Category: Book Reviews

A Review: The Last Called Mormon Colonization

Growing up in Utah, I heard many pioneer stories about my ancestors and their colleagues who traveled west to settle the Intermountain West region. I found, however, that many of the stories focused on the journey itself rather than the years that followed as they established settlements and survived in an arid region. The latter half is just as important, as is the observation that many people uprooted their lives repeatedly to settle more remote areas beyond the Wasatch Front in Utah. One dramatic story of that sort is among the last that could be considered pioneering—the settling of the Big Horn Basin in northern Wyoming in the early twentieth century.

A Review: Buffalo Bill and the Mormons

Buffalo Bill and the Mormons by Brent M. Rogers is a fun and interesting book about the intersections of “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s life with the Latter-day Saints. The basic idea is that the American superstar, soldier, bison hunter, and showman launched his acting career at a time when anti-Mormon propaganda had become a profitable and popular area of storytelling. Cody embraced using Latter-day Saints as stock villains in his storylines, portraying Latter-day Saints as enemies of the proper home. Cody was, of course, the defender of the proper home in the plays in which he performed and seems to have initially believed the messages of that propaganda to some degree. 

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains: Sacred Houses of the Lord in Utah by Richard O. Cowan and Clinton D. Christensen (BYU RSC and Deseret Book Company, 2023) helped me solve a long-time mystery about my life. You see, when I was six years old, I went to the Vernal, Utah Temple open house. For some reason, I walked away believing that there was only one temple baptismal font for the whole church that they just moved between temples. I even told my Primary that is what I learned at the open house when they asked me about it. Obviously, that’s not the case—each temple has its own baptismal font (and the book also informed me that there are some temples that will soon have two baptismal fonts)—but I have always wondered what led me to that conclusion. 

The Heart of the Matter: A Review

The Heart of the Matter, by President Russell M. Nelson, is a book to live by. It serves as a collection and presentation of his core messages as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and provides guidance for both belief and living as a member of that church.

Sins of Christendom: A Review

Anti-Mormon literature is always a touchy subject, but Sins of Christendom: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Evangelicalism by Nathaniel Wiewora handles it deftly, putting it in a broader context of change and debate within Evangelical Christianity. 

American Zion: A Review

If I were to ever write a single-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope that it would turn out like Benjamin E. Park’s American Zion: A New History of Mormonism (Liveright, 2024). It is a very nuanced, insightful, and well-written take on Latter-day Saint history in the United States. It takes into account viewpoints from many different groups that have been a part of the Latter-day Saint movement over the years or who have split from the Church into their own faith communities. American Zion also builds upon a lot of important research that has happened since Matthew Bowman published The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith in 2012 (the previous reigning academic history of the Church). Five stars out of five, as far as I’m concerned.

The Testimony of Two Nations: A Review

The Testimony of Two Nations: How the Book of Mormon Reads, and Rereads, the Bible by Michael Austin (University of Illinois Press, 2024) is a delightful and insightful venture into the ways in which the Book of Mormon interacts with the Bible.

No Division Among You: A Review

No Division Among You: Creating Unity in a Diverse Church, ed. Richard Eyre (Deseret Book, 2023) is a beautiful book in its intentions and efforts. The book is a collection of 14 essays that discuss ways to view the need for unity while embracing diversity. Each essay is by a different author, bringing in diverse perspectives of members who identify across the spectrum—Black and White, homosexual and heterosexual, male and female. Each shared experiences and perspectives that help build frameworks for how to approach unity as a diverse church.

Latter-day Saint Book Review: A Life of Jesus, by Shusaku Endo

A Life of Jesus is an introduction to the life of Christ by renowned Catholic Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, the author of Silence, a book set during the early persecutions of Christians in Japan. Much of Endo’s work revolves around the tensions of being a Catholic in a very non-Christian country, and this book was written as a guide to the life of Christ specifically for people with a Japanese religious disposition who are less receptive to harsh, jealous, father-figure Gods. 

