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Secrets and Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  545 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
What do we really know about modern practicing polygamists--not fictional ones like the Henrickson family on HBO's Big Love? We've seen the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the news, the underage brides in pioneer dresses on a Texas ranch. But the FLDS is just one of many groups that have broken with mainstream Mormonism to follow those parts o ...more
ebook, 385 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by Soft Skull (first published January 1st 2011)
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Barbara Z.
Jun 11, 2011 Barbara Z. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite reads of the year, and a fresh take on a subject which has been nearly wrung-dry in most media. Some people will never get enough of the autobiographical "I escaped polygamy" genre, but I did, and the subset of those books which wind up with the author finding Jesus makes me cower in apprehension of the sequel, when the victim escapes their new cult.

But "Secrets and Wives" isn't like any of those books, nor like any non-fiction tome I've hefted on the subject. It's a personal
Jun 16, 2012 Alison rated it liked it
I had much higher expectations from this book than it reached, but still glad I read it. Bhattacharya managed a great deal of access to several of the organised polygamous groups around Utah and the US desert, and with a journalist's appreciation for who, what, when, where and why, his outline of the details of the groups and their relationships with each other alone makes the book worth reading.

It focuses mainly on the smaller groups - one of my frustrations was my interest in the AUB, which B
So about a third of the way through Secrets and Wives it went missing. I searched everywhere for it--through various rarely used handbags, bookshelves (both at home and at the library), behind the bed where many a book has in the past gone to die but nothing. It seemed to have vanished.

And then three days ago, I found it under a pile of to-be-dry-cleaned coats in my closet. Weird--which could pretty much sum up the disturbing but ultimately rewarding adventure that is reading it.

The thing is, i
Bryan Schatz
Jun 11, 2011 Bryan Schatz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book blew me away. You are immediately launched into an entirely intriguing and wholly bizarre world where prophets dictate their mini-societies, outsiders are looked on with suspicion, and the apocalypse is surely just around the corner. It's incredibly entertaining, often hilarious, but also is a story told with compassion. As the author penetrates the various polygamist communities, you get a real sense of the individuals and families whose lives have been formed around fundamentalist be ...more
May 25, 2016 Hanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sanjiv Bhattacharya is definitely out for a juicy scoop here... Nevertheless, he does a good job. Although the book is interesting and readable it's also full of cultural stereotyping and assumptions. It's worth noting that a British-Indian may not be the best choice of person to try to approach these groups, given (1) their prejudice against dark skinned people, and (2) Mormonism is a very American religion. Another reservation is that Bhattacharya approaches the topic of polygamy with a smug " ...more
Jun 27, 2011 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, adult
I enjoyed Sanjiv Bhattacharya's book. He didn't seem to have an ax to grind with the polygamist families. He did a lot of leg work and research in order to bring the reader a view of many of the polygamist cults in Utah. I felt his growth through the book. I didn't enjoy the beginning of the book as much as the middle and end because he seemed at bit too sarcastic, but as he learned more about the culture of polygamy, I saw his growth, and his sarcasm became tempered with understanding. I was gl ...more
K2 -----
I found this book fascinating but also quite depressing knowing this underworld exists. It rambled a bit too much and could have had a much heavier editing hand.

Bhattacharya, an atheist, sets out to try to comprehend the fringe elements of the LDS and presents to us the story of plural marriage as he understands it. Being East Indian, and an outsider, he stood out most places he went to research this book and encountered more than his share of closed doors. The doors he did get to open were allo
Aug 07, 2012 Waywardspirit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sanjiv more than anything, in my experience, connected. I appreciate this more than I can thank him for. Most writers, looking into, or escaping Mormon fundamentalism or polygamy, seem to have that big axe to grind or chop with. I'm fascinated by the way he looked into my own issues, since the whole story is sorta mine. He sorted it out for me. A cathartic experience I might add. Better than therapy. Sanjiv brought his own parallel quest into mysticism with hilarious, colorful, perspective to th ...more
Apr 16, 2014 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was fascinated by this book. Other reviewers criticized Bhattacharya's frequent insertion of self into the story, but I saw that as the point: I get *him.* He's a regular dude I could relate to. His questions, thoughts, and opinions were much like what I imagine mine would be if I had been researching this book. I appreciated having a relatable guide through Polygamy Wonderland (and yo, even the back of the book says it's the personal story of a "stranger in a strange land"). I thought his por ...more
Sep 24, 2013 Stephanie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I actually read the about 25% of this book and sent it back to Amazon for a refund. While the author talks about how he wants to write an unbiased, untainted book on polygamy his disdain for the Mormon religion and his personal rants clearly showed his lack of respect for the lifestyle and the religion. I am a sociologist and I wanted to read a more factual book, one that presented the issue of polygamy in a different light than what was already out there. I wanted to see a culturally relativist ...more
Jun 23, 2011 Christy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know what to expect when I started this but I really liked it. The documenting of the evolution of the Mormon Fundamentalist groups from inception to modern day is fascinating. And it goes deeper to include personal stories that had me laughing out loud or tearing up from one page to the next.

