It has been one year since the volume Saints: The Standard of Truth (1815-1846) came out in print and in electronic format. I remember waking up on the morning of September 4th, 2018 and finding the volume in the Gospel Library App on my smartphone. Although I was given a pre-publication copy a couple of weeks earlier, it was now available to everyone. I finished reading it by the end of September and this review is long overdue. For what it matters now, I too wish to share my impressions on this important publication: a true milestone in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
First of all, my hat off to the Church History Department and all the historians, writers, and editors that took part in the production of this labor-intensive volume. I was in Vermont in 2005, at the Mormon History Association conference, when the then Church Historian, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, publicly announced the Joseph Smith Papers (JSPs) project. From the description of it, I was unsure how learning more about the life of Joseph Smith and the early years of the Church was going to impact the lives of the members in this generation differently than what we already had and knew. As volumes from the JSPs began to come out in print and published digitally with all the added exclusive online material, resources and cross-references, I was simply overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of this award-winning and comprehensive endeavor, still I was not able to grasp yet how all of this work was going to be a blessing in the lives of the Church members, as the project seemed to appeal to only a small fraction of LDS scholars. It wasn’t until I start noting other resources such as the new LDS edition of the standard works in 2013, the Gospel Topics on churchofjesuschrist.org, the new institute and seminary manuals and other resources available on the Gospel Library app that I really began to appreciate all that the Church History department in Salt Lake City was doing. The rigorous scholarship that went into collecting, editing and publishing the JSPs was finally paying off and the most relevant information was finding its way quickly in the homes and on the devices of all Church members worldwide. Therefore, I welcomed with great joy the publication of the volume Saints: The Standard of Truth (1815-1846), the first one of a series of at least four volumes tentatively comprising the following periods in the history of the Church: Volume 1 (1815-1846), Volume 2 (up to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893), Volume 3 (up to the dedication of the Swiss temple in 1955) and Volume 4 (up to the present time). I expected the quality of this work to be at the same level of everything that was made available previously thanks to the added knowledge that came from the JSPs project.
I have been a member of the Church for more than forty years. As a convert in my native country of Italy, my upbringing in the newly found faith was quite lonely as members were few and all of us were in needed to learn firsthand the doctrines and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We did not enjoy a multi-generation legacy of Mormonism in all of its facets. In the small congregation I grew up in, there were not descendants of Mormon pioneers, important Church leaders or the progeny of polygamous families. It was all new to us and the material available in our language was limited to a few manuals and articles. However, we devoured all that it was available and our lessons and talks at Church were basics and sincere, relying on the little we had in our hands. Very few knew enough English to read additional material and resources, although those were hard to get by. There were no Internet or Smartphones. The little we had, we studied it carefully and we thought we had a pretty sound knowledge of the Restored Gospel and the history of the Church. As I served a full-time mission in the US, I was grateful to learn the language of the restoration and to have access to books and articles that were difficult to buy in Italy. Going to BYU put in me in contact with a whole new world of scholarly religious education. Although you are required to take seven religious courses to graduate, I was able to complete my bachelor degree in three and a half years, including fourteen of such religious classes. I was blessed with the gift of learning and with the gift of teaching and sharing with others what I learned. Why am I saying all of this about myself when this review is about the volume Saints? Well, I thought that notwithstanding my “humble” beginning, I was able to acquired all that there was to be known about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The coming forth of Saints in 2018 taught me otherwise. It was as if I was reading this story for the first time in my life. Yes, I was familiar with the main characters. Yes, I knew already the main events of the restoration. However, the story was fresh, as if it was told and I heard it for the first time. The details helped me contextualize the events. The transparency provided me with a more objective 360-degree view of what happened to the Church in its first few decades since its beginning. The voice of many new personages that sacrificed and contributed to the laying of the foundation for this sacred work was heard for the first time, particularly the voice of early sisters in the Gospel. I particularly enjoyed and I am grateful for how the editors decided to avoid presentisms by describing the events from the point of view of those that lived the restoration of the Gospel firsthand and not from the readers’ perspective. For example, the name Cumorah for the hill where Joseph Smith Jr. found the golden plates is not used in the historical account by him or any of his contemporaries at the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon. The reason is that such label was given only subsequently and it was not used by those that lived at that specific historical time.
