Brent Top’s informative and inspirational book The Life Before traces the idea of preexistence from early recorded history through the most current secular and LDS thinking on the subject. From the wealth of quotations alone, the book is a valuable reference book that any student of LDS doctrine will discover worth perusing. In this respect, the author has undertaken a commendable work of compilation and organization of subject matter.
The stated objective of the book is “to provide information that will enlighten the mind and prepare the heart for the inspiration that can change our lives and buoy us up spiritually as we pass through this second estate” [x] . The book succeeds in this regard by providing a positive and reaffirming witness of the doctrine.
The first chapter and a half, comprising twenty-three pages, gives a historical overview of the doctrine, presenting both ancient and modern beliefs, including glimpses of early Jewish and Christian teachings on preexistence. While most of the quotes bear directly on the subject, some have dubious relevancy, such as Herman Hesse’s notion of our inherited “ancestral past” of “slime and eggshells,” or M. Scott Peck’s related concept of “collective consciousness” that is the “inherited wisdom and experience of our ancestors.”