Chad’s Top 10 Book List from 2023

In case it’s of use to anyone, I’ve prepared a list of my top 10 books that I’ve read this last year. (That can include books that were not published within the last year, though the majority of them were published in 2023 or 2022):

Stay Thou Nearby: A Review

The 1852–1978 priesthood and temple ban on Blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those affected most directly by it. I have been grateful, however, for efforts in the Church to address the issue more openly in recent years, including several publications from Deseret Book relating to the subject. These include both My Lord, He Calls Me and Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood, with the most recent contribution to the subject from Deseret Book being Stay Thou Nearby: Reflections on the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood. 

Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator, a Review

I have to say that I’m a fan of the trend towards short, accessible biographies of notable figures in Latter-day Saint history. Between University of Illinois Press’s “Introductions to Mormon Thought” series and Signature Books’s “Brief Biography,” there is a lot of excellent work being published. One of the most recent, Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator by George B. Handley (University of Illinois Press, 2023), is a stellar addition to the library of any Latter-day Saint.

Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century: A Review

Alicia Harris—an Assistant Professor of Native American Art History at the University of Oklahoma—wrote that “If the LDS Church really can work for all peoples, we need to more attentively listen, hear, and be represented by a much greater variety of voices. We must more actively prepare a place for dual identities to be touched and nurtured in the culture of the gospel.” Farina King’s Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century (University Press of Kansas, 2023) provides a great opportunity to do just that by listening to the experiences of the Diné dóó Gáamalii (Navajo Latter-day Saints).

Review: Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, “Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance”

Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye’s new book, Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance, confirms her status as reigning queen of great subtitles. It also confirms her status as one of our tradition’s most insightful pastoral-ecclesiological thinkers, worthy heir to the great Chieko Okazaki. Melissa has the professional training, the personal background and experience, and most of all the unwavering faith in Zion to raise the most important questions about this precarious moment in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Inouye sees that the global expansion of the Church urgently requires a re-formation of North American Saints’ sense of ingroup identity to take in the full sweep of our tiny-but-worldwide membership. At the same time, the solidarity of the North American Church is being tested as never before by the fracturing effects of politics expanding its salience in all forms of association, including churches. She cogently asks, given global inequality, cultural acrimony, and the aggressive incursion of ideologies, “With such different understandings of how the gospel of Jesus Christ should unfold in everyday life, in a local political and cultural context, what holds us together?” (163).  The opportunities and challenges of global Mormonism have taken center stage in Mormon Studies of late. What makes Inouye’s treatment different is its framing in Latter-day Saint theology. Melissa places the struggle for Zion in the context of the plan of salvation–our Heavenly Parents’ ongoing intention to teach…

Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Review

Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2023) is an important contribution to Book of Mormon studies. As a cultural history of the gold plates, the book traces the story of the plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon, reactions to the story and the development of folklore about the gold plates over the subsequent two centuries. It also discusses how the plates have been portrayed in artwork and literature, used in teaching programs in the Church, and some of the debates about the plates.  Even while visiting the story of the plates—as he has before in Rough Stone Rolling and Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism—Bushman provides fresh perspectives on the story. For example, he focuses on the idea that Joseph Smith may not have understood the purpose of the plates as a record that needed to be translated initially, rather than being a treasure. At first, Joseph Smith may have approached the plates with his treasure hunting in mind rather than a religious perspective. After all, the idea of a book-length record on gold plates wasn’t really something that was a common idea. It was only gradually, as he became acquainted with the interpreters and what was on the plates that he realized it needed to be translated. It was a perspective that I’ve not seen emphasized before (at least within my memory). As you read, you can tell…

Harold B. Lee: Life and Thought: A Review

Harold B. Lee: Life and Thought by Newell G. Bringhurst (Signature Books, 2021) is a highly affordable and readable biography of one of the most influential figures in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although his tenure as president of the Church was short, Harold B. Lee had already reshaped much of the Church’s administration in the forms of Correlation, the Welfare Program and the mentoring of general authorities even before becoming the prophet-president. Bringhurst explores the life of this remarkable man in this volume of Signature Books’s Mormon Lives (or brief biographies) series.

