Hot Best Seller

The Book of Mormon: A Biography

Availability: Ready to download

Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the un Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the unlikely career of the Book of Mormon, the founding text of the Mormon religion, and perhaps the most important sacred text ever to originate in the United States. Here Paul Gutjahr traces the life of this book as it has formed and fractured different strains of Mormonism and transformed religious expression around the world. Gutjahr looks at how the Book of Mormon emerged from the burned-over district of upstate New York, where revivalist preachers, missionaries, and spiritual entrepreneurs of every stripe vied for the loyalty of settlers desperate to scratch a living from the land. He examines how a book that has long been the subject of ridicule--Mark Twain called it "chloroform in print"--has more than 150 million copies in print in more than a hundred languages worldwide. Gutjahr shows how Smith's influential book launched one of the fastest growing new religions on the planet, and has featured in everything from comic books and action figures to feature-length films and an award-winning Broadway musical.


Compare

Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the un Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the unlikely career of the Book of Mormon, the founding text of the Mormon religion, and perhaps the most important sacred text ever to originate in the United States. Here Paul Gutjahr traces the life of this book as it has formed and fractured different strains of Mormonism and transformed religious expression around the world. Gutjahr looks at how the Book of Mormon emerged from the burned-over district of upstate New York, where revivalist preachers, missionaries, and spiritual entrepreneurs of every stripe vied for the loyalty of settlers desperate to scratch a living from the land. He examines how a book that has long been the subject of ridicule--Mark Twain called it "chloroform in print"--has more than 150 million copies in print in more than a hundred languages worldwide. Gutjahr shows how Smith's influential book launched one of the fastest growing new religions on the planet, and has featured in everything from comic books and action figures to feature-length films and an award-winning Broadway musical.

30 review for The Book of Mormon: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    It's one of those dilemmas for anyone writing a book about the foundational text for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the believers will argue that the writer is being too harsh on Mormons and the non-believers will argue that the writer is not being harsh enough. Writing from my perspective as a believer, I don't think that Gutjahr was too harsh. I think he generally struck a good balance between both sides--with a few exceptions. He approaches the Book of Mormon from a historica It's one of those dilemmas for anyone writing a book about the foundational text for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the believers will argue that the writer is being too harsh on Mormons and the non-believers will argue that the writer is not being harsh enough. Writing from my perspective as a believer, I don't think that Gutjahr was too harsh. I think he generally struck a good balance between both sides--with a few exceptions. He approaches the Book of Mormon from a historical and academic angle, which is to be expected seeing that this is published as part of Princeton's Lives of Great Religious Books series. The book is an interesting read and Gutjahr has done thorough research on the topic. Though he is not a member of the LDS church himself, he consulted with LDS experts on the Book of Mormon in his research, including Grant Hardy. So that helps the overall tenor of the book. That said, there were a few issues with the research, in my opinion. As all academics know, the choice of sources in one's research is rhetorical; its purpose is to demonstrate to the readers that the writer is more or less an expert on the topic. I don't question that classification about Gutjahr. Still, some of his research was suspect to me. There have been many, many volumes of monographs written about the book and some are more credible than others. Gutjahr acknowledges the formidable contributions of Mormon apologists like Hugh Nibley and the FARMS writers, yet he barely touches on their arguments. On the other hand, he inflates the importance of some curiosities by including them alongside the robust body of scholarship. For example, he addresses some psychobabble that claims that Joseph Smith had a psychotic break due to the stresses of his childhood and went into a sort of fugue state that ultimately produced the Book of Mormon as some sort of cathartic and delusional narrative. While the purpose of academic inquiry is to allow anyone the right to make arguments such as these, the amount of attention it receives here was a bit too much. Further, his extensive commentary about the Church's lack of corresponding archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica tries to sound much more damning than it actually is (by focusing, for example, on a former LDS scholar's failed attempts to find this evidence and then repudiating his faith as a result seems to imply that all intellectual believers in the Book of Mormon are only classified as such because they haven't yet done their homework). The above observations certainly stem from my vantage point as an active LDS member who also happens to be an academic. The anti-LDS critics would argue the exact opposite, of course (and have already done so, ad infinitum). That this disagreement doesn't appear to go away anytime soon underscores the polarizing nature of the Book of Mormon. To his credit, Gutjahr does walk the tightrope in his research and prose and ends up mostly balanced overall.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Harris

