Summer Reads 2016

By July 20, 2016

A few weeks ago, Tom Cutterham at The Junto shared what he was reading this summer. I thought it would be fun to post about what I and other JIers are reading this summer–both to find new books to read and because I’m interested in what folks choose to read for pleasure. Please share what you’re reading in the comments! 

J Stuart:

1.Thomas Jefferson (or, rather, the “I’m an Annette Gordon-Reed fanatic”): I just finished Annette Gordon-Reed’s and Peter Onuf’s Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (W.W. Norton, 2016) after finishing Gordon-Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. I am an unapologetic reader of anything related to Mr. Jefferson (Wahoowa!) and Gordon-Reed is one of my favorite authors.

2. Race and Class: The next books on my list are Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (Viking, 2016), Alison Collis Greene’s No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta (Oxford University Press, 2015). Isenberg’s book looks promising in my own work on religion and whiteness, particularly the in-betweenness of Mormon whiteness until World War II. Greene’s critically-acclaimed book ties together anti-government sentiment, race, and religion (aka I wish I had thought to write this book and had written it before Greene!). I’m also looking forward to digging into Shawn Leigh Alexander’s An Army of Lions: The Civil Rights Struggle before the NAACP (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). As a historian of the Civil Rights Movement I am working on my historiographical knowledge of African American history and African American activism.

3. Mormon history: John Turner’s The Mormon Jesus: A Biography. I’m intrigued by Turner’s assertion that Mormonism is Christian and not a new world religion. I had a lengthy back-and-forth with a professor over Shipps–I want to see if Turner vindicates me or proves me wrong.

Jeff T:

Theme: Jesus in America. This is a much-needed catch up for my gaps in American Religious History.  It turns out, Jesus is kind of important, and there have been some great books on his role in American religion.  First up is Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2003), which traces portrayals of Jesus through popular culture and thereby tells a larger narrative of American Religious History.  Next up is Ed Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (UNC 2012), which puts Jesus in the conversation of race.  It asks and answers, why is Jesus white for some Americans but not for others?  Third is John Turner’s The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Harvard 2016), which is pretty self-explanatory and something I’ve been meaning to read; now I have an excuse to read it!  Lastly, Mark Noll’s America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford 2002), because I couldn’t leave out papa-bear.

Theme: Immigration History. This is also catch-up for me.  I’ve done some reading in immigration history, but for some reason got around reading the classics (or at least, finishing the classics).  So, first up is Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted (Little, Brown & Co. 1951) which opened immigration history as a viable historical subfield for multiple methods and approaches.  Handlin wrote, “immigration history is American history,” and described the tension between push and pull factors, and America’s effect on immigrants compared to immigrants effects on America.  Next up is John Bodnar’s The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America (Indiana 1985) was one of the first to include Asian and Mexican immigrants and portrays immigrant agency through family life and “the culture of capitalism.”  Lastly, I need to finish John Higham’s Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism; 1860-1925 (Rutgers 1955), which is a history of nativism: or people who discriminated against immigrant groups.

Saskia T: 

1. Summer is generally the time I tackle all the non-Mormon material on my reading list. First up is Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity GospelI had been wanting to read this book for a while, but it shot to the top of my list after reading her piece in the New York Times and hearing Blair Hodges’s excellent interview with the author on the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Blessed deals with the intriguing topic of the prosperity gospel; a topic that is often dismissed with simplistic analyses yet lends itself so well to discussions around religion, money, power, American culture, and more.

2. Then I’m looking forward to finishing When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. Though Tanya Luhrmann frames her research as giving insight into the evangelical relationship with God, her conclusions go far beyond that particular group. I recognized many of the dynamics from my time in the Dutch Reformed Church, who would shudder if you called them evangelicals, were decidedly not American, yet adopted many of the same practices.

3. Last on my list is Stephanie Coontz’ excellent book on marriage (Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage). This one is mainly on my list because I got married at the end of May and there’s no time like the present to find out more about the whole institution. (Probably should’ve read it beforehand, but oh well.)


1. Jonathan Abrams, Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution (New York: Penguin Random House, 2016).

This was the first book I read after defending my dissertation last month. It was escapist reading, something entirely unrelated to Methodism, slavery, or the Revolutionary Atlantic World. Abrams’s book is the first in-depth comprehensive look at the generation of basketball players who jumped straight from high school to the NBA. Well-written, engaging, entertaining, and sometimes sobering, Boys Among Men is a must-read for all fans of the game. But it also speaks tothe role of religion in the lives of the individuals it narrates.

2. John Catron, Embracing Protestantism: Black Identities in the Atlantic World (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016).

Next up on my reading list is a book that is very, very close to the subject of my own research. I’ve read the dissertation and the award-winning article on which this book emerged from, and am anxious to delve into the published book. Catron’s work investigates the conversion of free and enslaved people of color throughout the Atlantic World in the late eighteenth century and the networks they created with one another.

3. John Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

Finally, a return to Mormon studies. This is the first Mormon studies book I’ve read in quite some time, and it’s a pleasure to be reintroduced to the field by John Turner’s fascinating look at the evolution of Mormon beliefs, descriptions, and depictions of Jesus from the movement’s founding in the early 19th century to the present. If you haven’t read this yet, wait no longer.


