Combining history, theology, and contemporary observations, Richard L. Bushman has crafted an engaging introduction to Mormonism, aimed primarily at outsiders to Latter-day Saint traditions and related movements. Anticipating skeptical non-Mormon readers, Bushman centers his book on several fundamental questions, including “How can twenty-first-century Americans believe in a prophet who translated golden plates and claimed constant revelations?” and “How can a religion that runs against the grain of modern secularism evoke such strong loyalties?”
Bushman’s latest work may indeed be “very short,” but it simultaneously provides eloquent and sophisticated answers to such questions. Although he discusses post-Manifesto polygamists and the movement that became the Community of Christ, he brings to the foreground the “church headquartered in Salt Lake City.” Beginning with three thematic chapters that focus on the concepts of revelation, Zion, and priesthood, he then adds a chapter on “cosmology,” which fleshes out key points in Mormon theology. These chapters blend nineteenth-century starting points with more recent developments. For instance, the chapter on Zion covers Jackson County, consecration, contemporary microcredit efforts, Mormon-Gentile tension in 1830s Missouri, and the Latter-day Saint missionary impulse in fewer than twenty small pages.