Book Reviews | BYU Studies

Book Reviews

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Of the making of encyclopedias there is no end. And now Mormonism has one. Actually, we have had our Andrew Jenson encyclopedias for many years, and if Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine isn't a one-volume encyclopedia of its subject, at least in intent, I don't know what it is. But now we have a lavish, multivolume, semiofficial encyclopedia, intended for libraries, for the general reader, and... Read more

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) is one of the largest indigenous religious groups in the United States, many people know little more of the Mormons than their family-oriented television commercials, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or Brigham Young University. They may have heard that Mormons practice polygamy (which is not entirely accurate), but most know... Read more

Enhancing Evolution: Posthumanous Dreams and the Moral Complexity of Biomedical Aspirations

A noted academic bioethicist and British media pundit with a named chair at the University of Manchester, John Harris has recently given birth to an odd literary child. His latest book, Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People , hails from an esteemed university press, but it is informal and tendentious, often jeering at opponents, both popular and academic. Despite his... Read more

The Maze of Mormonism

Review is called for mainly on the strength of Martin's reputation as a specialist on the "cults," with a record of lectures, books, and even editorship of something of a journal devoted to them. The preface claims for the book a reliance on source material: "the first attempt in over twenty-five years to present a thoroughly documented, historical, theological, and apologetic survey of the... Read more

The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life's Experiences

I was reared in a Latter-day Saint home in Louisiana, where most of my boyhood friends were Protestant. Just before leaving on my mission, I asked my father—a lifelong Southerner and member of the Church—a few doctrinal questions. One question was "Dad, what does it mean to be saved by grace?" He answered quickly, "We don't believe in that." "We don't?" I said. "Why not?" Without any hesitation... Read more

Goodness and Truth: An Essay on Ralph Hancock's The Responsibility of Reason

Joseph Spencer explains the shift in thinking that occurred about five hundred years ago: very generally speaking, premoderns took the ideal to be metaphysically fundamental, and moderns take the physical to be metaphysically fundamental. Latter-day Saint thinkers may fall into one camp or the other. Ralph Hancock's The Responsibility of Reason is a defense of a premodern conception of the world... Read more

Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900

No more significant and informative book on Mormon and Utah history has been produced in the last decade than Great Basin Kingdom. As a storehouse of facts and insights in which layman and scholar alike find fascinating shopping, it has already established its right to a place on the bookshelf of every serious devotee of the historical subject matter with which it deals. Professor Arrington, a... Read more

The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture

This recent imprint by Signature Books contains fifteen essays which critically examine aspects of the standard works of the LDS and RLDS scriptural canon. Each author has paid attention to the cultural and environmental setting for the creation of the "written word of God." In the words of the editor, the essayists are convinced that "the essential requirement for interpretation for a text is to... Read more

Joseph Smith, the Prophet

Books about Joseph Smith abound. Some attempt a full-scale life. Many select an aspect of the Prophet's spiritual career—his teachings, writings, revelations, or prophecies—or significant events, such as the 1820 vision or the 1844 martyrdom. A few focus on his ancestry, his family, or reminiscences of his associates. The Prophet appears in many other books and articles not directly about him but... Read more

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Original Christianity

The historical connection between the Dead Sea community and original Christianity has been the subject of controversy for more than a decade. In spite of this present book, the problem of the relationship of the early Christian Church to the Qumran order still remains. However, this volume is important in that it represents one of the first attempts by a Mormon writer to inform L.D.S. Church... Read more

The Hofmann Maze: Review Essay

LINDA SILLITOE and ALLEN D ROBERTS. Salamander: The Story of the of the Mormon Forgery Murders, with a Forensic Analysis by George J. Throckmorton. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988. STEVEN NAIFEH and GREGORY WHITE SMITH. The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1988. ROBERT LINDSEY. A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of... Read more

The Mormons

This book is a refreshing and provocative variation from most books on Mormonism because it neither attempts to prove the ultimate truth or falsity of the religion nor is it devoted to the sensational aspects of it. It is not a monumental work devoted to a meticulous study of Mormon history, organization, or theology per se, but to an analysis of these areas as a means of understanding Mormonism... Read more

Joseph Smith's New York Reputation Reexamined

There are those who are champions for what is called "traditional Mormon history," who contend that such history should always be faith promoting; that historians should be selective in what topics they treat and what evidence they will accept. The assumption here is that we cannot finally know the past and that all historical interpretations are entirely subjective. Since one interpretation is... Read more

