“Must Read” Books on Mormonism and the LDS Church:

Thanks for your friendship, and support!!!!!


  1. CraigBa! June 19, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Two Michael Quinn books! Still angling for that interview, eh John?

  2. John Dehlin June 19, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    :) Quinn doesn’t visit the ‘nacle. But those books are pretty amazing, I must say. What’s your list, Craig? Ba?

  3. Mike25 June 19, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    Hey John,

    Hate to make you re-do the html on your list, but could you please include a brief introduction to each book and especially why you find the book pertinant/ inciteful/ useful to you personally? Thanks a lot!!

    PS: any news on your next podcast? any news on FAIR’s response/ rebuttal podcast?

    Thanks for having the coolest podcast/ site/ blog on the web!!!!!

  4. jordanandmeg June 19, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    I think Lowell Bennion’s little book, Religion and the Pursuit of Truth, is stellar. Very elementary but helps you orient your studies with a wider lens.

    Also, Eugene England’s The Church Is As True As The Gospel.

    These are great books for when you need to zoom out.

  5. RoastedTomatoes June 20, 2006 at 8:11 am

    Craig–I’ve got to disagree with the implication of your comment; it’s correct to be shocked by the amount of D. Michael Quinn on John’s list, but the correct statement is, “Only two books by Quinn?”

    A wide range of people have spent about two decades criticizing Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview, but the major conclusions of that book have now become widely accepted enough that no biography of Joseph Smith (Bushman’s from last year included) or scholarly study of early Mormonism would even consider excluding them. And the first volume of The Mormon Hierarchy is at least as good as the second (which is linked here by John). Last but not least, Quinn’s edited collection of The New Mormon History is a wonderful introduction.

    I do find it interesting, John, that your list is so heavily weighted toward 20th-century men! Books on women’s themes in Mormonism? Books on the 19th century (other than Palmer)? Books on Mormon scripture? I don’t have any objections to the books you’ve actually linked; the ones I’ve read are all good (although I haven’t read the Bennion or Lyon books). But, well, Mormon Studies is a pretty broad field!

  6. John Dehlin June 20, 2006 at 10:22 am


    I really wanted to pick a book other than Palmer’s, from a less controversial source, that really laid out the treasure digging, witnesses stuff, 1st vision stuff, and book of mormon translation stuff….but (for the life of me) couldn’t come up with ANYTHING. What book lays out 19th century founding more plainly, and more accurately? I did read Bushman’s “Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Early Mormonism”…maybe I’ll add that….but for me, it wasn’t nearly as honest and engaging as Palmer. And I can’t get myself to recommend RSR…..something about it really bugs me. I feel as though he did fess up to a lot, but in a real “gloss over” kind of way…lacking a bit of straight-shooting integrity.

    I’m TOTALLY open to a better book…please edurcate me. :)

    I would have put “In Sacred Loneliness” up there…but haven’t read it. GULP!!!!

  7. Todd June 20, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Here are my choice of books that have broadened my views the most. While these books may not be the absolute best books they were very influential to me.

    Books Specifically about LDS Church:

    Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman

    By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion by Terryl Givens

    The Mormon Hierarchy by D. Michael Quinn

    An Address to all Believers, by David Whitmer

    Is There no Help for the Widow’s Son? By Dr. Reed C. Durham, Jr.

    Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn

    Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding by Trent D. Stephens

    An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer

    Other Non LDS Books:

    The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In the Dark” by Carl Sagan

    Meaning of Masonry by W. L. Wilmshurst April 18, 2005

    The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manley P. Hall

    The Seven Mysteries of Life by Guy Murchie

  8. RoastedTomatoes June 20, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Actually, Marvin S. Hill wrote an outstanding book that provides a solid, historically rich overview of the early Mormon period; it’s called Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism. I’d certainly add that book to your list; it’s unfairly overlooked. Another helpful addition would be Bryan Waterman’s The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith. You’re right about “In Sacred Loneliness” belonging on the list. Also Van Wagoner’s book on Mormon polygamy. And also Maxine Hanks’s edited volume, Women and Authority. And we might as well add an emerging must-read: Martha Sonntag Bradley’s Pedestals and Podiums.