Another important feature of Saints is its transparency. Almost every paragraph in the book has a footnote to the original documents from where the historical detail was retrieved. Every fact or quotation is taken from an historical source, which is properly referenced. It is my opinion that either something could be documented and therefore included in the story, or else, if documents could not be found, no speculation replaced the gap in the historical narrative. In other words, although it is nearly impossible to be bias-free when retelling the origins and first years of the restoration, reading Saints feels as objective as history could be written. I also appreciate the employment of creative writers. Keeping in mind that everything in Saints has been carefully documented and referenced as stated before, the use of talented writers keeps the story moving, while engaging the reader and maintaining a high interest level. Although I was familiar with the general story line (first vision, Book of Mormon translation, Palmyra, Kirtland, Nauvoo, polygamy, etc. etc.), at the end of each chapter, I could not wait to read the next one as if it was the first time that I heard it all.
I am grateful for the great work the Church History Department has punt into creating a very much needed updated history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I am looking forward about volume two, which first three chapters are already available online and on the Gospel Library app.
Before you begin, Make sure you read the message from the First Presidency and the Preface! This will set the stage well! Brigham Young was inspired when he stated that the church history should be written in the narrative. As an historian and teacher of history I have read many books and they can be dry, but this book in the narrative allows you truly feel the emotions and spirit of these early saints! This books does not sugar coat this early period in Church History! But knowing that this period called, The Second Great Awakening", only testifies that with so many faiths born of this period that would eventually fail, the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ under the direction of a true prophet of God could the Church have survived! No other religious faith arising during this time suffered and were persecuted as the saints had been, yet the Lords church survived! The Saints allows you to feel the humane nature of men, and women! That in adversity, even the best will struggle and can fall! As the books describes, so many faithful were unable to put aside the natural man. Joseph Smith is described as a man, husband, father and a prophet of God! He was human and thus imperfect! He loved the Lord and the Saints and only attempted do his best! The one thing that I got out of this book, is that as a member of the church for all of my 56 years, I'm doing OK! In spit of all that these early Saints went through, the work described in the book continues! As Joseph Smith stated, "No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing"
I loved listening to the history. Thanks for the effort to make learning about the history of the church so easy!
I love that i can learn about the church.
I love it and I KNOW it is true, some people are angry and confused because of “plural marrage” but in this book and Joseph Smith History it says that Joseph was only sealed to other women for their deceased husbands, he was commanded to take on and and have kids with other people but to follow one of the commandments, to multiply and replenish the ears across America and spread the gospel, but he loved Emma too much to do so, this is what I think people should understand. Anyway, this book is one of my FAVORITE books EVER!!!! LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!
I absolutely love this book and as everyone else has said I can't wait to the next one to come out..
Thank You to the MANY people that have done the extensive work on this book. I only wish that I had it when teaching Church History as a seminary teacher. This is a very well done historic narration and very much needed in the world today.
I have read most of the events but never together so expertly. Thank You for all you have done. Indeed, the gospel is still being restored upon the earth, as we are all pioneers.
I got this book as a birthday present. It is really a joy to read and I am just in the beginning of it, BUT when I come to page 22 I see that the author writes that the Book of Mormon is a record of "an ancient people who once lived in the Americas". The Americas for me (and I suppose for everybody else) means both North and South America. And I think it is a false thing to insinuate that the people in the Book of Mormon had ever lived in South America.. As far as I have heard there has never been any evidences that those people have lived there. The Hill Cumorah - and there is only one Hill Cumorah - is far from South America and since the last battles took place in the nearby areas and the plates were hidden there, it has nothing to do with South America. (Please excuse me if I have misspelled any words, because Swedish is my native language.) I hope you don't take offense of this, but right has to be right.
Okay, I rarely give 5 star reviews, but this book was too good to put down. The book brings much of the church history together in a way that helps us understand how imperfect people and difficult situations were part of the restoration in this dispensation (just as it was in others).
I feel sorry for those that wrote a review chastising the content about apostasy, polygamy, adultery and more, and how it has weighed negatively upon their testimonies.
ONE SHOULD REALIZE THAT THE CHURCH HISTORY WAS NOT ALL PEACHES AND CREAM, REALIZE THE IMPERFECTIONS THEN AND THE SAME IMPERFECTIONS EXIST TODAY. DWELL MORE ON THE PREMATURE DEATHS OF THE sAINTS OWING TO POOR WATER SUPPLIES, NOT MUCH SANITATION, THE MOB VIOLENCE, AND THE EXTREME WEATHER AND TERRAIN CONDITIONS THEY ENDURED
sURE THERE WERE APOSTASY INCIDENTS, AND AM SURE THERE ARE THE SAME PROBLEMS ONLY WE DON'T WRITE ABOUT ALL OF THEM. bE THANKFUL WE LIVE IN A TIME OF IMPROVED SANITATION, BETTER COMMUNICATION, MORE ORGANIZATION, MORE REVELATION AND ENLIGHTENMENT, AND BETTER LONGEVITY. tHE POLYGAMY ISSUE IS OF A DIFFERENT ORGANIZATION, ADULTERY STILL IS PREVALENT THO CONFINED TO BISHOPS PRIVATE INTERVIEWS AND NOT EMBLAZONED ON THE PAGES OF A BOOK.