    I discovered this book after having read a "biography" of the Quran. Both books are written on a similar model, that of tracking the influence of a specific book across history and noting how the book changes influential people across the ages and also how the attention those same people give the book changes perceptions of the book and its role in various cultures through time. The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being publish I discovered this book after having read a "biography" of the Quran. Both books are written on a similar model, that of tracking the influence of a specific book across history and noting how the book changes influential people across the ages and also how the attention those same people give the book changes perceptions of the book and its role in various cultures through time. The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being published by the Atlantic Monthly. This book, on the other hand, is a part of Princeton University's Lives of Great Religious Books series. But I understand that Bruce Lawrence will be adding a title about the Quran to this series, as well. It will be interesting to see how it differs from his Books That Shook the World volume. (I can't imagine how that book could be improved upon, but I'm open to the idea.) This book (The Book of Mormon: A Biography) is well written, but it suffers upon comparison with the Qur'an biography. But that's probably because there's just not enough history behind the Book of Mormon yet after a mere 180 or so years with which to fill such a volume. That said, it's unfortunate that the author failed to devote more space to Grant Hardy, author of Understanding the Book of Mormon, in his survey. Hardy has brought a very interesting psychological component to the three major authors/editors of the Book of Mormon (Nephi, Mormon and Moroni) by conducting a thorough literary analysis of the text from their various perspectives. He only gets a short paragraph of mention here. The chapters on illustration and stage and screen were interesting, including the section on the Book of Mormon musical that's popular at the moment. Overall, this book presented information about the Book of Mormon in a way different from how it usually gets presented, and that makes it worth a read. I hope the author will expand the section on literary criticism of the book in future editions, especially Grant Hardy's work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tim Malone

