theoretical views of guerilla warfare, land battles, and so forth.

    I guess overall I just wish there were more histories written putting Mormon history into contact with various more theoretical models and discussion.

    Comment by Clark — February 7, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  6. My understanding that all the materials for a Cowdrey bio have been deposited at the UU and are simply waiting for a writer. I also agree with the Joseph F. Smith, bio. Has Kenney just dropped the project all together?

    Other bios that are desperately needed: Heber J. Grant (curse you MMM for taking all the resources); Eliza R. Snow; Bruce R. McConkie; Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Forthcoming bios that I am stoked about: Amy Lyman, Brigham Young, George D. Watt.

    As far as histories go, Clark is right on with the Military history (also a good updated piece on the Missouri war would be great). I know Harrel has is book on the development of Mormon Doctrine in the queue, but I’m not particularly confident. We need some solid work on the history of Mormon beliefs.

    Other histories that I would love: liturgical history – there is so much here to be done; I’d love for Ashurst-McGee edit, expand and publish his thesis;

    Ones that I look forward to: Nick’s volume on Masonry; Sam’s cultural history to 1844; my study on ritual healing (grin).

    Primary Sources that need to be published: George Q. Cannon Diaries; JS Papers; Relief Society Minutes; School of the Prophets minutes; will someone please find the John Taylor diaries; Heber J. Grant diary; First Presidency Letterpress; George Richards diary; Brigham’s unpublished sermons.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 7, 2008 @ 1:18 pm

  7. On a serious note, I think that (despite the excellent pioneering work of Armand Mauss and others) the study of race and ethnicity in the church is terribly underdeveloped. Situating Mormonism within the context of whiteness studies could be fascinating, and more history detailing the growing struggles of internationalization are needed.

    I also think an analysis of early Mormonism in terms of American pluralism is needed. Marvin Hill’s Quest for Refuge lays the basic groundwork, but his analysis of pluralism isn’t anywhere near as nuanced as it needs to be.

    Comment by Christopher — February 7, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  8. I’d like a Phelps biography (I have a fair bit of material but no time).
    I agree that Hill needs updating, revising, and expansion.
    I think lived religion in Nauvoo needs to be done; ditto “Zion”
    My wife tells me I should work on a piece on the meaning of Mormon primitivism. Hughes and Allen are dramatically limited in their treatment.
    A book on Mormon angelology is critical and quite absent.
    I’m with Clark: there’s so much potential for illuminating work on metaphysical religion (Albanese’s phrase) in early Mormonism, and we’re all stuck quibbling with the old work from the 1990s.
    Prince’s work on priesthood was useful at the time but is severely dated and theoretically limited. At least a book worth writing there.

    on theodemocracy, remember Ken Winn. it’s a reasonable treatment.

    I feel like we’re on the cusp of a New (Again) Mormon History that is long overdue. Let’s get these books a-writing.

    Comment by smb — February 7, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

  9. O. Cowdery you say? This isn’t really a “biography” perhaps in the truest sense, but Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder Witness looks like a good read:

    I agree that a better study on ritual in the Church would be beneficial.

    Perhaps something could be done to make all of W. Woodruff’s journals digestible.

    Please republish Brigham Young: Manuscript History of the Church and Ehat’s Words of Joseph Smith. (Which may be a part of the new papers project, I surmise?)

    I would also like to see more on the subject of abuse. Confronting Abuse is a good start, but it really deserves more treatment; and perhaps better editing. I found that many of the articles stepped on the former articles.

    While I love history, I would also love more sociological approaches to the gospel.

    Comment by BHodges — February 7, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  10. oops, looks like I blew that link. Sorry.

    Comment by BHodges — February 7, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

  11. Fixed.

    Comment by BHodges — February 7, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  12. J.: I heard somewhere (not sure where) that Kenney dropped JFS and is working on Stephen Post, a Rigdonite. I think that more work on alternate Mormonisms that is academically sound is very much needed. Also, we need more histories of contact between these groups.

    I also understand that one of the reasons that Jill Derr left her post in the FCH department was to finish that dang ERS bio.

    I’d like to see some solid work on Mormonism in Latin America and contact and exchange between Anglo Mormons and Latino Mormons.

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  13. Also, LeSueur is currently working on a second edition of his book, although I don’t know if he’ll be doing more than simply addressing new scholarship and his critics.

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

  14. That is interesting, regarding Kenney.

    BHodges, Susan Staker’s Waiting for World’s End, and abridgment of the journals, might be helpful.

    Sam, I agree that a Phelps bio would be tremendous.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 7, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  15. I’m seriously pondering doing something on liturgical history (baptism, Lord’s Supper, order of worship, hymns, the meaning of preaching, prayer forms, etc) once I get done with (or perhaps while I’m in the process of) the dissertation on fundamentalist/liberal Protestant liturgy.

