This book is a welcome addition to a growing list of solid introductory works on the Latter-day Saints. The increasing number and prominence of Saints in the United States and the emerging academic discipline of Mormon studies have combined to necessitate a variety of such one-volume introductory texts, each aimed at a somewhat different kind of audience. Among the most recent of this introductory genre is Terryl Givens’s The Latter-day Saint Experience in America, which combines history, literature, and contemporary LDS life in a dignified but readable academic style. In contrast is the lighter Mormonism for Dummies, by Jana Riess and Christopher Bigelow, which, despite its whimsical title and style, is both thorough and reliable. Claudia L. Bushman co-authored two earlier historical overviews with her husband, Richard L. Bushman, but the present book, with Claudia as sole author, focuses less on history and more on contemporary LDS experience. It takes an appealing middle ground between the lighter Dummies and the more academic Latter-day Saint Experience. It is not only a thorough introduction to the Saints and their religion for the curious and intelligent non-Mormon in general, it would also make an ideal textbook for an upper-division or graduate college course in Mormon studies.
Claudia Bushman is among the most productive and knowledgeable scholars in the field of Mormon studies today. Those of us in her generation will always remember her and her distinguished New England colleagues for the early and wonderful collection of historical essays Mormon Sisters, and for the periodical Exponent II, which they founded in the 1970s. More recently she was the editor of a distinguished set of graduate seminar papers produced under her tutelage during a summer seminar at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute at Brigham Young University. Furthermore, Claudia brings to her work not only a lifetime of research and study of the Latter-day Saints, but, like her husband, Richard, she is also a seasoned scholar in Americana more generally, having authored two books based on early American personal journals plus a commemorative book for the quincentennial of Columbus’s voyage of discovery. Probably less well known among LDS readers in the western United States is Claudia’s personal civic involvement in many important historical commemorations and projects during the years she has been living along the eastern seaboard. All of this rich background in American and Mormon history lies behind Claudia’s work, including this present book.