James E. Talmage is interesting in that several of his works were actually commissioned and explicitly approved by the Church. Five of his works are now available on Project Gutenberg; we’ve discussed The House of the Lord elsewhere and will discuss the others here. Talmage’s theological influence is immense, and these works are classics.
Jesus the Christ
This is consistently, by far, the most-downloaded LDS book from Project Gutenberg. It’s one of only four books outside Preach My Gospel and the standard works that missionaries are allowed to read. It is authoritative: in Talmage’s words,
The author of this volume entered upon his welcome service under request and appointment from the presiding authorities of the Church; and the completed work has been read to and is approved by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve. It presents, however, the writer’s personal belief and profoundest conviction as to the truth of what he has written. The book is published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In this work, Talmage synthesizes the standard works and modern scholarship to produce a comprehensive treatment of Christ’s life that reflects the best of the Church’s understanding. It’s sort of like reading a heavily annotated harmony of the gospels. Though the book is obviously old, very little has changed since its publication; it’s an enduring classic.
The Articles of Faith
Talmage’s preface explains this one pretty well:
The lectures herewith presented have been prepared in accordance with the request and appointment of the First Presidency of the Church. The greater number of the addresses were delivered before the Theology Class of the Church University; and, after the close of the class sessions, the lectures were continued before other Church organizations engaged in the study of theology. To meet the desire expressed by the Church authorities,—that the lectures be published for use in the various educational institutions of the Church,—the matter has been revised, and is now presented in this form.
The author’s thanks are due and are heartily rendered to the members of the committee appointed by the First Presidency, whose painstaking and efficient examination of the manuscript prior to the delivery of the lectures, has inspired some approach to confidence in the prospective value of the book among members of the Church. The committee here referred to consisted of Elders Francis M. Lyman, Abraham H. Cannon, and Anthon H. Lund, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder George Reynolds, one of the Presidents of the Presiding Quorum of Seventy; Elder John Nicholson, and Dr. Karl G. Maeser.
The lectures are now published by the Church, and with them goes the hope of the author that they may prove of some service to the many students of the scriptures among our people, and to other earnest inquirers into the doctrines and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Great Apostasy
This book gives a history of the titular subject, with detailed consideration of its hows and whys. It considers the establishment of the Church, predictions of its a general apostasy, external causes of the apostasy such as Roman persecution, internal causes of the apostasy like doctrinal corruption related to Greek philosophy, and finally a discussion of the Reformation and ultimately the Restoration. As in Jesus the Christ, Talmage’s familiarity with the relevant history and extensive citations make it an authoritative work that has aged well.
The Story and Philosophy of Mormonism
Here’s a 1922 blurb about this one (source):
The Story and Philosophy of “Mormonism” – 146 pages. comprising “The Story” as told in addresses at Cornell and Michigan Universities and elsewhere, followed by an address delivered at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, entitled, “The Philosophical Basis of ‘Mormonism.’”
As a compilation of two talks aimed at non-members, this work is shorter and goes into less depth than the others. It’s interesting as a sample of how Talmage explained the Gospel to non-members and as a short historical and doctrinal summary.