    The theological book Clark mentions should be done by somebody who understands Protestant theology. This is a massive need.

    Something situating Mormonism into national cultural/political contexts: can we speak of a “Mormon progressivism,” for example?

    Comment by matt b — February 7, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  16. I’ve always wanted to do a history of non-Utah Mormonism (all varieties) from 1844 through 1860ish.

    I also think we should begin to focus on non-headquarter Mormonism (up through 1846 and beyond). Historians have largely ignored the many branches throughout the United States, Canada, and England during the church’s first couple decades. The east coast played an important role in Mormonism during the 1840s.

    Comment by Robin Jensen — February 7, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

  17. Robin: If Steve Fleming ever gets around to publishing his thesis, we’ll have some good material on the Delaware Valley branches.

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 1:42 pm

  18. It’s my belief that no one has nailed Nauvoo yet. Despite the works from Flanders to Leonard,
    Nauvoo – and the doctrine, personalities, and events that arose there – still need to be better examined and put in context.

    Comment by larryco_ — February 7, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  19. I?d like to see some solid work Mormonism in Latin America and contact between Anglo Mormons and Latino Mormons.

    Amen. I hope ASPMS is the start of more scholarship in this area.

    I?m seriously pondering doing something on liturgical history (baptism, Lord?s Supper, order of worship, hymns, the meaning of preaching, prayer forms, etc) once I get done with (or perhaps while I?m in the process of) the dissertation on fundamentalist/liberal Protestant liturgy.

    Please do, Matt.

    I?ve always wanted to do a history of non-Utah Mormonism (all varieties) from 1844 through 1860ish.

    Here’s some encouragement for you to pursue that desire.

    Comment by Christopher — February 7, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

  20. It is true that I have set JFS aside to write Volume 2 of a 3-volume Joseph Smith biography funded by the Smith-Petit Foundation to be published by Signature Books. Richard Van Wagoner finished his manuscript for (vol. 1, New York) two or three years ago; and Marti Bradley completed hers (vol. 2, Nauvoo) a couple of years ago; so, well into my seventh year on the project, I am the bottleneck (Smith-Petit wants to release it as a set). If I finish the manuscript this year, it might be available in 2010. Then I will return to JFS, which will surely taken even longer.

    In the meantime, most of my JFS research is housed at the U/U and BYU libraries (and have been since 1988 as I recall), so, would-be readers, why not write your own? You have plenty of time before this slow-poke’s will see the light of day.

    Best regards.

    Comment by Scott Kenney — February 7, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

  21. J.: I heard somewhere (not sure where) that Kenney dropped JFS and is working on Stephen Post, a Rigdonite.

    Does this mean that he dropped work on his part (Ohio-Missouri) of the three-volume JS biography (Signature)? Or is the entire project dead?

    Comment by Justin — February 7, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

  22. Weird timing. (I wrote my previous comment before I read comment 20.) Thanks for the information, Scott.

    Comment by Justin — February 7, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  23. Scott: Thanks for stopping by. So I take it the rumor I heard about Stephen Post is bunk…

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  24. I heart your papers, Scott.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 7, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

  25. J. Stapley (#6)-

    You said something about the Oliver Cowdery Papers at the U of U? My search only turned up a manuscript collection of a few letters. Am I missing something?

    Comment by Brandon — February 7, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  26. MORMONISM and BEARS!!!!

    Comment by stan — February 7, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  27. The James D. Still and Scott Faulring papers also have a lot. I haven’t looked at them personally, but I seem to remember someone telling me that Still was working on a bio before he died. I could be mistaken.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 7, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  28. LOL, Stan. That’s “Brigham Young and Bears.” In all seriousness, Mormon environmental history is a great angle to situate Mormonism in the American West.

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  29. Nauvoo dissenters (e.g., Law brothers). More intellectual history. More history of missionary work and correlation.

    Comment by Justin — February 7, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  30. I’d like to see a good history written on Sunstone, Dialogue, and the MHA.

    Comment by BHodges — February 7, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  31. On correlation, check out Parley Pratt’s anti-Winchester tirade in the early pages of T&S vol 6. Who knew it started so early?

    Comment by smb — February 7, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  32. Has there been a good bio of Browning of the gunsmith trade and his connection to Mormonism?

