I received a free copy of Stephen Mansfield's book The Mormonizing of America from the publisher of the book, Worthy Publishing, in return for posting this review on my blog and on Amazon.com.
I was interested in reading and reviewing Mansfield's book because I have long been interested in Mormonism, its history and its impact on society. I have several copies of the Book of Mormon in my collection, as well as several publications by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have talked to missionaries on my front doorstep, and although I was unimpressed by their theology, I was impressed by their sincerity and their kind nature. So the opportunity to read and review a book that handled Mormonism in a fair and balanced way was one that I jumped at. This book did not disappoint.
Mansfield makes it quite clear from the beginning that he admires Mormons for many of their qualities, but he makes it equally clear that he finds large parts of their history suspect. He covers the founding of the LDS Church in the early part of the 19th century, and presents many of the facts surrounding Joseph Smith's background in treasure hunting, divining and dowsing. He gives a brief overview of how Mormonism progressed from a reviled and persecuted sect, to the respectable, all-American image they possess today.
As I have done my fair share of reading about the Mormons, from viewpoints that have been positive, negative and neutral, there wasn't actually a whole lot in Mansfield's book that surprised me. However, I think the strength of the book lies in the balanced way in which the author approaches his subject. While he freely admits that many of the LDS Church's positions and acts over their history have been controversial, he prefers to view the sect as what they are today. In general, Mormonism today tends to be a very positive force in its adherents' lives. Is there cause for alarm that so many Mormons seem to be in positions of power in America? Perhaps. But the "Mormon moment" is happening, whether we (or the LDS church) like it or not.
If readers are hoping to get any "dirt" on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who is a devout Mormon), they will be sorely disappointed. Romney is certainly mentioned a couple times, as are Glenn Beck, Harry Reid, and Orrin Hatch. And who could write a book about Mormon culture without mentioning Donny and Marie Osmond? But The Mormonizing of America is not the kind of book that is interested in "dishing the dirt." I can't help thinking that Romney's candidacy will greatly affect the popularity of Mansfield's book, and if Romney were to somehow be elected president, then I imagine the book would do very well indeed. Meanwhile, if a reader is interested in learning about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by reading a book that is neither an apologetic for Mormonism nor a campaign to smear the Latter-day Saints, this book is a good place to begin.