Yes, we’re going there.
Kathryn Daynes’ survey treatment of Mormon polygamy, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 is the best of its kind. Don’t let the relative brevity deceive you; this book has something for everyone. Rich anecdotes, a solid argument, and groundbreaking quantitative data pepper the book’s lively prose. Most importantly, she provides verifiable, hang-your-hat-on-it answers on the actual prevalence of polygamy in the Utah territory. Perhaps you have even heard a quote or two from early Mormon leaders blasting monogamy and imploring the Saints to embrace polygamy now; “it’s how things work in the hereafter, so get used to it.” Yet Mormon polygamy was an inconsistently-applied system of doctrinal principles, at best. There were success stories, broken hearts, and awkward divorces (which were ridiculously easy to get in territorial Utah–perhaps it’s no surprise that Mormons also settled Las Vegas). If you are going to read one book on Mormon polygamy, Daynes’ book will give you everything you need to understand the most distinctive feature of Mormon life in the 19th-century.