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Book review: Book of Mormon 'Biography' takes scholar's view

By Ryan Morgenegg

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 24 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

"THE BOOK OF MORMON: A Biography," by Paul C. Gutjahr, Princeton University Press, $24.95, 255 pages (nf)

Mormonism is a hot topic. Rarely a day passes without mention in television, news, print or the Internet. With the book's impeccable timing and an accompanying press release mentioning Mitt Romney and "The Book of Mormon" musical, Princeton University Press released "The Book of Mormon: A Biography." This is one of seven books in a series called "Lives of Great Religious Books."

The author of the book, Paul C. Gutjahr, is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the book is not endorsed by the church. The book is friendly to the LDS Church. I learned several new things about Mormon history from this book in a nonthreatening way.

"Book of Mormon: A Biography" takes readers on a quick journey through Mormon history from past to present focused on the Book of Mormon. The topics covered include Joseph Smith, the translation of the Book of Mormon, how the book was used in early church history, the death of Joseph Smith, the church's move to Utah, missionary work, further growth of the church, and the influence of the Book of Mormon on movies, music, theater, art and culture.

There is a bunch of interesting tidbits scattered throughout. For example, an excellent timeline is laid out about those who helped Joseph with the translation of the Book of Mormon, along with the story of James Strang. He proclaimed Joseph had given him a letter that indicated Strang was the new prophet of the church. He even led people to a set of ancient plates. He was later shot in the back by members of a faction he created.

If you're a Book of Mormon scholar, you probably won't find anything new here. But the average member of the LDS Church would pick up a few new things from reading this text. It's a scholarly effort that presents information rather than persuasion. The reference section is thorough and impressive. At $24.95, the cover price seems a bit steep for a book this size.

Overall, the book is respectful of the church.

Ryan Morgenegg is a multimedia specialist for the Deseret News.

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