    I was asked by the publisher to review it, and did so. I published the review on my blog: Introduction This is a book about a book. That’s not unique but the subject of the book is very unique. The Book of Mormon launched a religious movement. It is an influential book, a controversial book, a best-selling book (150 million copies) and a well-read book. It has a lot of history (182 years), has been translated into over 100 languages and has survived intense scrutiny and criticism. The book has insp I was asked by the publisher to review it, and did so. I published the review on my blog: Introduction This is a book about a book. That’s not unique but the subject of the book is very unique. The Book of Mormon launched a religious movement. It is an influential book, a controversial book, a best-selling book (150 million copies) and a well-read book. It has a lot of history (182 years), has been translated into over 100 languages and has survived intense scrutiny and criticism. The book has inspired countless pieces of art, poetry and music and has been the subject of numerous movies and plays, most recently the successful Broadway musical of the same name. It is a part of the daily spiritual life of millions of people, considered a sacred text, holy writ comparable to the Bible or the Koran, presented to the world as evidence of modern revelation. Every day, new readers discover it for the first time, usually after being introduced to it by a friend or by Mormon missionaries. You can check it out at the library, read it online or download it for free to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad or Android. If you want to discuss it you can find several hundred websites, blog posts, forums and online articles filled with commentary and explanation. A Biography Until now there has never been a definitive biography of the Book of Mormon. Paul Gutjahr’s latest offering fills that need. Although not a Latter-day Saint, Paul is well-qualified to write this biography (see About the Author below). Those not of the faith will find it scholarly and well written. Most Latter-day Saints will find it informative, interesting and surprisingly refreshing. This book biography is part of a series from Princeton University Press entitled, Lives of Great Religious Books. Other works in the series include The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The I Ching, The Book of Revelation, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Bhagavad Gita and many others. Just as we enjoy reading biographies of famous artists, these book biographies should prove interesting. My review is from the viewpoint of an orthodox member of the LDS faith. I am not a scholar. I’m just a regular blogger so I’m not sure why Princeton asked me to review the book but I’m honored to do so. Besides, I’m always grateful to add good books like this to my library. My experience with reading Paul’s latest offering was enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining. Physical Appearance The first thing that stuck me was the photo of the angel Moroni on the cover and the size of the book. It is only a half-inch taller than today’s common blue-backed editions of the Book of Mormon. I took it to a church social the day I got it. A number of people commented on the beautiful cover and similar appearance to the Book of Mormon. I think that was intentional. Because of the small size, this book can be read in just a few hours. The acid-free paper is much thicker than the Book of Mormon but has less than half the pages. The actual number of reading pages is 195 if you count from prologue to epilogue. The rest are appendices, notes and an index. The dust jacket is a unique, rubberized type of cover, one I have never seen on a book before. There are almost two dozen photographs, maps and illustrations sprinkled generously throughout the book. I especially liked the chart of the various printed editions. Some of the maps were supplied courtesy of the church archives, including one that has an error, faithfully reproduced. The location of Voree, Wisconsin, once home of the Strangite movement is shown in Michigan. Content of the Book You won’t find a lot of information on the content of the Book or Mormon in Paul’s biography. There is little to no discussion of doctrine or theology. However, there is much of history to be found, some of which I didn’t know even though I have been a life-long member of the church. The history provides a rich background for the publishing timeline of the Book of Mormon. For example, I was not aware previously that there were differences in the American and the English editions which caused some problems when they were brought back together for the current 1981 edition. The problem arose because the English editions were based on the 1837 edition. The American editions were based on the last one revised by Joseph Smith in 1840. The theme of Paul’s biography is the story of how the Book of Mormon has “grown up” into what it is today. When I served my mission in 1976, we used the Book of Mormon heavily and as a central focus of our message. I later learned that it was not always so and Paul illustrated this for me with his chapter on Missionary Work. The Book of Mormon has now come full circle. Survey of Criticism Some members of the church don’t like to read scholarly reviews of our sacred text because of necessity they contain equal time for those who have written against the work. I think that it is wrong to not make an effort to understand what unbelievers have said. Gutjahr presents all the usual early critics, but does so in a neutral way that lets the reader reach their own conclusions. This is what scholarly works do best and why regular members of the church should read them. It helps us keep our heads from being stuck in the sand. I found Paul’s work in this area well presented. Members should not be offended by what he has written. Paul has kept his personal opinions out of his writing. It is neutral, unbiased and straightforward. In short, it is truthful. If you have not heard of or read about Philastus Hurlbut’s affidavits, Eber Dudley Howe’s 1834 book Mormonism Unveiled, the second Spaulding manuscript theory, or Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, then you should take the time to become familiar with them. Gutjahr presents them for us in a non-threatening manner that should allow LDS members to converse intelligently. Modern Scholarly Approach Millions of church members who have read the Book of Mormon rely on a divine confirmation of the veracity of the record. For most of them, this is enough. Yet many still seek for a more intellectual approach to the book that millions today accept as the word of God. If you want a good survey of recent and current scholarly analysis of the Book of Mormon, Paul offers it. In fifteen pages of chapter six, Paul whets our appetite for some of the academic research being done on the Book of Mormon. If you are not already familiar with FARMS, now part of the BYU Neal A. Maxwell Institute, you should be. We are also introduced to Terryl Givens (By the Hand of Mormon) and Grant Hardy’s work (Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide). This is a chapter that I think could have been expanded a great deal. In fact, I would venture to say that someone should take this basic survey and expand it into a doctoral thesis. We need Mormon scholars who understand intellectual and theological history well enough to offer the academic world a defining work of rigorous scholarship deserving of the Book of Mormon. Artistic Interpretations The most delightful parts of the book for me were the chapters on Illustrating the Book and The Book on Stage and Screen. I knew about Arnold Friberg and Minerva Teichert because their works are hanging in temples and church buildings throughout the world. Although I had heard about George Reynolds The Story of The Book of Mormon, I had never seen a printed copy. Thanks to the modern miracle of Internet technology, you can read it online, and view all the wonderful illustrations that accompanied it. The copy I linked to is autographed by Wilford Woodruff. Reynolds book was the first attempt to create an illustrated version of the Book of Mormon told in story fashion for young readers. His work has a romantic look and feel to it. Until I read Gutjahr’s book, I had no idea about some of the early history of the Book of Mormon in the theater. For some reason, I assumed the recent Broadway musical was the first time the book had been used for a production. If you have not already, you must read about Corianton, the Story of Unholy Love. If not from Paul, then read about it here and here from Ardis Parshall. Summary and Conclusion The Book of Mormon has become a part of American culture, indeed worldwide culture. It has a life of its own, beyond the control of the Church that publishes it and expends so much time, effort and energy to get it into the hands of as many people as possible throughout the world. The “Mormon Moment” we are experiencing is made possible by this now venerable old book. Paul Gutjahr has given us a fresh look at a book that so many millions revere as proof of modern revelation and of God’s love for his children in our day and age. The book offers a few unique new insights, much information not well-known, and a balanced approach to the current state of scholarly research on the Book of Mormon. I enjoyed reading and believe it worth your time. The Book is respectful, thoughtful, and enjoyable to read. It is entertaining yet intellectual. It traces the history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in 1830 into what it is today. You may see the Book of Mormon in a new light after reading Paul’s biography. If nothing else, you will better appreciate the fact that the Book of Mormon is here to stay and is worth studying. Table of Contents Chapter 1 – Joseph’s Gold Bible Chapter 2 – Holy Writ or Humbug? Chapter 3 – Multiplying Prophets Chapter 4 – Great Basin Saints and the Book Chapter 5 – Missionary Work and the Book Chapter 6 – Scholars and the Book Chapter 7 – Illustrating the Book Chapter 8 – The Book on Stage and Screen Appendix 1 – Notable Book of Mormon Editions in English Appendix 2 – Book of Mormon Translations About the Author Dr. Gutjahr received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1996. His specialized field of research is the history of publishing and literacy in the United States or as he calls it, “History of the Book Studies” in North America. He has written extensively on the production of the English Bible in North America. He lends that analytical expertise to The Book of Mormon, A Biography. Paul’s research interests are American religious and intellectual thought, religious publishing and American literature and culture 1640-1860. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes from Dr. Gutjahr. One graduate course is entitled, “The Most Turbulent Decade: America in the 1840s.” His biography of Charles Hodge was published by Oxford University Press in 2011. Source: http://latterdaycommentary.com/2012/0...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Curtis

