UTAH: Unusual Beginning to Unique Present, Wayne K. Hinton, Windsor Publications, 191 pp., $22.95.

Every July we pay homage to the hardy pioneers and settlers that carved a state out of the Great Basin desert. It's a time to pay particular attention to our history, to who and what came before, to the forces and circumstances that have made us what we are.And that is something that Wayne Hinton's "Utah" does quite well.

Our state - with its dramatic landscape and even more dramatic history - has been the subject of numerous books over the years, everything from scholarly discourses to pretty picture books. This one, which covers state history from prehistoric times to the 20th century, adds nothing really new to the body of historical literature. But it is put together in a readable manner and with an enjoyable format. Anyone looking for a popular history of Utah could do worse.

Hinton is a professor of history at Southern Utah State College, with numerous articles and reviews to his credit, so he has the background to do the job. Given the limited size of the book and the broad scope of our history, the object here is a broad overview. But if the text must necessarily be brief, it is not superficial. Hinton is not afraid to tackle the hard-edged issues - such as the Mountain Meadow Massacre and polygamy - and is able to give the overall story a perspective and context that are meaningful. A few more anecdotes and stories might make for livelier reading, but he covers the territory in a good, solid manner.

Hinton starts with a look at Utah's harsh yet beautiful landscape, setting the stage for the chapters on the first inhabitants, the pre-settlement explorers and the coming of the Mormons. The Mormon story is naturally given considerable attention, from the founding of the church, through the arrival of the pioneers and their culture and civilization to the "Americanization" of the Mormons and achievement of statehood. Other ethnic groups are not ignored, however. Their contributions to the state are also detailed.

As with most Utah histories, the 20th century tends to get short shrift (perhaps, as he notes, because many observers feel that after 1920 there is little that is unique to Utah's story.) But there is an attempt to bring the story up to date with a few facts and figures and observations.

The text is also decorated with a variety of pictures, both black and white and color that add considerable life and interest.

A companion to books on Salt Lake City and Ogden previously published by Windsor Publications, this one follows the same format. A section in the back highlights "Partners in Progress," profiling businesses and groups that helped to sponsored publication of the book.

This section will be of most interest to those involved with the companies or interested in business history, but Ogden newsman Murray Moler has done a credible job of putting the profiles together. And a few bits of interesting trivia surface. Did you know, for example, that the Utah State Historical Society has a library of 53,000 published works, 30,000 maps, 300,000 photographs and negatives, 4,000 cubic feet of manuscripts and 3,000 rolls of microfilm? Or that Norbest will begin to market turkeys in the People's Republic of China in 1989.

In conjunction with release of the book, Windsor also sponsored an essay contest among ninth grade students, who were invited to write a 500-word essay on growing up in Utah. Sherrill Fullmer of Monticello High School received $100.