Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Mormonism For Beginners Paperback – July 19, 2016
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
About the Author
Stephen Carter is the editor of Sunstone magazine; author of What of the Night?, an award-winning collection of personal essays on Mormon themes, and of iPlates Volume 1 and Volume 2, a graphic novel based on the Book of Mormon.
Jett Atwood is San Francisco-based animator and cartoonist who has worked on numerous comic-book titles, video games, and short films. A longtime collaborator with Carter, she contributes regularly to Sunstone magazine.
Top customer reviews
This book doesn’t take itself seriously at all (except for being seriously accurate in all the details.) It looks honestly and clearly at even the controversial and unusual points, and keeps the view open and nonjudgmental. After reading this book, nothing about Mormonism will catch you off guard. I am a very experienced member of the Mormon church, and it surprised me that this book was able to cover about everything in such a quick read. And I even learned some new things! I read it in two sittings. (It’s a hard book to put down.)
I'm giving it four stars because I thought they largely accomplished what they set out to do: give a basic, honest introduction to Mormonism. I generally save five star ratings for books that change my life somehow. I enjoyed this every much (read it in a night), but wouldn't call it life-changing.
I thought the book was at its best when explaining how various events in the past inform the Church today, and when explaining cultural complexities to someone who is unfamiliar with the organization and structure of the Church. Like any tightly-knit sub-group, Mormons have a distinct lingo and set of cultural practices that may seem baffling from the outside looking in. Carter and Atwood (because the illustrations are integral and not merely extras) did a beautiful job helping explain this. Like any other religious group, Mormons have some wonderful aspects of history. They also have troubling patches. In recent years, the Church has taken the stance that transparency is the best approach to this, and again, Carter and Atwood help simplify difficult events and ideas, not in the sense of making it trivial, but in the sense of boiling events and actions down to some of the fundamentals: flawed humans and how their actions caused events and ripple effects. The Mountain Meadows Massacre, for example, is dealt with in this book with tremendous clarity as well as great compassion. I think I understand that tragic event far better after reading Carter's account than I have up until now, reading from other sources. I didn't feel that anything was being white-washed, nor did I feel that there was a rush to create heroes and villains. The context of the event does not make it right, or even less-wrong (possibly, it makes it more-so). But it does help explain the human passions, decisions, and misjudgments on which history so often terms. I thought that Carter and Atwood did a superb job in this regard throughout, especially in explaining a complex past.
They also did a thorough and honest job reporting on various hot-button topics facing the Church today. These are real struggles for many people. Personally, it was here I felt that the scale of fairness tilted just a bit. In subtle ways (most likely not even intentionally) the critics of various Church practices or doctrines seemed to get more benefit of the doubt than the Church, or its more orthodox proponents. This was subtle, but the framing of issues and the examples given seemed to support the cause of those who wish for change, while the positions the Church officially takes seemed to be given somewhat less time and reported with less detail and nuance. At least once, a statement was made as an assertion that really could be argued and seen from a different perspective with a different conclusion. I felt that some Church positions were summed up with generalized statements that didn't always seem fully-articulated or nuanced. I don't think this was intentional at all in the sense of wanting to a hatchet job. I think the authors genuinely wanted to be fair, and I didn't feel there was an agenda beyond explaining the Mormon story. It simply may be the place from which the writers came to the project, or that they know people for whom these issues are particularly alive and difficult, or any number of other things. Like the country in general, the Church has people who are more traditional and people who are more progressive, and this book's worldview seemed shaped more by the progressive view, not that it was necessarily biased, but that the issues and problems on which it focused are of great urgency to more progressive and intellectually inclined Mormons. A reader unfamiliar with the Church might come away thinking that some of the hot-button issues are more prevalent than they are. However, these issues are not equally present, active, or troubling for all active Mormons.
The other problem I had with the book deals with the issue of transcendence. When I got married, I thought I came from the most perfect family. As my new wife and I worked our own marriage out and began the work of creating our own family, I saw through new eyes and realized that some of things my family did were not perfect. In fact, I saw many things that ran the gap from being arbitrary and perhaps odd to larger, more serious patterns that we not ideal or healthy. Seeing this shocked and upset me. It was so different than what I thought I had. Later, I realized that these quirks didn't reduce the goodness or value of my family. Because along with the honest quirks, there were wonderful, transcendent things that my family really did do well.
That analogy explains my experience with this book. It does a great job explaining the basics, and some of the quirks of the Church and her people. What I am not sure I ever quite felt was the transcendence and the stuff that the Church does really well. What is it about this Church that generates growth and loyalty and faith in so many people across the world? There has to be something, and that's where I think the book missed an opportunity. I realize it was not written as an apologetic work, nor was it meant to be faith-promoting book, and that's entirely legitimate. But I still think there might have been more room to explain what it is that millions of Mormons draw from this faith, despite the rigors of membership (which the authors document well).
I think, if they had been able to do more of that, this could have been a remarkable book. As it is, I think it is a very interesting, well-written, useful book for explaining the basics of a global faith grappling with the past while looking to the future. If you want facts and explanations and an honest discussion of difficult issues from a slightly left-of-objective source, this book is wonderful. I learned some things I didn't know before. If you want to understand why Mormons do and believe all this, and why they grapple with the issues they do, then you may want to talk to an active Mormon.