    Your list is good–just too short!!! :)

  9. FreeAtLast June 20, 2006 at 11:03 am

    “Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and Science” by Duwayne Anderson (ref. https://lds-mormon.com/farewell.shtml)

    “Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church” by Simon Southerton (ref. https://atheism.about.com/od/bookreviews/fr/LosingLostTribe.htm)

    “Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and The Book of Mormon” by Robert Anderson (ref. https://www.signaturebooks.com/inside.htm)

    “The Sword of Laban: Joseph Smith Jr. and the Dissociated Mind” by William Morain, M.D. (ref. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/155/12/1790)

    “The Changing World of Mormonism” by Jerald and Sandra Tanner (ref. https://www.utlm.org/navonlinebooks.htm)

  10. a random John June 20, 2006 at 2:01 pm


    I have a copy of Manly P Hall’s book and have found it to be impenetrable. What am I missing?

  11. Todd June 20, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Manly P. Hall’s book was written a long time ago and I suspect there is a better book available somewhere (though I have not found it) that serves as a broad introduction to the many “mystery schools.” I recommend the book because there are so many ideas in it that can “open” one’s eyes. I don’t think the book should be considered the “last word” on anything but it sure is the best introduction that I have found to the “mystery schools.”


  12. Johnny Rotten June 21, 2006 at 1:05 pm


    Your list is good. Here is a short list of some of my favorite Mormon books and why. Keep up the great work I enjoy you blog and your podcast.

    Mormon Polygamy, Richard VanWagoner (Signature Books)
    This is my favorite book on polygamy and is a great overview of the issue, very shocking and revealing.

    Solemn Covenant, Carmen Hardy (University of Illinois Press)
    The best book I’ve read about the transition from polygamy to monogamy. A must read!

    In Sacred Loneliness, Todd Compton (Signature Books)
    This is a great reference book to use in conjunction with Mormon Polygamy. It is a difficult read, however, is a must for anyone that wants to have instant information at there fingertips.

    Mormon Enigma, Linda Newell and Valeen Avery (University of Illinois Press)
    A good book, well researched, and an interesting look at Emma and Joseph’s life.

    Joseph Smith, Making of a Prophet, Dan Vogel (Signature Books)
    An excellent book, well researched, and quite shocking, much better than Bushman’s RSR. I read both, Vogel first, followed by Bushman’s RSR. I agree with John that RSR glossed over most the big questions. Bushman flirted with addressing questions then would drop the subject and move on. Vogel tried to deal with the questions head on.

    Building the City of God, Arrington, Fox and May (Deseret Books)
    This is a good book and provides greater insight to the united order and early Mormon experiments into collective living. This book was very disturbing to me; a committed, die hard, free market capitalist. It is one of my favorite books.

    Studies of the Book of Mormon, B.H. Roberts (University of Illinois Press edition)
    A must read, this edition contains correspondence with the Apostles and the President of the Church and provides greater insight into Roberts mental condition when he wrote the report. It is a great analysis of the many anachronisms in the Book of Mormon as well as a look at some of the many similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews. It is a rare and candid look from B.H. Roberts!

    View of the Hebrews, 2nd edition, Ethan Smith, Edited by Charles D. Tate, Jr. (Religious Studies Center Brigham Young University)
    Not a must read, however a good reference book. Compare and read for your self, get a view of what Joseph’s contemporaries thought about Hebrews in America. A great book to add to your bookshelf and Mormon collection.

    Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel (Signature Books)
    Great resource, lots of documents and reference material.

    Losing the Lost Tribe, Simon Southerton (Signature Books)
    This is a very important book and a must read for members of the Church. This was a disturbing book for me and set me on a journey of research and study. It shattered many of the things I was taught as a child and adult. It remains an important book.

    Finally all of Quinn’s books, they are must reads especially the Mormon Hierarchy series.

    If you read these books, research the source material and study for yourself, your view of the world will change forever. If you want to remain in blissful ignorance read Fair and or Farms material.

  13. John W. Redelfs June 21, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    I just love this kind of blog post and discussion, although I’m sure I wouldn’t fit in here as part of a group of kindred spirits. I have a list of the 25 most important LDS books according to me, a TBM and proud of it. It is normally on my website, but I notice a lot of newly dead links. Why does the Church keep letting these books go out of print? After I finish updating the links on my website, I may drop back here again and append the URL to the comments on this blog post. Until then, here they are:

    From the Zion’s Best website:

    Zion’s Best 25 LDS Books

    “Read the sermons of the latter-day Presidents of the Church.” That is the advice that Elder Hartman Rector, Jr. gave me in 1968 when I was taking an Institute class from him at the University of Utah. I did, and it has changed my life.