Let’s Talk about Science and Religion – A Review

Back when I was studying biological engineering in college, I remember one Sunday where a stake high councilor came and spoke in our ward. He based his remarks on Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk “Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage”. When he discussed how “Turning from the worship of the true and living God and worshipping false gods” results in forms of “spiritual, physical, and intellectual bondage,” the high councilor decided to add his own embellishments and examples of what those types of bondage looked like. His first example of intellectual bondage was the belief that organic evolution was real. Given my field of study and life experiences, that went over like a lead balloon. And yet, I at least understood where he came from. I can remember talking with an evangelical farmer at the edge of his property in rural Iowa on my mission and talking about evolution. The farmer was accusing Mormons of believing in evolution, which was a grievous sin in his eyes, and I was trying to convince him that because Bruce R. McConkie said that belief in evolution was wrong, Latter-day Saints were required to reject evolution (since he was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator), so the farmer didn’t need to feel concerned about that aspect of our religion. While I was very conflicted about rejecting evolution, at the time I was also in the camp that essentially believes that Bruce R. McConkie…

George Q. Cannon: Politician, Publisher, Apostle of Polygamy: A Review

George Q. Cannon: Politician, Publisher, Apostle of Polygamy by Kenneth L. Cannon II is an entry in the Signature Books brief biographies series focused on one of the most influential and best-known Latter-day Saints in the 19th century. As a missionary, publisher, representative for Utah Territory to the United States Congress, businessman, apostle, and long-term First Presidency member, he accomplished a lot during his lifetime. The brief biographies are essentially a Latter-day Saint version of the Penguin Lives series that was published by the Penguin Random House and Viking Press–short, accessible biographies of notable individuals. At 250 pages (plus index material), this George Q. Cannon biography pushes the bounds of “brief”, but the subject led such a big life and left so many records of his efforts and accomplishments that it is understandable why it didn’t fit into 100-150 pages.

Joseph Smith and the Mormons: A review

Joseph Smith and the Mormons, by Noah Van Sciver, is a fantastic addition to Mormon literature. And while not written as devotional literature, this graphic novelization of Joseph Smith’s life is very well-researched and makes a lot of effort to portray things in a fair and open manner. And the book itself is beautiful in its presentation.

Vengeance Is Mine

The story goes that J. Golden Kimball was once preaching to a crowd in the South and became concerned when he noticed that only men were present. As he opened his mouth to talk, however, All at once something came over me and I opened my mouth and said, . . . ‘Gentlemen, you have not come here to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . You have come to find out about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and polygamy, and God being my helper I will tell you the truth.’ And I did. I talked to them for one hour. When the meeting was out you could hear a pin drop. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a topic that tends to have that effect, and a long-anticipated book on the topic is about to come out. Vengeance Is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Barbara Jones Brown is an exceptional and highly-recommended book that delves deep into the aftermath of the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre. The authors have done a remarkable job in presenting a comprehensive and detailed account of the massacre and its cover-up. The book is a follow-up to the 2008 publication Massacre at Mountain Meadows and takes readers on a journey through the aftermath of the gruesome massacre. It examines the attempts of the local southern Utah leaders to conceal their crime by suppressing witnesses and disseminating lies. Government…

Voice of the Saints in Mongolia

Voice of the Saints in Mongolia by Po Nien (Felipe) Chou and Petra Chou is an informative account of the establishment and growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mongolia. As the first comprehensive history of the Church in Mongolia, the book breaks historical ground and provides valuable insights into the challenges and blessings of bringing the gospel to a rugged, harsh climate and a people with deeply rooted (non-Christian) beliefs and traditions.

Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood

Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood by W. Paul Reeve is a thought-provoking and insightful book that explores some key aspects of the intersection of race and religion in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To me, this volume is up there with Brittany Chapman Nash’s Let’s Talk About Polygamy as both the best and most important entries in a fantastic series. Reeve, a professor of history at the University of Utah, draws on his extensive research to provide a nuanced and detailed account of the Church’s racial policies and practices from its founding in the early 19th century to the present day.