THERE WERE DISSENTERS THEN, AND ARE STILL AROUND. yOUR TESTIMONY SHOULD BE INCREASED BY SCRIPTURE STUDY, BY BETTER JOB S AVAILABLE, LESS OF AN AGRARIAN EXISTENCE, MORE COMPLETE, REVELATION AND GUIDANCE OUTLINED IN GENERAL CONFERENCE, AND INCREASED TEMPLE ATTENDANCE AND AVAILABILITY. i AM THOROUGHLY ENJOYING THE BOOK AND TREATING IT FOR WHAT IT IS.... A HISTORY AS IS THE bible and the Book of Mormon which also was replete with accomplishments, revelation, disappointments and sometimes adverse and negative behaviors
This book is so fabulous. It has been an answer to prayer.
I loved this book. It showed how hard it was in those days and made understand more fully why the Saints reacted as they did in later years. A strong people who went through so much. I would like to think that my testimony would have stayed strong through such trying times. We may yet have to go through hard times. Reading what they went through should help us prepare to some extent. I liked the open honesty in this book and look forward to volume 2.
Let me just start out by saying that I do not like reading history. I get bored and it is hard for me to follow sometimes. This book was amazing. There was so much information gathered from so many different sources of the same event to help portray what actually happened. The book reads like a novel though. It was so easy to get into and hard to stop reading. This is not a “Best Church Events from the Early Days of the Church” book. It tells the full stories, good and not so good, of the events that happened to start the church and how the church continued after (Spoiler Alert) Joseph Smith is martyred. I can’t wait to read the next three.
I am so glad the church is making this new series. It is time we have an accurate, honest history of the Church and its beginning. There are several topics, such as polygamy that are brought out to the light. Many things were not perfect. They were all learning together, but they were doing their best. I am grateful for the many stories of faith, forgiveness, etc that are also shown throughout the book. This is a great book, but it is also has to be read with understanding and care or one could get offended or question their faith. This is a great book for teens and adults who want to understand the beginnings of the church better. I would recommend it to everyone.
I’m extremely disheartened to say that I did not love this book and found that, if anything, it shook my faith rather than bolstered it. I was not expecting that, as an incredibly active member who considers myself to be truly converted. The story is written in an engaging and easy to read format. I quite enjoyed it at first but I was increasingly upset as I read further and further- it just got weird and felt cult-like, to be frank. Stories about secret plural marriage and freemasonry and apostles fistfighting each other and so much apostasy and contempt among the First Presidency and Twelve, members [portrayed as] blindly following Joseph, if not being expected to... seems so different from the church I belong to today. I felt very much that I would have left the Church had I lived during those early days with so many things that made me squirm as I read. Sad to discover that learning more about Church history made me so uncomfortable.
Wow! This book was phenomenal!! I loved every single page. I really liked they added events like when plural marriage was introduced and the surrounding events. I feel like this really opens up the opportunity to learn about church history events that many people believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hid from its members. I don't believe that. I can't wait for volume 2!!
This book was very interesting. I learned so much! I was happy that the church choose to be so transparent about many things, like Joseph Smith practicing polygamy, etc and the reasons why it was practiced. I loved learning the stories of many of the new church members, I was surprised how many stories were new to me as a life-long member of the Church. This is a very large book that took me some time to get through, but now that I am done with it I want to go back and read it again to take in even more. I am very happy the church chose to publish this history, I am excited to read the future publications!
Been a member of the church for almost 30 years. I have read and studied much of church history. This particular book in no way feels edifying or uplifting to me.
Seems to me that this book focuses far more on those who fell away and caused problems than about those who stayed true and courageous. Sounds more like gossip than history.
I applaud efforts to discuss plural marriage and other difficult topics. However, discussing the prophet “secretly” instructing a woman that plural marriage was sanctified by God and having John Bennett seducing women by using very similar words in back to back chapters seems questionable to me. Are we trying to explain issues or cause more confusion?
Not sure I will read the remaining installments in this series.
I have enjoyed this book a lot. Learning so much about church history while reading it.
I hope they come out with the next volume soon.
I thank the inspired leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for compiling this comprehensive history. It goes into greater detail of the many historical events that took place in the history of the Church and it captivated me from the beginning to the end. I could not put it down. I both read and listened to this emotional explanation of the trials the early pioneers went through. I gained a greater appreciation of Joseph Smith, Hyrum and others who were persecuted and driven from state to state. They did not know their fate but trusted in their Lord and Savior to save them in the end. I look forward to future publications with great anticipation!!!