    This book is a quick and enjoyable read about the Book of Mormon, how it orginated, how it has been received, and how it has been interpreted and valued throughout the years. With the exception of a couple of minor quibbles, it was a very readable, balanced, well-written introduction to the Book of Mormon from a pretty neutral perspective. I particularly enjoyed the last two chapters of the book, which covered the Book of Mormon in art, film, and dramatic productions. I also enjoyed the material This book is a quick and enjoyable read about the Book of Mormon, how it orginated, how it has been received, and how it has been interpreted and valued throughout the years. With the exception of a couple of minor quibbles, it was a very readable, balanced, well-written introduction to the Book of Mormon from a pretty neutral perspective. I particularly enjoyed the last two chapters of the book, which covered the Book of Mormon in art, film, and dramatic productions. I also enjoyed the material covering some details of the translation and current production/printing process of the book that I had not known before. While almost all of the material in this book is covered in greater depth and detail by Terryl Givens in his book "By the Hand of Mormon" (published by Oxford University Press), this book meets its objective of covering this material in a still comprehensive, but much more compact format. The main quibble I had was in Gutjahr's coverage of the Book of Mormon wordprint studies. This book only touched on the study presented by the Jockers group from Stanford. It would have been nice if he had talked a little bit about the study by BYU researchers that Jockers's group was in part responding to, which presented strong evidence for multiple authorship of the Book of Mormon. It also would have been a little more balanced in presentation if he had pointed out in a little more detail the limitations/assumptions in their methodology (since they were pointed out in follow-up studies by Matthew Roper and associates), that render their conclusions quite a bit more tenuous and inconclusive than they appear to the casual reader unacquainted with the studies. This probably only stood out to me since I was already largely familiar with these studies, so this is really just a minor quibble. Overall, this book was a very enjoyable, short read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Wade

