Books that share history of the Latter-day Saints

By

Mormon Times

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

Here is a list of about a dozen books — both fiction and nonfiction — about different aspects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' history.

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"ZION's TRUMPET: 1850 Welsh Mormon Periodical," by Ronald D. Dennis, BYU Religious Studies Center, $24.99, 346 pages (nf)

Many Latter-day Saints are familiar with the charge early Mormon missionaries received to carry the their teachings to the British Isles. Several periodicals emerged from such proselyting efforts. A periodical that includes news to the early Saints in Wales in 1850 through "Zion's Trumpet," a periodical operated by Welsh convert John S. Davis and compiled today by author Ronald Dennis. This volume is a companion to the 1849 "Zion's Trumpet" collection published in 2001.

Davis' work at the helm of the publication filled a void left by Dan Jones, who took 300 Welsh Mormon converts to America. Davis was appointed after having assisted Jones for 2 1/2 years in the publication of various pamphlets, a hymnal, a 288-page scriptural commentary and the monthly periodical "Prophet of the Jubilee," part of a publication that ran 12 times in 1849 and 28 times in 1850. Some of the more appealing parts of the volume are the occasional proverbs, poetry and humor dispersed among the hard LDS Church news. In many ways, they recall thoughts to the "Instant Messages" of the New Era or the reader submissions to the Ensign

Among the intriguing reads involves the letters from the early brethren, including President John Taylor, the third president of the LDS Church. If the church is continuing to "bring it(self) forth out of obscurity and out of darkness" in our modern day, then these brethren were writing from the perspective of a small sparkler trying to be seen in an otherwise large fireworks show.The epistles echo those written by Paul and other apostles of the primitive church in the New Testament, but they have their own unique voice in speaking of the challenge of being recognized by other people and nations.

The words do, at times, burst off the page and remind any member of the church of the great ordeals that many of their likely ancestors not only faced once they immigrated but also of the challenges they faced in being recognized upon their own soil after their conversion. Not too many pages into the book, LDS readers may realize that while the language harks back to an earlier time, the apostolic instruction and theology published isn't all that different from that which they hear and read today. The publication also includes baptism and priesthood ordination statistics. This compilation of "Zion's Trumpet" recalls respect for these early Latter-day Saints as they encountered doctrine and hardships new to them.

— Rhett Wilkinson

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"CALLED TO WAR: Dawn of the Mormon Battalion," by Sherman L. Fleek, Digital Legend Press, $24.95, 559 pages (nf)

"Called to War: Dawn of the Mormon Battalion" is a hefty volume that, at first blush, promises detailed, thrilling stories of the 500 Mormon husbands, brothers and fathers who marched hundreds of dusty miles to fight in a war that wasn't theirs.

Based loosely on stories, known facts and recounts from family journals, the book, written by Sherman L. Fleek, does share small anecdotes that might really have taken place, but the composition is somewhat forced, and it's not easy to read. For example, what young boy would ask his mother, "Why do men, and why do nations become brutes? Murdering the innocent, God's children?"The dialogue is stilted, and the voice shifts from first to third person in almost every paragraph as if to find purchase.This book keeps promising to get good as it moves from character to character to tell the tale, but it doesn't ever fully engage.

No one character comes to the forefront and becomes important to the reader, and it doesn't feel real. Names are dropped all over the place,  so one might find a fleeting reference to an ancestor. There's also a fair amount of indoctrination. There are some rather gruesome segments such as the butchery lesson and the description of slaves caged in a wagon going by that sit one up. There is an attempt at romantic passages. There is a good effort made to weave the facts together with a storyline, but there's a lot of politics, a hearty dose of religious preachiness and lots of descriptions of trees, water and landscape.

It's more of a "this-is-what-we-think-it-was-like" novel than a true-life accounting. For those interested in the Mormon trek west and the Mormon Battalion, it may deserve a place on the reference shelf. There's certainly been plenty of research done. But as a story to relish, not so much.

— Sharon Haddock

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"40 WAYS TO LOOK AT BRIGHAM YOUNG," by Chad M. Orton and William W. Slaughter, Deseret Book, $23.95, 304 pages (nf)

The "American Moses," as he is called, Brigham Young is one who has been written about over the years in a positive and negative light.

There are many prevailing, at times contradictory, opinions about who Brigham Young was, and it can be tough to discern what is the truth. The book "40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young," by Chad M. Orton and William W. Slaughter, tries to provide a way for the honest searcher of the truth to learn who Young was as a person, religious and political leader, family man and more.

The structure of this book follows the title provided it, "40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young." The 40 chapters within the book flow well together, and when considering the varying subjects, including opposing views of Brigham, this is a great accomplishment of the authors. To help the reader better understand him, pull down the myths that surround him and to ensure less personal opinion and more facts, the authors have pulled in opposing views of Young and do a good job of dispelling the lies or myths by providing true accounts or context around situations and stories.

"If Brigham Young is not the most misunderstood individual on the lists of the 100 greatest and most influential Americans, he likely has been the most maligned," the authors wrote.