    I asked him, “After the Standard Works and the works of Talmage, what are the ‘best books’ that we are commanded to study in the Doctrine and Covenants?” (D&C 88:118) This is what he told me. These are those fifteen books, and ten others that I consider the “best books” after the Standard Works.


    The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
    Surely the most eye opening book I have ever read after the Standard Works. The King Follett Discourse is here. It is the original source for the teaching made famous President Lorenzo Snow. He said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” These are the sermons of the Prophet Joseph which add to our understanding of scripture.


    The Discourses of Brigham Young
    Our Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society lesson manual for 1998-99 was taken from this book. It is the standard compilation of Brigham Young’s sermons. It was edited by John A Widtsoe, a member of the Twelve. Did you know that Adam and Eve were born of woman, or that all life was transplanted here from another planet? President Young teaches these things here. Without a doubt, it is one of the “best books.”


    Gospel Kingdom by John Taylor
    This is the standard compilation of sermons by the third President of the Church, the man who was badly wounded when the Prophet Joseph was killed at Carthage jail. Long out of print, it available at Deseret Book.


    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff
    This is the standard compilation of the sermons of Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of the Church.


    The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow
    These are the sermons of the fifth President of the Church, Lorenzo Snow.


    Gospel Doctrine by Joseph F. Smith
    Joseph F. Smith was the son of Hyrum Smith, the Prophet Joseph’s brother. He was the sixth President of the Church and the father of Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth President of the Church. This is the standard compilation of his sermons. Most of our current Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood manual was taken from this book. Highly recommended.


    Gospel Standards by Heber J. Grant
    Although this is out-of-print, a fine copy may usually be found through Bibliofind. Heber J. Grant was our seventh President of the Church, and these are his sermons.


    The Teachings of George Albert Smith
    These are the sermons of George Albert Smith, the eighth President of the Church.


    Gospel Ideals by David O. McKay
    President McKay was the ident McKay was the ninth President of the Church. This is the standard collection of his sermons, definitely a “best book.”


    Doctrines of Salvation by Joseph Fielding Smith
    This is the best source of doctrine after The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, in my opinion. There are three volumes of sermons in this set. It was compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, his son-in-law.


    The Teachings of Harold B. Lee
    These are President Harold B. Lee’s sermons. They are a wonderful addition to the testimonies of these other great prophets.


    The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball
    This is the standard compilation of President Kimball’s sermons.


    The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
    In addition to his gospel doctrine, this compilation from the sermons of Ezra Taft Benson includes many of his political teachings. Because he served as a member of the President Eisenhower’s cabinet for eight years while also a member of the Twelve he knew more about politics than any other Church President. As the “father” of my personal political philosophy, I would have put this book on the list even if he had not been a President of the Church.


    The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter
    This is the standard compilation of the sermons of the fourteenth President of the Church, Howard Hunter. Serving only nine months, the shortest administration of any President, his sermons are filled with the love of Christ and his moving testimony.


    The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley
    What could be more surely a “best book” than the compiled sermons of the living Prophet? What evidence is there in his sermons that he studied those of his predecessors in the office of President? What topics of concern does he share with them? What special interests does he reveal? Surely one of the best ways we can get to know the inspired mind of the current President of the Church is to read what he has preached.


    The Words of Joseph Smith by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook
    No longer in print, rare, and hard-to-find, this book is a respected, scholarly editing of Joseph Smith’s sermons during the Nauvoo period as recorded in the diaries, journals and letters of those who were actually present. It is fascinating to learn that some of what Joseph Smith taught has not survived, that is, it is no longer emphasized by the current leadership. For instance, Joseph Smith had some interesting things to say about the restoration of animal sacrifice in this dispensation. He also taught that there was a Patriarchal Priesthood between the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood. If you can find a nice copy of this book, originally published by BYU, it will probably cost over a hundred dollars inasmuch as it has collector’s value. Occasionally copies become available at Bibliofind and at Eborn Books.


    Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage
    Written by an apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve, commissioned by the First Presidency, and written entirely in the Salt Lake City temple, this is undoubtedly the best and most important book ever written on the life of Jesus Christ excepting only the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.