The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America

Law libraries are generally boring places to outsiders (and to many insiders). Row upon row of identically bound books containing the arguments of long-dead judges hardly make the blood boil or excite the imagination of most. Yet Latter-day Saints venturing into the volumes of United States Supreme Court decisions from the closing decades of the nineteenth century may well be surprised by what... Read more

Joseph Smith and World Government

As part of the latter-day "restitution of all things," a constitution for a political Kingdom of God was revealed to Joseph Smith. The political kingdom with its "Government of God," as the facts have been reconstructed by Dr. Andrus, was supposed to grow "out of the Church" and be subject to the ultimate rule of the priesthood. All officers of the government were to be nominated by priesthood... Read more

Among the Mormons

Virginia Woolf once observed that "few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices." 1 If Miss Woolf is right, many Latter-day Saint readers who are used to... Read more

The Making of a Mormon Apostle: The Story of Rudger Clawson

It is a biographer's maxim that good lives seldom make good biography. According to this view, a saintly life lacks the human tension, contradiction, and dramatic color for a sustained narrative. If this is an accurate generalization, Roy and David Hoopes's biography of their maternal grandfather, Rudger Clawson, provides a well-written exception to the rule. Elder Clawson, of course, was a long-... Read more

The History of the Mormons in Photographs and Text: 1830 to the Present

Tobler and Wadsworth's The History of the Mormons in Photographs and Texts: 1830 to the Present is certainly the most important collection of historic Mormon photographs available to date. Although published in 1989, the sesquicentennial of the invention of photography, the book is essentially a translation of their 1987 volume, Der Weg zum Licht. We were pleased to see an English version of this... Read more

The Mormon Conflict: 1850-1859

This short monograph about the Mormon conflict with the federal government in 1857–58 not only points up one of the most interesting periods of Mormon history, but it also carries much value as a political study in federal-territorial relations. The author is primarily interested in the history of the period, however, and his purpose is to cut away the myths and misconceptions about the conflict... Read more

Pillar of Light: A Historical Novel

Writing from a deep-seated belief in the divinity of the Church's origins, Gerald N. Lund has crafted a well-written and often moving Latter-day Saint historical novelÑa genre in which there are many proclaiming "Lo, here," but in which there are few works about which readers can cry, "Lo, there!" Pillar of Light is a "lo there!" kind of accomplishment, a good novel which I recommend to Latter-... Read more

Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875

The restoration perspective has been employed in American life both as an ideal to be followed and as a guide for judgment. Illusions of Innocence is an excellent study of the restoration perspective in that it not only considers the restoration movement among Puritans, Baptists, Mormons, and "Christians" (referring primarily to movements led by Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, and Benjamin M... Read more

A Reply to the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times

The writing of this book was undertaken by Mr. Richards in acceptance of a challenge in an "open letter" by Mr. Stephen M. Silver "to bring your doctrine forth in a manly way, that it might be put to the test. . . ." It seems that Mr. Silver, whose parents were neighbors to Mr. Richards, had left the L.D.S. Church and joined the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times. Mr. Richards, who... Read more

Basic Chronology

This chronology has been assembled from a variety of sources. I have benefited from a review by various friends and colleagues. Read more

The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America

Polygamy makes for fascinating social history and for best-selling potboilers as well. This study by Sarah Barringer Gordon, who teaches both law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, is the first attempt to write a full-length legal history of "the Principle." It turns out that even in this dry-as-dust genre, polygamy fuels a very dynamic story indeed, one that reveals the rich... Read more

Windows on the Sea and Other Stories

Possibly due to her journalistic background, Linda Sillitoe is a master of situation. Her novel, Sideways to the Sun, traps readers from the first lines and, like a good mystery, releases them only at the final page. Sillitoe's collection of short stories, Windows on the Sea, does it againÑnearly coerces the reader into turning the pages, reading "one more" story, and then another, until the back... Read more

Truth Will Prevail: The Rise of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles, 1837-1987

This is a well-designed and carefully assembled book. The fourteen chapters are arranged in three sections: "The Apostolic Foundation," "Building the Kingdom," and "Looking Forward." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints funded and published the book as part of sesquicentennial celebration of the church's introduction into the British Isles. Apostle Russell M. Nelson wrote the forward... Read more

Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price

According to Harold Lundstrom, music editor of the Deseret News, this commentary is the result of "combining the heretofore unpublished testimonies, observations, research and sound doctrine observations" of George Reynolds, who was the father of the compiler, Philip C. Reynolds, and Janne M. Sjodahl, father-in-law of the compiler. Reynolds and Sjodahl are well-known in Mormon circles for their... Read more

