Matthew Bowman’s book is a well-written narrative with just the right amount of analysis. Not enough to kill the story, but enough to make sense of it. It reads as if written by someone who outwardly keeps faith with the academy–all the expected controversies and liberal shibboleths are namechecked–but who secretly, and sometimes puckishly, is an adherent of the kingdom.

On the whole I liked it. It’s meant for a non-specialist and non-Mormon audience, obviously, so the author’s ocassional failure to explain things sometimes puzzled me. Do non-Mormons really know what ‘ordinances’ are? Do non-specialists grok dynastic marriage?

The author also got a little carried away with his historicism. I’m sure there are significant commonalities between Progressive-era Mormonism and progressivism in general. But I think that even as a scholarly matter Bowman may have overstated it a little. Even setting aside revelation and the divine will, institutional changes often have an internal logic to them, and the Church is no exception.

At one point, Bowman casually dismisses the apologia that polygamy in Utah helped deal with an imbalance of men and women. He cites the census, which showed more men in 19th C. Utah than women, and moves on. I’m curious to know if Bowman is unaware of the argument that there were more Mormon women than men, especially more Mormon temple-worthy women than men, or if he thinks that this argument is flawed (and if so, why).

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