    The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage
    Another title by Elder Talmage, this is one of the “best books” on Mormon doctrine and belief. It is a systematic study of the Thirteen Articles of Faith rather than a compilation of sermons.


    The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball
    This is my nomination for the book most likely to be included in the scriptural canon in some future dispensation. While other works concentrate on the doctrines, this one focuses on the hard- core practices required for living our faith. It is the ultimate explanation of the repentance process.


    A Witness and a Warning by Ezra Taft Benson
    President Benson is remembered for his emphasis on the Book of Mormon. This book, which is devoted entirely to that subject, is different from most others in that it focuses not only on the “testifying” aspects of the book, but also the “warning” aspects. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ, but it also warns against the enemies of Christ. Most books on the Book of Mormon focus primarily on the former while largely neglecting the latter mission of the book.


    Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie
    A controversial book because of the unpopular “personal opinions” included, it belongs right up near the top of the rankings. Some of it is not “official” Church doctrine but “personal opinions,” which are nearly all true regardless. Highly recommended.


    Gospel Principles
    This is the standard introduction to the Church for our new members. It is currently used in the Gospel Essentials class. This is “official” doctrine as the Church itself teaches it.


    A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards
    Covering much of the same ground as The Articles of Faith by James Talmage, this is easier to read. For many years it was used in the Gospel Essentials class. It is on the short list of approved titles for missionaries. Definitely one of the “best books.”


    The Story of the Latter-day Saints by James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard
    Some years ago I took an informal survey of LDS scholars who are online. I wanted to learn which of all the one volume histories of the Church was most highly respected by scholars. I learned that this title was highly regarded not only by the so-called “intellectuals” who are critical of the Brethren. It is also highly regarded by those who are loyal and devoted to the Brethren, the Iron Rods.


    Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley
    Great numbers of well read and educated Mormons admire the writings of Hugh Nibley, a man who is at once erudite and completely faithful. Of those who have widely read Nibley, many and perhaps most of them consider this his best book. It is certainly one of the most thought provoking.

  14. RoastedTomatoes June 22, 2006 at 8:04 am

    John Redelfs, thanks for that list. I heartily endorse it! I don’t think there’s an easier way to get a handle on the evolution of Mormon doctrine since our founding than by reading primary sources like the sermons of church presidents. I’d add the Journal of Discourses and the Collected Discourses. And Approaching Zion is just a great book.

  15. Matt Thurston June 22, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Regarding “The Miracle of Forgiveness” John Redelfs says:

    “This is my nomination for the book most likely to be included in the scriptural canon in some future dispensation.”

    This just struck me as very funny for some reason. I’m still chuckling.

    God bless you John Redelfs!

  16. noyo king June 22, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    Don’t understand why the Palmer book and excluded Bushman’s ‘Rough Rolling Stone”. Maybe you ansered it already? No Nibley either, but there are so many. The foremost scholar and he was not included, why?

  17. John June 22, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    This is a great list, John. I love looking at people’s booklists (Amazon makes a lot of money off of me). I’ll have to add the Bennion and Lyon titles (listening to your story turned me on to the genealogy of Sunstone and Dialogue). I had forgotten about the Clark bio, and reading Prince’s book has sparked my interest in mid-20th century LDS history.

    If I may recommend one title, it would be Thomas Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930. This period tends to get ignored in favor of more glamorous (and scadalous) eras, but it’s when Utah Mormonism goes through tremendous changes (some of this is covered in Angel and the Beehive) from a marginal sect to a more mainstream, modern and almost-Protestant church. Alexander puts this all in historical context, describing the various pressures on the Church and how its responses shaped its character.

    There’s some great anecdotes as well, such as when one Prophet (I think Lorenzo Snow) discussed the Word of Wisdom with his counselors and seriously proposed not eating meat (if I remember right–I think I loaned my copy out, so I can’t check). Imagine what Mormon culture might be like if it was meatless! Ultimately, Grant decided to side with the evangelical Protestants on Prohibition.

    Oh, Mysteries of Godliness (a history of the temple ceremony) and John L. Brooke’s The Making of Mormon Cosmology are a lot of fun as well.

