Books that share history of the Latter-day Saints


Mormon Times

Published: Tuesday, June 28 2011 6:30 a.m. MDT

"She knew she had said too much. John glared at her, his lip curled in disgust. He struck her suddenly with a knotted fist, and she collapsed to the floor. John reached down and grabbed her arm with his left hand while swinging sharply with his right. The blow split her lip and caused blood to trickle from her nose" (page 145).

Although the structure is that of a somewhat formulaic and predictable romance novel, the main characters have some depth and are interesting. A sense of detachment, created by the writer's choice to tell the story in third person, may leave the reader feeling like an observer rather than a participant in the unfolding events. Although there is a historical base for the book, it is definitely a romance novel, and one that would appeal mostly to women — older teens and adults.

— Rosemarie Howard

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"MY FELLOW SERVANTS — Essays on the History of the Priesthood," edited by William Hartley, BYU Religious Studies Center, $24.95 (nf)

When readers finish William Hartley's newest book, they will know more about the priesthood in early Mormon history than they knew there was to know. "My Fellow Servants: Essays on the History of the Priesthood" is a collection of essays that tell the story of the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it details the restoration as well as the evolution of the priesthood's organization and functions.

Every chapter has information that would be new to most readers and sheds light on how the church adapted to changing needs until it reached its current organization.

For nearly 40 years, Hartley's career involved researching and writing about church history. In 1972, he was hired as a research historian for the church. Later, his department became a part of Brigham Young University where he continued historical research and also taught classes.

Hartley focused most of his research on how the church functioned "at grass-roots levels," he explains in the introduction. "Because the church has been guided by revelation, … ward operations, priesthood assignments and quorum structures have seen significant alterations and redirections since the church was first organized," he writes.The first two chapters explain the restoration of the priesthood and the missionary duties assumed by early converts.

The next set of essays explores the history and organization of Aaronic Priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums. It was only about 100 years ago that the church set up a formal structure in which adolescent boys advance through priesthood ranks based on age. Hartley adeptly explains how and why men filled those lower priesthood officers before then.

Being a collection of essays, rather than one cohesive volume, the book repeats itself often. Because of that, it might not lend itself to cover-to-cover reading in a short span of time. However, it also has an index that lists dozens of topics ranging from "Aaronic Priesthood" to "Zarahemla Stake."

One of the more interesting chapters tells about the "common people" of the early church — those who were not leaders. Hartley paints a picture of a church before there were comfortable meetinghouses that could seat an entire ward; before there was a Primary; and before there were small, individual sacrament cups. He explains how church members lived and how the church developed to allow more participation and meet members' needs. He also provides great insight into the way bishops learned to manage tithing and tithing settlements when tithing consisted of farm animals, produce and donated labor.

It is an informative read and a highly useful reference for anyone with an interest in church history.

— Bryan Gentry

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"A FIRM FOUNDATION: Church Organization and Administration," edited by David J. Whittaker and Arnold K. Garr, BYU Religious Research Center, $29.99, 695 pages (nf)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown from its initial handful of members to a worldwide church of millions. And the organizing and administration of the LDS Church has grown and changed, too.

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