The University of Utah Press and Tanner Trust Fund deserve commendation for issuing an attractive reprint edition in paperback of Great Basin Kingdom, printed in a welcome, larger type size. A new preface by Arrington recounts the circumstances surrounding the writing of this book and places the book within the context of contemporary scholarship. Although thirty-five years have passed since the original publication of Great Basin Kingdom, it remains the preeminent work in Mormon economic history and one of the best studies in western American economic history.
As Arrington notes in his preface, Great Basin Kingdom “anticipated some of the interests and concerns of the New Western History” (xvii). Important differences, however, separate this volume from most of the New Western History. Great Basin Kingdom is primarily a study of Mormon economic institutions and policies, and it was written largely—although not exclusively—from the top down. While most works within the New Western History place environmental degradation and conflict between ethnic and racial groups at the center of their analysis, such issues surface only fleetingly in Arrington’s work.
This book remains valuable for new generations of scholars not so much because it addresses issues at the forefront of fashionable, contemporary scholarly analysis, but because of its encyclopedic coverage and invigorating interpretation of Mormon economic history to 1900. Arrington’s riveting, near-tragic account of the “great capitulation”—the Mormon retreat from distinctive economic institutions and cooperative policies to economic individualism and private enterprise—remains essential reading for Mormons seeking to understand the values embedded in their religious heritage and culture.