I think because the author is an atheist it gave him a different perspective on the polygamy issue than I've seen before. He didn't seem to have preconceived notions or judgements on the subject.
Jun 17, 2011 Jeremytucker31 rated it it was amazing
Sanjiv has put together the most comprehensive and honest piece on Utah's Mormon Fundamentalist culture yet. Previously, great books have been done by ex members on their specific stories of escape, but Secrets and Wives gives you a realistic view of all the major players. Sanjiv shows the influence that these groups already have on Utah politics and the resulting "Blind Eye" that Utah officials turn on Mormon Fundamentalist criminals. Even though the book covers a very dark and serious subject ...more
Nov 10, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was such an interesting read. The title is a little misleading. It's really more a memoir of one man's journey through the weird underbelly of Utah than a sketch of polygamy. But, he is funny, sarcastic and honest about what he's seeing and feeling. I really found the snapshots into the different groups fascinating and frightening. Living in Salt Lake City made it especially disturbing.
The author had limited access--despite his tenacity--trying to penetrate the secret world of polygamists. The writing was scattered and the stories, though individualized and personal, were more anecdotal in nature, stereotypical, and lacked real in-depth reportage.

The author goes off on a couple of personal rants that definitely, for me, took away from the core storyline. I didn’t discover any new information about this subject and was less than impressed with the final product.
Ingrid Lola
Jun 14, 2012 Ingrid Lola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great
4.5 stars. By far the best polygamy book I've read.
May 31, 2012 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look inside the the hidden world of US Mormon-based polygamy. This isn't the vanilla world of Sister Wives, or at least the little bits of that show I've managed to sit through. These are the groups that have 'compounds', entire towns, family trees that don't fork. Oh, and secrecy. The author spends a lot of time with hardcore believers to get inside their heads, and brings back a frightening, irreverent mix of notes about power, patriarchy, religious belief, freedom, and control.

Dec 06, 2015 Corianne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has been on my radar for years, but something else always seemed to weasel it's way to the top of my reading list. Recently, though, the mainstream Mormon church announced that kids with gay parents can't become children of record, can't be baptized until they turn 18, and only then if they disavow their parents. This came with the justification that children of polygamists are treated the same way. My response to that has been "polygamists tend to belong to their own sects of Mormonis ...more
Michelle Robinson
I am enjoying the tone and pace of this book. WHile the subject is serious, one gets the feeling that the author does not take himself too seriously.

I just finished this book. It was a little daunting, the number of people that one had to keep straight, got to me at points in the reading. I also was a bit overwhelmed by the Mormon and fundamentalist Mormon doctrine.

The thing that sets this book apart for me, as a person who has read many works of nonfiction about Mormon polygamists in America,
May 06, 2014 Pam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating look at polygamy told by an exceedingly balanced author. As fair as he is in the telling of this tale, I can't find any redeeming attributes to the practice of polygamy. Brainwashing, abuse, and the victimization of women is extremely prevalent. Sure, there may be an exception here and there - but I think even in the seemingly good situations, the women lose their voice and thus their ability to say this is wrong. It takes a very strong woman to step away from the cult. Mr. ...more
Spencer Peacock
Feb 17, 2013 Spencer Peacock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was surprised this book was as good as it was. I brought it home from the library on a whim. Thinking that I'd skim through it. Growing up mormon, and having read quite a bit of books from former FLDS members I thought there was nothing new I could learn. Wow. I had no idea there were so many groups out there. Many reviews say that Bhattacharaya rambled, but he didn't. The thing is, there's no way to make sense out of all of these polygamist groups. There's offshoots of the mainstream mormon c ...more
Morris Thurston
I found this book entertaining and diverting. Bhattacharya is a talented writer and he keeps the reader engaged by inserting himself into his story of the various offshoot Mormon polygamous cults. The book is creative nonfiction and, as such, one wonders how much creative license he has taken.