  18. John Remy June 22, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    That previous comment is by John *Remy*, by the way. There seem to be a lot of Johns around here. Don’t want to confuse anyone. :)

  19. John Dehlin June 23, 2006 at 8:43 am

    “Don’t understand why the Palmer book and excluded Bushman’s ‘Rough Rolling Stone”. Maybe you ansered it already? No Nibley either, but there are so many. The foremost scholar and he was not included, why?”

    I guess I can answer both:

    1) While Bushman definitely deals with some of the tougher issues in Mormonism, overall, I didn’t feel engaged by the book. I didn’t feel like he told a compelling, overall story to explain the oddities and discrepancies between what we were taught, and what actually was. I also felt like instead of hitting the issues head on, and acknowleding the difficulties–he sort of glosses over the tough issues (while still mentioning them), and often times the un-engaged reader wouldn’t even realize the bizarreness of the fact that the BOM was translated without the use of the plates, etc.

    2) I’ve never read a full Nibley book. I’ve read an essay or two here or there, but never a full book. I also am not a big fan of apologetics–I feel like they do much more harm than good for people in the long run.

    Tell me where you disagree! I’m interested.

  20. John Dehlin June 23, 2006 at 8:45 am

    I’m *VERY* honored to have THE John Remy visiting my blog. Thanks for stopping by!!!! How did 2 people so cool get to marry??!?!?!?!?? I guess I have *some* idea. My wife is pretty dang cool too. :) I hope we can get together in CV next time you are visiting your Mother-in-Law!!!!

  21. RoastedTomatoes June 23, 2006 at 8:52 am

    John (Dehlin):

    I think you’re possibly underestimating Nibley somewhat. In particular, his book “Approaching Zion” is one that you might like. Whatever you think of his apologetics, the man was a brilliant social critic.

  22. John Dehlin June 23, 2006 at 9:09 am

    I agree. The essay or two I read were from Approaching Zion, and I did like them quite a bit. Ok….I will give them a try!!! Thanks for the recommendations.

  23. CraigBa! June 23, 2006 at 10:51 am

    How did 2 people so cool get to marry??!?!?!?!?? I guess I have *some* idea. My wife is pretty dang cool too.

    I’m sure your wife is cool, but that means your marriage is only halfway there.

  24. John Remy June 23, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    John, you’re too kind. Jana and I plan to take you up on your ice cream promise at the end of your “My Story” podcast. (I’m a big fan of Cache Valley ice cream!)

  25. noyo king June 23, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    I would not say ‘apologetics’ as much as I would say scholarly with regard to Brother Nibley. His authorized bio is worth it in understanding the man. His troubles with correlation, the Improvement Era, church bureaucrats and BYU. Read and find out why he stopped teaching classes there among many other fascinating insights into the greatest scholar the church ever produced.

    I would also suggest the Firmage book about his grandfather Hugh B. Brown. A must on your or anyone’s list.

  26. CraigBa! June 23, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Well, that just came out mean. Let me try again.

    I meant to say: Cool! You’re marriage is halfway there.

  27. Ray Gorham June 24, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    While many on this site seem to be anti-FARMS, the John L. Sorenson book “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon” should be required reading for anyone thinking about the issue of Book of Mormon historicity. I found it to be an excellent book, with a lot of good insights into the consistency of the Book of Mormon, as well as a lot of the geographical issues that can be infered from the text. Sorenson admits that his is just a theory and could easily be wrong, but following his thought processes and research is an education in itself. Permanently changed my thinking and reading of the Book of Mormon.

  28. CraigBa! June 30, 2006 at 11:58 pm

    One of my major issues with the Mormon Church is that it (appears?) to pretty much jettison everything that happened in Christianity between the Resurrection and the Restoration: you know, like Augustine, Aquinas, Bunyan, etc., etc. One result of this, I think, is that Mormon intellectualism seems a bit shallow.

    I gave my bishop brother-in-law a copy of First Things because it had a great article on Jewish views of the afterlife. He started reading the whole thing and is ready to subscribe. “It’s way better than ‘Element,'” said the man who has a whole bookcase full of books on Mormonism.

    Soooo…to parallel your list of Mormon books, do you have a book list for historical Christianity (or religion generally) that you’d recommend, JohnBa?

  29. ElGuapo July 6, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Ah, The Backslider. Thanks for the reminder of this fun, offbeat coming-of-age LDS novel, John. From the comments so far it seems you and I may be its only two readers. ;) So I, at least, am interested to hear why you included it as a “must read” in Mormon studies.

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