1. Judith Leavitt, Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

After the birth of daughter Eleanor in 2013, I began developing an interest in childbirth as an area of study. Judith Leavitt’s Brought to Bed is a pioneering book that examines how the interactions between doctors and their patients changed the experience of childbirth. I’m about halfway through the book so far and it’s been a sobering experience. I recently gave birth to my second daughter, and there’s nothing more horrifying than reading about children partially maimed by the misuse of forceps.

2. Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2016)

If I hadn’t become a historian of the nineteenth-century United States, I likely would have focused my research on Latin America. As a result, I was interested in this book the moment I saw it on the shelf. The Other Slavery argues that the enslavement of Native Americans was an important part of early American history and was largely responsible for the depopulation of the New World. Although the author focuses primarily on the effects of Spanish colonialism in the first half of his book, he spends a significant chunk of the latter half on Mormon participation in the Indian slave trade. I’m looking forward to seeing what new insights he has to add.

3. Sara Dubow, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Finally, I am going to read Sara Dubow’s Ourselves Unborn. This cultural history of the fetus challenges the idea that women have always understood their relationship to the unborn in the same way. As someone who felt deeply attached to both of my daughters before they were born, I am sure that this book is going to challenge me to rethink my assumptions about pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion. It’s also a timely read given the recent Supreme Court decision concerning Hobby Lobby and the statements about reproductive health made by conservative politicians.

Kris W.

1. Amy Hollywood, Acute Melancholia and Other Essays: Mysticism, History, and the Study of Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016)

This volume is a collection of Hollywood’s essays that engages both the study of Christian mysticism and the philosophy of religion. Hollywood integrates a broad cross-sections of academics and philosophers from a variety of disciplines into her analysis of medieval texts and presents the reader with new ways of thinking about belief and practice. Acute Melancholia deftly demonstrates how both history and religious studies are deeply enriched by engaging each other. Although I’m not very far into it, I can already see how this book will affect my thinking on women’s history, ritual and materiality.

2. Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard University Press, 2010)

Farmer’s book is a cultural and environmental history of Mt. Timpanogos and Utah Lake that engages ideas about sacred space and place, collective memory and forgetting and tensions over resources that are often at the heart of colonization. On Zion’s Mount explores the Mormon establishment of Fort Utah, the development of Provo and the resultant displacement of the Timpanogos Indians and the destruction of their fishery. Jared Farmer is a master of geographic metaphor, linking the Great Basin as that large piece of North America that has no outlet to the sea, where it pools and evaporates to Utah and LDS scholarship which is “unnaturally pure because so many historians have filtered out non-Mormons and native peoples” (14) Farmer interrogates the idea of how homelands are created and at whose expenseSee JI blogposts here and here.

3. Lynda Barry, What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008)

My fun summer read. I just finished reading Barry’s Syllabus with my book club. Her insights on the creative process are both penetrating and hilarious, but also really stimulated my thinking on material religion.

Kris Image

In What it is, Barry poses questions like, How do objects summon memories? What do real images feel like? all crucial concerns in the study of materiality. In a 2015 podcast interview, Barry described some of her current work with PhD students from a range of academic disciplines, “One of the things that I’m doing is working with grad students. I’m particularly interested in PhD students who are about to write their dissertations. They all look like they are in prison in Siberia and that they’ve been crying for a thousand years…” I wonder if reading Lynda Barry might also be good for my mental health as I start a PhD program in September.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks J et al. I might be changing my list, having looked at all of yours!

    Comment by Jeff T — July 20, 2016 @ 10:59 am

  2. For pleasure: Burr, by Gore Vidal

    Comment by Gary Bergera — July 20, 2016 @ 2:07 pm

  3. This is awesome. Love the reading recommendations. More posts like this! Most recently, I finally read three books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time: David Hall’s Worlds of Wonder; Days of Judgment, which, for me, clarified what Hall was getting at with “Lived Religion”; Kathryn Lofton’s Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, where I learned that “the secular is religion’s kaleidoscopic buffet”; and Tracy Fessenden’s Culture and Redemption, which was, I thought, sort of a tough read, but worth some of the major payoffs re: the means by which anti-Catholicism inescapably animates the secular. Hall and Lofton were really enjoyable reading.

    Comment by Bradley Kime — July 20, 2016 @ 6:19 pm

  4. Also read Amanda H-K’s dissertation today btw. It was fantastic. Looking forward to the book.

    Comment by Bradley Kime — July 20, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

  5. So many books I should have already read! Luckily I have read some of these, so I’m not a total slacker.

    Comment by Saskia — July 20, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

  6. Awww…. Bradley, that made my day.

    Comment by Amanda H-K — July 20, 2016 @ 10:01 pm

  7. Saskia, thanks for the shout-out to the MIPodcast. Kate was a great guest and the topic was a lot more interesting than I initially expected.

    Comment by BHodges — July 21, 2016 @ 1:49 pm


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