    This book is part of a new series published by Princeton University Press called Lives of Great Religious Texts, in it the author Paul Gutjahr presents an evenhanded “biography” of the Book of Mormon. I found it to be a great overview, it is surprisingly comprehensive for such a short book. He includes a description of the Book of Mormon's origin, history of revisions, controversies, translations (currently 109 languages and counting), cultural influences, artistic portrayals, schismatic groups This book is part of a new series published by Princeton University Press called Lives of Great Religious Texts, in it the author Paul Gutjahr presents an evenhanded “biography” of the Book of Mormon. I found it to be a great overview, it is surprisingly comprehensive for such a short book. He includes a description of the Book of Mormon's origin, history of revisions, controversies, translations (currently 109 languages and counting), cultural influences, artistic portrayals, schismatic groups, and most importantly the impact it has had on readers over the past 180 years. He discusses intellectual attention it has received from various circles including apologetics and critics, as well as the recent growing interest from general academia. “Once only a marvelous work and a wonder to its faithful adherents, in recent years the Book of Mormon has captured a larger role in both non-Mormon academic discourse and popular American imagination. Not everyone may believe its contents, but fewer and fewer can continue to doubt the importance the book holds in American history and culture.” p 195. I like reading scholarly approaches to theological concepts, and I enjoyed the historical perspectives found in this book. Gutjahr seems to affirm the importance of a comprehensive and balanced approach to exploration and truth seeking, “although the Church is supportive of academic engagement with the book, Mormon belief is ultimately a matter of faith and divine revelation, not human intelligence.” p 148. I agree.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Sometimes a book is a pleasure to read simply for how well it accomplishes its assigned task. Gutjahr's book is one in Princeton's new series of "biographies" of significant books. It is short, engaging, and presents a large historical subject clearly and concisely, providing the reader with a general outline of the book's history and suggesting sources in which to find more detail. Gutjahr's book would be ideal for covering the history of the Book of Mormon in a class that included both Mormons Sometimes a book is a pleasure to read simply for how well it accomplishes its assigned task. Gutjahr's book is one in Princeton's new series of "biographies" of significant books. It is short, engaging, and presents a large historical subject clearly and concisely, providing the reader with a general outline of the book's history and suggesting sources in which to find more detail. Gutjahr's book would be ideal for covering the history of the Book of Mormon in a class that included both Mormons and non-Mormons. His treatment of Mormon belief is respectful - even gentle - without neglecting historical-critical methods or the failure of archeology to substantiate any place or event described in the Book of Mormon. Gutjahr is more concerned with the place The Book of Mormon has in American history, and covers both its use within the many different denominations that consider it sacred text, and its place in the arts. The only flaw I find in Gutjahr's treatment is his silence on the actively negative evidence about Joseph Smith. He mentions the early persecutions of Mormons while neglecting to mention that the fury directed against Smith was inspired in part by Smith's bank fraud. He discusses questions of authenticity for The Book of Mormon without mentioning Smith's mistranslation of the "Book of Abraham," which is actually an Egyptian Book of the Dead. If the reader wants to evaluate the truth claims of Smith, these are not minor details. Despite their absence, however, Gutjahr's book was a pleasure to read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