This book is not about the mainstream Mormon Church, which discarded polygamy over 100 years ago. However, in order to introduce the subject, Bhattacharya includes a chapter on Mormon history and he someti
This is an excellent book but it's hard to say "liked it!". It is well-written and engaging. The author strives to present a view of some of the less well-known Mormon polygamous sects and communities, not just the Warren Jeffs/FLDS group that's been all over the media. And he does a good job, somehow gaining these people's trust (by and large) and gaining access to groups that had not spoken to any journalists before.

Be warned: This book contains some graphic descriptions of child abuse and its
Aug 23, 2011 Ella rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Well written and surprisingly funny at points, Bhattacharya's in depth investigation of various polygamous Mormon sects in Utah is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in modern Mormonism, fundamentalism, and religious life in America. Hardly as sensational as Jon Krakauer's similar themed "Under the Banner of Heaven", Sanjiv Bhattacharya seems determined to remain objective and is present throughout the work as both a narrator and investigator. For the most part, his detachment is succ ...more
Mar 07, 2015 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
What a fantastic book!
This isn't a fanatical, sensationalized diatribe of the tired short creek series, or a book about polygamy and underaged girls. I took something away from this book, which was a better understanding of these communities and some of their beliefs.

The author was relatable and had an almost satirical writing style. I enjoyed his use of pop culture references during times of what I'm sure he felt readers felt major disconnect to the culture shock.

The author managed to write
May 02, 2016 Kathie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book, but it is padded with overly long annoying asides such as his own religious beliefs, and his personal struggles with writing it. Only include those for the extended version if you ever become the new George R R Martin. Otherwise no one cares.
Also, cut half of the the word-for-word conversations. Just describe a few conversations, please. I believe you actually interviewed the person. You lost me and I skimmed a lot because the conversations were tedious.
However, I was shocke
Done from a journalistic point of view, and you can see further in the book that he gets a little too involved with the subject. I was asking myself if referring to the pural wives he encountered in his book as "hot" was a breach of ethics, but reflexivity is important, I guess. As he was introduced to members of the community, and then refused access later in the book, he was approached by women to help them leave the community... I'll leave you to read what happens; just questionable ethics, a ...more
Angela Pezel
Jun 14, 2016 Angela Pezel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting slice of the Mormon pie book. This book isn't about the LDS church, but rather those splinter Mormons who sought after their own form of authority and continued the practice of polygamy. The author is not a believer of any particular creed, so at times his humor might be seen as flippant by those who espouse a strong faith.

I rather enjoyed learning about other Fundamentalist Mormon practices especially those not associated with the well known FLDS. I only wish the au
Austin Archibald
A really interesting read of a random atheist who wanted to explore all varieties of Mormon Fundamentalism. It's more sensationalist in nature, so the bad is highlighted and the good is mostly dismissed. His commentary throughout the book was both interesting and comical, but his condescending attitude was a bit distasteful at times. It reminded me of Krakauer's book in some ways: fascinating stories about Mormon fundamentalist sociopaths. We live in a crazy world, and this book gives us an ente ...more
Apr 06, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent excellent book on polygamy by an outsider who traveled all over interviewing both polygamists and those who left polygamy. Some of the stories were shocking, things you could scarcely believe could happen in this country. The author did a good job of being unbiased and looking at all sides. The evil of the one group, the Order, which was actually worse than the Warren Jeffs group, was shocking. There were times this book made me angry when it talked about the abuse young women suffered ...more
Melissa Dally
Mar 18, 2013 Melissa Dally rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
Supposed to be a balanced look at polygamy as practiced by a few of the fundamentalist mormon sects and in some ways it does deliver, there is insight, but the author digresses...a lot. More history than you really care to read, all kinds of autobiographical tidbits leaving the reader thinking "that's nice...why don't you save this for when you write your autobiography". Cuz it was pretty irrelevant. Also there is a bit much of his opinion on things for my taste as well. So I did enjoy parts of ...more
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  • Daughters of Zion: A Family's Conversion to Polygamy
  • God's Brothel: The Extortion of Sex for Salvation
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  • Keep Sweet: Children of Polygamy
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  • Church of Lies
  • Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings
  • His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy
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  • Wife No. 19
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  • Heaven's Harlots: My Fifteen Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult
  • Fifty Years in Polygamy: Big Secrets and Little White Lies
  • Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement
  • Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs

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