Historical Dictionary of Mormonism

Book Notice

Historical Dictionary of Mormonism, by Davis Bitton (Scarecrow Press, 1994)

While one of the greatest strengths of Mormonism is its missionary program, many public libraries lack objective and concise information for the curious investigator concerning the Church. All too frequently the only offerings are anti-Mormon in tone and content—some of them subtly so—and are therefore very confusing for a seeker looking for a balanced view of a new religion. This information gap is exactly what the Historical Dictionary of Mormonism fills best. Its small size is much less intimidating that the four-volume Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992), and its price is more affordable for public libraries.

Davis Bitton has done a great service by providing an introduction to the history of the Church and to its leaders and activities throughout the world. An initial perusal of the volume may indicate that the articles are similar to those in the Encyclopedia. However, Bitton presents the information from a fresh perspective, consistent with his lifelong ability to communicate clearly and concisely, whatever the topic. His explanation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the United Order, and the Utah period of the Church are the finest summaries I’ve seen anywhere, and the articles on feminism and the roles of women exemplify Bitton’s clear understanding of current issues in the Church.

A chronology precedes the dictionary listings, 40 percent of which are short biographies of leaders and prominent members of the Church. Immediately following the main body of the book is a further hallmark of Bitton’s exacting scholarship—an excellent bibliography, representing his years of research in Church history. The volume closes with three appendixes: a chronological listing of Church presidents, another of completed temples, and an interesting selection of “famous quotes” ranging from Joseph Smith to Chieko Okazaki.

Any weaknesses in the volume are minor, such as the choice of a few photographs that are too dark to be satisfactory. Without reservation I recommend the Historical Dictionary of Mormonism to members of the Church and encourage them, in the interest of missionary work and providing correct information for investigators, to recommend or donate Bitton’s book to their local libraries.


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Print ISSN: 2837-0031
Online ISSN: 2837-004X