Some of the chapters in the book include the following: The Lion of the Lord (a nickname of Brigham Young's); Brigham as Leader; Family Man; and Brigham as a Renaissance Man. Each chapter in the book provides new insight and unique perspectives about him with very little repetition. "40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young" is put together well and provides a great knowledge base for those who know little about him, or for those who have studied the man extensively. This book can help one truly learn dispel the myths and learn more about a remarkable man. The authors have done a great job of putting forth their work and expressing their knowledge and mission.

— Jordan Morrow

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"THE MORMON MENACE: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South," by Patrick Q. Mason, Oxford Press, $29.95, 194 pages

As he rode along a road north of Van Buren, Ark., Parley P. Pratt, an apostle and missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was attacked by a small posse of men. The leader, Hector McLean, unloaded his revolver at the unarmed elder and though he repeatedly missed Pratt, the surprise and stress allowed McLean the opportunity to eventually murder the famed Apostle of the Restoration.

Pratt's last words were, "I am dying a martyr to the faith."

Using this event as a foundation, in his book "The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South," author Patrick Q. Mason recounts the history of Latter-day Saint persecutions in the post-Civil War South, as the church sought to spread its influence throughout that area. Citing journal entries, news articles, speeches and other commentary, Mason carefully and thoroughly examines the difficult experiences of missionaries and members who taught and accepted the message of the Restoration.

Despite the increased opposition, the church continued to send missionaries to the South, and they found good success in their labors. The increase in converts, in the face of organized and spontaneous opposition, only served to ramp up the efforts of the protesters of the faith.

Mason examines these and other accounts of mobocracy and persecution that occurred between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century. While Pratt's death has become common knowledge among church members, the deaths of Elders Joseph Standing, John Gibbs and William Berry are not so well-known. These three, along with church members like Martin Conder and J. R. Hutson are considered martyrs in their own right to the cause of "Mormonism" as the gospel was taken to the South. Mason's thorough and well-documented book offers a deeper understanding to a time when the Latter-day Saints were seeking to increase the fold in spite of rampant persecution.

— Mike Whitmer

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"PANSY'S HISTORY: The Autobiography of Margaret E. P. Gordon, 1866-1966," edited by Claudia Bushman, Utah State University Press, $34.95, 318 pages (nf)

In this 12th volume of the "Life Writings of Frontier Women," Claudia Bushman helps share the journals and letters of her ancestor Margaret "Pansy" Gordon in "Pansy's History: The Autobiography of Margaret E.P. Gordon, 1866-1966." Gordon was born in England and lived in a variety of places in her 100 years, including British Columbia, Salt Lake City, Bear Lake, an Ojibway village on Georgian Lake, Alberta and Los Angeles. Bushman has included maps, photos and other information to put it in the context of LDS Church history.

— Christine Rappleye

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"ALL THAT WAS PROMISED," by Vickie Hall, Bonneville Books, $15.99, 231 pages (f)

Set in Cardiff, Glamorganshire, Wales, between 1847 and 1848, this piece of historical fiction gives us a glimpse into what early Welsh converts to the LDS faith might have experienced.

In a well-spun tale, Vickie Hall takes us into the lives of Richard Kenyon, a Methodist minister, and his family. When Kenyon joins the LDS faith, converted by American missionary Ben Lochlan, his wife, along with most of his congregation, thinks he has taken leave of his senses, and the rocky relationship with his only brother, Robert, becomes even more strained.

Personal challenges in the Kenyon family, partly the result of Richard's conversion, stretch family members to the limit.

Persecution against the members of the fledgling branch in Cardiff is severe. Another local minister, a barmaid and Richard's own brother contribute to the anti-Mormon sentiment and opposition, which takes the form of bullying, beatings and the destruction of property and lives.

Through it all, faith in the Lord and miracles large and small, keep the fledgling branch in Cardiff alive and growing.

The author has done enough research to incorporate Welsh phrases, folklore, customs and descriptions of the Welsh countryside that sketch a picture of Cardiff and the surrounding area during this time period.

However, the testimonies, love and concern of the early Cardiff Saints for the gospel and their commitment to one another shines through the violent opposition.

The violent opposition to the LDS Church and its members weaves its way throughout the book. The following short excerpts give a feel for the way the author describes the violence and physical abuse:

"Abigail maneuvered around the two men and seized hold of Amelia's arm. 'You are coming with me!' she hissed. Amelia screamed as her mother dragged her toward the stairway.

"'Uncle Richard!' she pleaded tearfully, 'Don't let her ...'

"A sharp backhand to the mouth silenced Amelia instantly as her mother forced her upstairs" (page 103-104).

"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.

In "A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration," David J. Whittaker and Arnold K. Garr have compiled a series of presentations from the 2010 Church History Symposium at Brigham Young University on how a multimillion member church operates while relying mostly on a lay ministry. The 28 essays include topics on Brigham Young becoming a prophet, the development of organizations like Primary, Young Women, Young Men and Relief Society, the early Quorums of the Seventy, technology like radio and Internet, missions and leadership after World War II.

