cover image The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith

The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith

Matthew Bowman. Random, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-679-64490-3

Bowman's book encompasses the history of Mormonism with an admirable ability to encapsulate its nearly 200-year existence, but lacks the scope of inquiry that would make for a balanced account. Bowman doesn't shy away from the unsavory aspects of the Mormon faith, including a now-discredited belief in polygamy (as revealed in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion), as well as institutionalized racism. However, the ongoing controversies of the church and the stream of recent media describing Mormonism as a cult%E2%80%94from Jon Krakauer's scathing non-fiction work Under the Banner of Heaven to HBO's Big Love%E2%80%94is left entirely unaddressed in this work, which instead pays occasional attention to the inherently American aspects of the religion. To leave the valid and well-known questions raised frequently in American culture unmentioned seems at odds with Bowman's credentials as a historian; his overwhelmingly positive take on Mormonism is suspect, too. The veracity of Joseph Smith's visions and revelations are never questioned or disputed; instead, "he remains a terrifically romantic figure, a seducer of biographers, a man of colossal imagination, will, and vision." Bowman's view may reflect his own heritage and current role as associate editor of Dialogue, a journal of Mormon thought, but does not address non-Mormon's doubts. Although promoted by the publisher as a topical tie-in, the author's discussion of%C2%A0Mitt Romney, the probable Republican presidential candidate, and Romney's Mormon faith is brief. Though relatively in-depth and readable, Bowman's history is not very probing. (Jan.)