THE MORMONS, An illustrated history of

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Roy A. Prete has edited and Merrell has published a new coffee-table book titled The Mormons An Illustrated History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here’s the publisher’s pitch to make you want a copy:

From its establishment in 1830 in New York State, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown to be a world religion with almost 15 million members in 150 countries. Mormons are so called on account of their belief in the Book of Mormon, which tells the story of the ancient people of America. The Mormons is the only illustrated history of its kind, and traces the faith from its foundation by Joseph Smith and the early days of intense persecution to the building of Salt Lake City under the leadership of Brigham Young and the massive expansion of the Church in the second half of the twentieth century. The book offers perspectives on the Church’s core values by those who practise the faith every day. Contributions from a range of Mormon experts consider a variety of topics ““ including the origins, beliefs and practices of the religion, its phenomenal success in recent decades as the Church has become increasingly international, its relationship to other churches, and the lifestyle of its members ““ making this the perfect introduction to Mormonism, one of the fastest-growing Christian churches in the world.

“¢The only pictorial introduction of its kind on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“¢Insightful contributions by Mormon scholars on the origins of the Church, its core beliefs and the lifestyle of its members

“¢With more than 250 colour photographs and drawings

The promotional fellow who sent me a copy suggested the volume “should appeal to Mormons and non-Mormons alike.” He said so because I asked who the intended audience was. I asked who the intended audience was because I couldn’t figure it out just by looking.

Since they contacted AMV for a review, I assumed that the book was at least in part aimed at a Mormon audience, but reading the book made that harder to accept. Certainly, I’m not the target audience—there’s nothing in this book I don’t already know or haven’t already seen, and I for one crave novelty—or at least innovative packaging of old ideas.

But I should rush to admit that although the articles are all utterly obvious to a Latter-day Saint, any publisher who fails to recognize our near-endless capacity as a people to navelgaze will be missing out on a money-making opportunity indeed. And if you’re going to be reading about things you already know, it might as well be by such writers as respectable as Susan Easton Black or as blowhard as Brent L. Top.

All the same, a sidebar called “Polygamy Not Practiced by Mormons” suggests an oblivious obviousness that even those Saints who find comfort in the safest of pabulum must find tedious.

The book’s dimensions are large but not huge (Amazon measures it as 10.9 x 8.6 x 1 inches), yet its cover price is only $34.95. Which certainly suggests to me the book is intended for popular consumption, not libraries only. And I don’t know who purchases books this size for themselves (I don’t and it seems they’re always on remainder racks), so I’ve arrived at the theory that the best chance this book has to make a living is as a gift given by Mormons to their nonMormon friends. It’s cheap enough to buy several, expensive enough to be impressive. And so I am going to review it as such a gift—first as a gift for a Saint to give, then as a gift for a Gentile to receive.

AS A GIFT TO GIVE

Pros:

1. It’s published by an outside-of-Utah publisher, so you know it’s legit. It even lists the price in £s first! If England takes us seriously, my friend should take this gift seriously.

2. It includes a fawning blurb from Matthew Bowman who’s also been published by a legit not-in-Utah publisher and has even been on television. Television!

3. Lots of pretty pictures.

4. Nothing controversial.

5. We sound nice—plenty of talk about welfare and BYU and the Osmonds.

6. Written very very very clearly. So very clearly.

7. Written by authors with plenty of authority, both as Church members and as academics.

Cons:

1. Yeah, these are nice photos, but they’re stock photos, not, say, journalism. I recognize some from Church magazines and webpages, but anyone will be able to tell they’re staged. Doesn’t that seem a bit . . . subhonest?

2. Every essay is so polished we come off too perfect; this may do more for our Stepford image than our human image.

3. I hope my friends won’t notice this because the information’s new to them, but holy crap this is boring. But I guess that’s fine as long as my goal isn’t to have them read the thing, but just to get a nice picture of a temple in their house.

mormonsmerrell

Not sure if a pro or a con:

1. The “Mormons Who Have Made a Difference” are the Osmonds,  Gladys Knight, Stephenie Meyer, Don Bluth, David Archuleta, Peter Vidmar (the gymnast), Jabari Parker (still only 18), Torah Bright, Steve Young, Dale Murphy, Danny Ainge, Johnny Miller (the golfer), Hyrum Smith (the Franklin guy), the Marriotts, David Neeleman (the JetBlue guy), Gary Crittenden (the finance guy), Stephen R. Covey, John Huntsman (Sr and Jr), the Ashtons (WordPerfect), Dave Checketts (another JetBlue guy), Tracy Hall (chemist), Philo Farnsworth, Henry Eyring (the chemist), Harvey Fletcher (the father of stereophonic sound), Russell M. Nelson, Larry Echo Hawk, Orrin Hatch, Harry Reid, and Mitt Romney. I would love to have sat in on the conversations that resulted in these decisions.

AS A GIFT TO RECEIVE

Pros:

1. A solid piece of book! This thing is serious and reasonably attractive!

2. So many pictures! I can look through this whole thing in an afternoon, look at every page, read a bit here and there, and be able to honestly say I “read” it!

3. Although overwhelmingly positive, not overt propaganda. I can let my kids look at this.

4. I had no idea Harlem had such a sweet Mormon building.

Cons:

1. Unless I happen to have a good spot for odd-shaped books, where am I going to keep this?

2. I mean—if I put this on my coffee table, will my friends be offended?

CONCLUSION

If you are a Mormon looking for a Mormonish gift for a friend who’s not a Mormon, The Mormons is a good choice. It’s safe and clean and informative. Just what you were looking for.

And based on the first two Amazon reviews, people less easily bored than me love this book.

Mormon review:

As a member of the church, this book overwhelmingly resonated with me. What I felt as I read it was that this book really captures who I am and what my church is all about. While I definitely want a copy in a prominent place in my home, I can hardly wait to share “The Mormons” with friends and neighbors who are not of my faith but who know me (and perhaps other Mormons).

Gentile review:

Having been to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and being a long-time fan of the weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast, I had an interest in looking through The Mormons: An Illustrated History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What I found was stunning–

 

9 thoughts on “THE MORMONS, An illustrated history of”

  1. We got a copy of this at work a while ago–I wasn’t blown away like I was in 1995 when The Mission came out (a much better, much more journalistic and eclectic look at the Church and its members), but I wasn’t offended or bothered either. I think this particular book will work best as an introductory text for people not familiar with the Church, like in libraries or as a gift from members themselves. I have a feeling that a lot of copies will be sold to members and given to other members as Christmas gifts though.

  2. Your review made me laugh. This book looks like a waste of paper to me.

    (Dave Checketts is more of a sports guy than a JetBlue guy. Does the book not point that out? I only know this because Dave is a friend. This leads me to wonder: what else have they gotten slightly or mostly wrong?)

  3. I second what Luisa said about Checketts. Definitely a sports guy.

    I also wonder about calling them “Mormons who made a difference,” instead of “Mormons who are well known and successful.” The latter seems like a more accurate description.

    I assume that they don’t mention that Hyrum Smith was once excommunicated?

    A very charitable review, Th.

  4. My guess is it’s for Mormons to buy and put in a prominent place in the very middle of their coffee tables so that non-Mormon visitors will feel obligated to ask about it. And then, you know, missionary moment.

  5. Third time is the charm. Checketts is on the board at Jet Blue–but not an officer. General Stanley McChrystal is also on the board, but I don’t think you’d say that he’s in the airline business.

    And Checketts’s work has all been in sports management/ownership: the Utah Jazz, the NY Knicks/Madison Square Garden, the St. Louis Blues and Real Salt Lake.

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