The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, Revised Edition

Thomas Wayment’s The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, Revised Edition is an exceptional resource for anyone, and particularly a Latter-day Saint, interested in studying the New Testament from a fresh and modern perspective through its clear and readable translation, insightful commentary, and expanded introductory material. One of the standout features of this book is its readability. The translation is clear, easy to understand, and faithful to the original text. The text flows well and is not bogged down by archaic language or convoluted syntax, making it more accessible than, say, a 400-year old translation. In many ways, I also found it more accessible than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (my usual go-to translation). Additionally, the commentary in the footnotes is insightful and enriching. Wayment provides helpful background information on cultural and historical contexts, as well as offering his own interpretations of certain passages. The footnotes are well-researched and thought-provoking, providing a deeper understanding of the text without being overly wordy or academic. The revised edition differs from the original in several ways. First, the revised edition includes upwards of two hundred updates and corrections to both the translation and the footnotes, taking into account recent scholarship to improve the accuracy of the translation. Second, the revised edition features expanded introductory material that includes discussions of the Joseph Smith Translation and on reading scripture, which were both interesting and helpful. Finally, the appendices detailing the instances in which…

My Lord, He Calls Me

To say that My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith by Black American Latter-day Saints, ed. Alice Faulkner Burch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2022) is an important collection would be an understatement.  While small (clocking in at 225 pages), the volume contains around 35 chapters written by Black American Latter-day Saints, including conversion stories, testimonies, and other experiences and thoughts. The contributors cover a range of ages and time periods, including the words of 19th century Latter-day Saints–like Jane Elizabeth Manning James or Samuel Davidson Chambers–to contemporary teenagers in the Church. In addition, several poems are also included that are quite powerful and touching. The book was compiled with several reasons in mind. As explained in the introduction: “It is meant to strengthen and aid the Black American Latter-day Saint community as well as educate other members of the Church who want to better understand the experiences of Black American Latter-day Saints…. Ultimately, the hope of this book is to help all Church members become united through better understanding or another.”  As part of opening a view into the experiences of Black American Latter-day Saints, the book does not shy away from discussing racism. The intro begins by noting that the experiences shared in the book “offer sacred truths in maintaining faith while overcoming challenges, including racism,” among other things. Individuals share experiences where they have experienced racism. For example, Hayle and Millie Fletcher write that: “Since…

Imperial Zions

Latter-day Saints in the 19th century existed at a paradoxical intersection of American history.  When they fled to Alta California to settle the Great Basin, they were refugees fleeing from the United States.  Defiantly practicing plural marriage in the face of federal laws that opposed the principle, they came to face a heavy-handed effort by Americans to colonize their community of Deseret to match the broader American culture.  At the same time, they were colonizers in their own right, settling land claimed by other peoples for hundreds of years by dispossessing the Native Americans, while also launching a missionary effort into the Pacific Ocean.  In Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto explores these paradoxes and how the Latter-day Saints (Euro-American, Native American, and Pacific Islander) navigated them. In many ways, Imperial Zions itself sits at the intersection of several landmark studies of Latter-day Saint history, synthesizing them together while building on that foundation.  I felt like it brought together W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color (Oxford University Press, 2015), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females (Knopf, 2017), Darren Parry’s The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History (BCC Press, 2019), and Hokulani Aikau’s A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) together in one place to have a conversation and work out how they all fit together in a larger…

Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints

The Maxwell Institute at BYU recently published Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints, and it is a fantastic journey into early Christianity geared specifically to Latter-day Saints.  Through a collection of 14 essays dealing with topics ranging from praxis and worship to scripture and theology, the key elements of Christianity during its first several centuries (and beyond) are addressed in an accessible way.  The discussions are punctuated by a large collection of artwork produced by early Christians, spread throughout the book in beautiful detail. When approaching Latter-day Saint writings about early Christianity, I’m generally concerned that it will be an effort to convince people that the ancient Church was identical to the modern one in a polemic effort to reinforce the traditional apostasy-restoration narrative.  Ancient Christians quickly dispatched that concern, with Jason R. Combs discussing this at length in the introduction.  He notes that: “rather than dismissing entire epochs as corrupt … today we work to understand ancient Christians on their own terms.”  He added that: “We cannot assume that today’s Church is a template for what the first-century Church must have been, or vice versa.  For that reason, in this book, our authors acknowledge the differences between ancient Christians and Latter-day Saints without automatically assuming such differences to be evidence of apostasy.”  In this way, Ancient Christians both compliments and expands on some of the concepts discussed in Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy (Oxford University…