Easy to get through in an evening. I am going to join the LDS and this was a good book to read after all the very simple stuff I had been given. LATER COMMENT: no, am not joining, due discovery that LDS membership means I will be classed as inferior due to being female. Also, I just don't believe what they say.
Mormonism is considered to be an American religion, the first major religion born on the new continent, and the first to incorporate the elements of the life on the new continent in its fabric of beliefs and practices. Ever since its inception in the early nineteenth century it has fascinated, and often repelled, the outsiders, and drown new converts. Its continuing growth in the times when religious missionary movements are supposed to be in a decline is interesting in its own right. Mormon missionaries are known by their youth, and clean-cut appearance and lifestyle that avoids the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. Its precisely this lifestyle, coupled with the strong emphasis on family life, that brings many outsiders to convert to this religion, and it creates a respect even from those who are opposed to Mormonism on religious or ideological grounds.
Richard Lyman Bushman's thin introduction to Mormonism is a useful and very interesting introduction to this faith. It covers all the major points about Mormonism that make it fascinating and unique: their history that begin with the revelation of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith, the settling and building of a religious society in Utah, their idiosyncratic beliefs that diverge from the orthodox Christianity on many key points, and their practices, many of which like polygamy, have in the past been highly controversial and had made Mormons suspicious to the outsiders. The book also covers the present state of affairs and a few minor offshoots that have sprung out from the main Mormon Church (LDS).
Overall, this is a well-written book that could almost be considered a page-turner. If you are interested in finding more about Mormonism, this is an excellent first introduction to the subject and a useful reference for further study.
Mormonism is a version of Christianity or a new World religion, depending on your point of view. It does have many attractive aspects in my opinion (as a non-Mormon): deeply committed to marriage and the family, avoids alcohol and other drugs, has a theology that is optimistic (e.g. our mortal life is a test which we chose to undertake in our pre-life existence; stresses our free-will as well as being ultimately dependent on God). All these points are reinforced in Richard Bushman's clear and subtle book. What did I learn new? That the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (official name of the Mormon church) has an unusual balance between local autonomy and central leadership. This is based on viewing the head of the Church as a Prophet, but accepting that each member can have his own revelations. This local-central balance means that local chapels are able to run without paid clergy. If you want to learn more I would strongly recommend this book. It would help if you have a very basic understanding of mainstrean Christianity. If you know little or nothing of Christian faiths, 'Mormonism for Dummies' would probably be better.
The first impression I had reading the book was that, although the author (described as "the nation's chief defender and explainer of Mormonism") tries his best to write with a facade of objective scholarship, he is actually feeding the reader with cultish propaganda. This was proved true by the fact that the explanation of the cruellest doctrines, which were staples of the LDS church from the beginning, are omitted, although there is a lot of Mormon literature that demonstrate their existence. Professor Bushman writes on page 111:
"Despites this success, the church confronted a barrier of its own making: its historical exclusion of black males from the priesthood. The origins of this doctrine are not altogether clear".
Contrary to Professor Bushman, Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith thought that the origins of this doctrine are very clear. In his book "The Way to Perfection", on page 101, he wrote:
"Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel"
On page 91, Professor Bushman states that today's Mormons think of nineteenth-century plural marriage (one of the most important LDS doctrine almost since the beginning) as a test of devotion, one they might not pass themselves. This is a weird statement considering that he wrote (on page 89) that the church renounced plural marriage in 1890 as a necessary condition for Utah to achieve statehood, and the 1890 manifesto did not repudiate polygamy as a principle. The argument on page 91 is inconsistent since the best hope for every Mormon man, according to their literature, is to become a polygamous god after the resurrection (Mormon Doctrine by Bruce MacConkie, page 578). It is therefore surprising that the author, a devout Mormon, has failed to point out this "celestial hope".