    Regarding a theological history, while I think a knowledge of Protestantism is a must, I think grappling with the other strains of ideas concurrent in early America is a must as well. What often happens in theology is that typical analytic Protestant theology dominates. Yet you really have to aknowledge that a lot of what focused the early theological thinkers wasn’t so much Protestant ways of thinking. (Thus Quinn being interesting if flawed and limited) There are other interesting approaches. Paulsen’s new book is quite intriguing even if it looks like simply a list of major theological movements in ‘engagement’ with Mormon thinking. (And probably, glancing at the title of contents, expanded out of papers many of us have already read)

    Comment by Clark — February 8, 2008 @ 1:35 am

  33. Clark, there is a bio of Browning, but the operative word is “good” and I cannot comment on it’s “goodness”.

    John Browning & Curt Gentry. John M. Browning, American Gunmaker. New York: Doubleday, 1964.

    An Amazon search comes up with this title, but also John M. Browning, American gunmaker: A Illustrated biography of the man and his guns.

    I’m often wary of a book that proclaims itself as an “illustrated biography” but if the illustrations truly are of the man and his guns, not flowers and trees, then that may be a different matter.

    However, I don’t know what to make of John M. Browning: The American gunmaker, a complete comic strip story album, which also turned up on an Amazon search.

    Comment by Jared — February 8, 2008 @ 5:21 am

  34. I would love to see a multivolume, academic history of Mormon polygamy from J. S.’s time to the present.

    Comment by Jared — February 8, 2008 @ 5:24 am

  35. I would love to see a multivolume, academic history of Mormon polygamy from J. S.’s time to the present.

    Amen. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to studies by Daynes and Ben Bennion.

    Comment by Justin — February 8, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  36. I would love to see more work on Mormon proselyting in various parts of the world in a comparative multi-faith framework.

    Comment by Joel — February 8, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  37. Well at least you give me hope that there is stuff still to be done.

    I would like to see more done on Hugh B. Brown.

    Comment by JonW — February 8, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  38. Justin,

    I agree, though from what I have gathered on the Daynes-Sally Gordon project (the same as Daynes-Bennion?), that is still a few years out. Keep your popcorn bowl out.

    Comment by Jared — February 8, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  39. I am a simple man…I would like the prophetic years of Gordon B. Hinckley.

    Comment by Bret — February 8, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

  40. Jared: The Daynes-Sally Gordon project is different than the Daynes-Bennion project. From last I heard, the Gordon project is farther along, but is still a couple years out.

    Comment by Ben — February 8, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

  41. The January 2007 MHA newsletter noted two Bennion-Daynes projects:

    Plural Wives and Tangled Lives: Polygamy?s Place in Mormon Society, 1850-1890

    Every Man Must Have Wives and Every Wife a Husband: The Mormon Marriage Climate 1850-1890

    Comment by Justin — February 8, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  42. There are plenty of books to be written, here are some I would like to see:

    A book about the Walker War.

    More about the church during the Great Depression such as Gov. Blood’s rejection of Pres. Grant’s recommendations concerning the New Deal.

    A history of the church and its relationship to the media.

    A biography of Karl G. Maeser.

    Real biographies of Ezra Taft Benson and Gordon B. Hinckley (sorry if I am not demonstrating enough academic empathy towards Sheri Dew).

    A biography of Thomas Sharp.

    An analysis of Mormon folklore and where some of it came from (grape juice instead of real wine, babies singing at the Kirtland Temple dedication, Sripling Warriors guarding the temple, three nephite stories, Cain being Bigfoot, Joseph Smith is already resurrected, angels pushing handcarts, the day of Gods power at Nauvoo, Brigham Young turned into Joseph Smith while preaching, etc).

    An analysis of when and how Mormonism became more literal in its view of the scriptures and generally anti-science in some respects. For example Young taught that the stories of Geneis were baby stories whereas today we are more literal. Talmage was open to the old earth and not anti-evolution whereas Joseph Fielding Smith was; is it simply a difference in personal views or a change in the culture?

    Comment by Ryan — February 9, 2008 @ 2:48 am

  43. Ryan, earliest Mormonism demonstrated substantial hyper-literalism. BY was the temporal anomaly in that respect. Read John Taylor ca. 1840-5 if you want a sample of it (T&S editorials).

    Comment by smb — February 9, 2008 @ 10:22 am

  44. and read Matt Bowman on Cain and Bigfoot.

    Comment by smb — February 9, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  45. A biography of Karl G. Maeser.

    Jed Woodworth is working on that.

    Comment by David G. — February 9, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  46. What about a social history of the Mormons since WWII? I think it would be interesting and significant to analyze how the life of average LDS members has changed over the last sixty years.

    Comment by Sterling — February 10, 2008 @ 12:34 am

  47. Sterling,

    Jan Shipps is currently working on that exact project. The beginning of her study was published in an article in Church History in 2007.

    Comment by Christopher — February 10, 2008 @ 12:58 am


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