— Christine Rappleye

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"PRESERVING THE HISTORY OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS," edited by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Steven C. Harper, Deseret Book, 288 pages, $21.95 (nf)

In his talk "Making a Case for Church History," Elder Marlin K. Jensen indicates that in Doctrine and Covenants 21:1 the Lord commanded the Saints to "keep a record," while in Doctrine and Covenants 47:3 he further admonishes that the record is to be kept "continually." In their book "Preserving the History of the Latter-day Saints," Richard E. Turley Jr. and Steven C. Harper compiled and edited a cornucopia of works that support the cause of recording and protecting the history of the Latter-day Saints as commanded by the Lord.

There is power in stories, Elder Jensen explained. God's word is either expressed in narrative form or story form. 

Elder Jensen further explains that without adequate historical records the language of the people of Zarahemla became corrupted and they lost faith in their Creator (Omni 1:17). Keeping records could have prevented this.

Subjects in the 11-chapter book include such talks as "Making a Case for Church History" (Elder Marlin K. Jensen); "Ignored and Unknown Clues of Early Mormon Record Keeping" (Robin Scott Jensen); "Modern Efforts to Preserve Church History" (Ronald K. Esplin); and "Doing the Impossible: Documenting the Worldwide Church (Matthew K. Heiss). This book not only teaches the Lord's desires on being a record-keeping people, but will inspire readers to pick up their pens or head to their keyboards and record the day's comings and goings.

Also expounded upon are the blessings of the diligent efforts of Wilford Woodruff and the invaluable journals containing recordings of the early talks and discourses from early church leaders. Included in the talks are experiences of the prophet Joseph Smith and the recording of the account of the first vision, the story of the lost 116 pages of the manuscript (Martin Harris), and the repercussions of losing a sacred record which serves as a warning about disobeying the Lord's commandments regarding his records.

Scriptural references are included with each talk.

— Becky Robinette Wright

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"BANNER OF THE GOSPEL: Wilford Woodruff," by Alexander L. Baugh and Susan Easton Black, BYU Religious Studies Center, $24.99, 368 pages (nf)

Who was Wilford Woodruff and what can the Saints learn from him? Alexander L. Baugh and Susan Easton Black have gathered and edited an invaluable resource book titled "Banner of the Gospel: Wilford Woodruff" that encompasses 11 chapters on the remarkable man and fourth president of the LDS Church, Wilford Woodruff.

The substance of the chapters comes from a BYU Church History Symposium to honor the 200th anniversary of his birth. Woodruff acquired many skills through his lifetime, some included farmer, outdoorsman, horticulturist, educator and more. His dedication, spiritual skills and service to his duties included being a missionary, serving as apostle, church historian, temple president and president of the LDS Church. Some of the included topics are "Images of Wilford Woodruff's life: A Photographic Journey" by Alexander L. Baugh, "Wilford Woodruff: Missionary in Herefordshire" by Cynthia Doxey Green and more. The astounding attention to detail in his journals, which spanned 60 years, stand as a personal witness and record to the beginnings of the early church. In the journals are also recorded Woodruff's personal life experiences.

In "Banner of the Gospel," not only does one learn about the journals but the deep spiritual insights Woodruff had. His practical side can be seen where he is shown in the light of a worker in the field of souls waiting to be harvested for the blessing of baptism and future gospel blessings. This is a great book for church history enthusiasts, scholars and for references.

"Banner of the Gospel" is enthralling with the spiritual insights and extraordinary dedication revealed from Woodruff's life. The book is an excellent resource for learning of Woodruff's comings and goings, his part in the expansion of the church from its infancy, his one-on-one relationships with the early presidents, and his courage in the face of adversity. "Banner of the Gospel" transports you through portions of his life in an insightful way. Through Woodruff, you walk in the footsteps of the early church.

Throughout his life, circumstances and accidents sought to take his life, but the Lord had other plans for him. Woodruff was true to the cause until his last breath. He suffered many hardships for the cause of the gospel including missing his wife Phoebe's funeral because mobs were seeking the leaders of the church. Woodruff's life was not easy, and he had many close brushes with death, yet the Lord preserved him.

He was a pioneer in every sense of the word. 

— Becky Robinette Wright

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"WASATCH SUMMER," by Anola Pickett, Cedar Fort, $9.99, 154 pages (f)

In Anola Pickett's "Wasatch Summer," 11-year-old Hannah Turner must face adversity and a big challenge. A huge mantle of responsibility is draped upon her shoulders as she is told to take her family's sheep herd to graze in the mountains in 1889 Cache Valley.

Hannah must face the elements and predators while facing her own doubts and fears. Her companions are two dogs and some chickens, but it is during this time that Hannah has a spiritual awakening. Feeling that she has nowhere to go but to her Heavenly Father, she has many experiences, and each strengthens her as she endures. It's her very trials that lead her to progression.

Hannah becomes very close to the Blackfeet, who teach her survival skills. The time together allows lasting ties to form between the shepherd girl and the Native Americans.

Travel back in time to 1889 Cache Valley and experience the magnificent journey of Hannah Turner as she matures spiritually in the midst of adversity in this captivating read.

Anyone interested in LDS, Native American or pioneer history will not be disappointed. Lovers of the great outdoors and the West will rejoice in the journey.

— Becky Robinette Wright

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