While Ulrich creates an absorbing history of intimate lives, individuals’ religious passions and acceptance of polygamy...



A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian investigates women’s power and agency within the early Mormon community.

Ulrich (History/Harvard Univ.; Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, 2007, etc.), a MacArthur Fellow whose previous subjects have included colonial wives and early American midwives, has a personal investment in this deeply researched, well-informed history of marriage and family life among 19th-century Mormons: her eight great-grandparents and four great-great-grandparents migrated to Utah before 1860, and she grew up knowing that their stories included polygamy. Drawing on a rich trove of diaries and letters, the author follows many Mormon families as they confronted poverty, illness, privations, and persecution in their quest to establish a community where they could practice their faith and enact their social vision. She traces their journeys, beginning in 1835, from Ohio to Illinois, across the muddy flats of Iowa, to Nebraska, and finally, in 1850, to Salt Lake City. Plural marriage set the Latter-day Saints apart from many other sects eager to create an earthly utopia, and it stands as a puzzle that Ulrich can only partially explain. Some biographers accuse Mormon founder Joseph Smith of promoting the practice “to justify illicit relations with vulnerable young women,” and Ulrich concedes, “there is some evidence to support that assumption.” Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, both having multiple wives, defended polygamy as sanctioned by the Bible. Although some found it repugnant, many men took several wives, and women entered freely into those alliances. Some women saw marriage to a church leader as a path “to an elite inner circle.” Not surprisingly, though, polygamy “generated conflict and gossip,” anger and yearning. Besides considering the emotional toll of plural marriage, Ulrich questions the spiritual needs—and desire for authoritarian leadership— that drew adherents to Mormonism and sustained their faith even under extreme duress. The trek west was marked by graves.

While Ulrich creates an absorbing history of intimate lives, individuals’ religious passions and acceptance of polygamy remain mysterious.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-59490-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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