Mormons in Early Victorian Britain

In early nineteenth century Britain, forces of change seemed to be everywhere. Parliament passed the Reform Bill; at the same time, the lower classes, seeking beneficial changes in Parliament, became involved in Chartism. Meanwhile, the middle classes wanted to be rid of the Corn Law Tariff, which benefited the landholding upper classes. Religion was not without its conflicting forces, either:... Read more

Out of the Best Books, Vol. I

Nearly all thinking persons agree that American education needs more humanistic training. The Relief Society has long ago recognized our present need in this regard. This organization has therefore given literary lessons to its members for many years. Indeed, fortunate were members of the Relief Society, and hence the membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when two Brigham... Read more

Saints on the Seas

Roots of Modern Mormonism is complex and insightful, innovative and challenging . . . and troubling. This attempt to analyze Mormonism from the perspective of cultural ecology is the first major study on Mormonism in a number of years to come from a nationally recognized scholar outside the Church and one of the few studies on Mormonism to employ anthropological field techniques. Dr. Leone... Read more

Truth by Reason and by Revelation

This book, upon the much-abused subject of the conflict between science and religion, gives real insight into how one man, a deeply convinced Latter-day Saint and a recognized scientist in the field of biology, has dealt with the conflict. As the title indicates, Dr. Salisbury recognizes two channels to truth: reason, which he equates with the scientific method of experience and logic; and... Read more

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View

In the past several years there has been a noticeably growing interest in alternative explanations for Mormon origins. Perhaps this is due to a certain lingering uneasiness that the present theories of cause are inadequate to explain the magnitude of the effects. At any rate, the most recent attempt to find a more satisfying explanation for Joseph Smith and the religion he founded is D. Michael... Read more

Benediction: A Book of Stories

An old joke asserts that you can't satirize BYU because BYU is its own satire. The gag presumes a reality already so incredible that deliberate caricature would be mistaken for factual report. But of course the joke exaggerates the truth. A wonderful piece of cartoon satire appeared in the Daily Universe less than two years ago: a beautiful young woman stands at the pulpit in a BYU ward, her... Read more

Brigham Young University: A House of Faith

This is an interesting, provocative, tedious, titillating, mistitled, informative, tendentious, and important book. An endorsement on the back cover describes Brigham Young University: A House of Faith as a "foray into some of the tensions which have bedeviled the history" of the school. The book's central issue is summarized in the words of BYU alumnus and former University of Oregon President O... Read more

In Search of the Republic

In Search of the Republic provides evidence of a remarkable change in American scholarship on the founding of the United States. This study by Richard Vetterli and Gary Bryner is all the more valuable in proportion as the change they record has heretofore passed unperceived. Where once scholarship debated the question whether the United States were founded purely on material considerations and a... Read more

New Testament Introduction: The Gospels and Acts

The final volume of Guthrie's trilogy reviewing the entire New Testament is welcomed by many who have come to appreciate the British professor's wide grasp of secondary literature and gift for lucid expression. An "introduction" to the New Testament may be a technical work for the specialist or a survey of the field. Guthrie fits the latter category, but his lack of superficiality dictates review... Read more

The Synoptic Problem

Although the subtitle promises a critical analysis, Professor Farmer devotes the bulk of his space to a history of scholarship on the synoptic question. The book is noteworthy, therefore, as a challenge to the establishment (which maintains the priority of Mark and assumes document "Q" to explain correlations of Matthew and Luke) rather than as a work which proves its point. The latter, as a... Read more

Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone and Other Stories

This well-designed book with cover an by Royden Card will be warmly welcomed by Douglas Thayer's many readers. The stories are vintage Thayer, well-honed, not recognizably Mormon, but definitively Western. The five stories present themes familiar to Thayer's readers: young men in search of themselves, testing their wits and their courage against a challenging landscape. Sometimes in a cowboy-... Read more

John Lyon: The Life of a Pioneer Poet

In this sixth volume of the BYU Religious Studies Center's Specialized Monograph Series, Ted Lyon provides a perceptive life study of his talented great-grandfather poet as well as a needed cultural history. The book is well organized, extensively researched, effectively written, handsomely packaged, and an important history/biography. What more could we ask of a book or its author? When John... Read more

History and Faith: Reflections of a Mormon Historian

This declaration of faith by one of Brigham Young University's distinguished professors and Mormon historians, comes out of a lifetime of studying, writing, and teaching Mormon history, and as such deserves serious attention from a wide readership. A personal testimony on matters of faith, it also evokes the richness of Richard D. Poll's experience in teaching students and dealing with their... Read more