    Paul Gutjahr's book is an interesting bibliographic history of the Book of Mormon, including its effect on the wider American cultural milieu. This is effect is, speaking generously, negligible. Gutjahr does his absolute best to situate the Book of Mormon in a wider context, but outside of its effect on religious believers and detractors, he has to try too hard to demonstrate cultural impact. A movie here, a play there do not indicate wide cultural interest or acclaim, especially in the niche-ce Paul Gutjahr's book is an interesting bibliographic history of the Book of Mormon, including its effect on the wider American cultural milieu. This is effect is, speaking generously, negligible. Gutjahr does his absolute best to situate the Book of Mormon in a wider context, but outside of its effect on religious believers and detractors, he has to try too hard to demonstrate cultural impact. A movie here, a play there do not indicate wide cultural interest or acclaim, especially in the niche-centric landscape of the current era. So Gutjahr is left trying to explain why people seem to think that the Book of Mormon has more cultural impact than it actually has. That said, while the book is pretty inconsequential, it is well written and objective. Gutjahr has obviously done his homework, never really falling into the common academic pitfalls that non-Mormon scholars fall into in writing about Mormonism. By sticking strictly to the effect and publishing history of the Book of Mormon, Gutjahr avoids getting bogged down in religious or historical debates. It is a nice breezy read, good for an afternoon's distraction. This is a book that no-one will find objectionable, but, as a result, is nothing particularly lasting or important in this book (aside from, possibly, its existence at all).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Villate

    This is a fairly interesting, very quick and easy read that gives some new information on the publication and dissemination of The Book of Mormon over its short life. The part about the translation process was especially interesting, and there was some intriguing history about the way the Book of Mormon has been used in General Conference addresses, etc. It was very readable and would serve as a nice little primer for someone who is perhaps curious about the most important book of scripture used This is a fairly interesting, very quick and easy read that gives some new information on the publication and dissemination of The Book of Mormon over its short life. The part about the translation process was especially interesting, and there was some intriguing history about the way the Book of Mormon has been used in General Conference addresses, etc. It was very readable and would serve as a nice little primer for someone who is perhaps curious about the most important book of scripture used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but not particularly interested in knowing the doctrine or reading the actual book. I thought Gutjahr missed the mark on some of his examination of its influence on modern culture ("The Book of Mormon" musical? Really? It has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual Book of Mormon), and I think he should have included a little more detail about the "story" or content of the book. As it was, his constant complaint that it is "complex" and "intricate" - it's really not THAT complex - serves more to turn off potential readers of the real text.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    This is basically a Cliff Notes version of Terryl Givens' By the Hand of Mormon, which goes into most of the same subjects with a lot more depth. For a shorter book, though, this one does a great job of covering all of the basics of the Book of Mormon's history and reception, and has the added benefit of being more up to date than Givens' work. I was particularly interested in how Gutjahr's book covered the ongoing efforts of the LDS church to translate the Book of Mormon into other languages, a This is basically a Cliff Notes version of Terryl Givens' By the Hand of Mormon, which goes into most of the same subjects with a lot more depth. For a shorter book, though, this one does a great job of covering all of the basics of the Book of Mormon's history and reception, and has the added benefit of being more up to date than Givens' work. I was particularly interested in how Gutjahr's book covered the ongoing efforts of the LDS church to translate the Book of Mormon into other languages, and the decisions and methodology of such translations. That was information that I hadn't known before, and I was grateful to see a good discussion of that rather important part of the Book of Mormon's history. Gutjahr also spends more time on the Book of Mormon's importance, or not, in the breakaway sects of the mainstream LDS church. A good introduction to the history and reception of the Book of Mormon itself, but this is not a good introduction to the book. It assumes that the reader is at least conversant with the broad strokes of the text of the Book of Mormon itself.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Stephenson

    Just published by the Princeton University press, this brief volume focuses much less on the content of The Book of Mormon than on its publishing history which is indeed remarkable. Though I've read The Book of Mormon many times I learned several new things from this author, especially from its final chapters. My one criticism would be that for a professor of English at Indiana University it is odd that this author ignores the impact of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith on Herman Melville. Whi Just published by the Princeton University press, this brief volume focuses much less on the content of The Book of Mormon than on its publishing history which is indeed remarkable. Though I've read The Book of Mormon many times I learned several new things from this author, especially from its final chapters. My one criticism would be that for a professor of English at Indiana University it is odd that this author ignores the impact of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith on Herman Melville. While we don't have the copy of the book which Melville read, references to it in Pierre, Mardi and The Confidence Man show that Joseph Smith's life and work had a profound impact on the author of Moby Dick. Nor is there any comment about prejudice against The Book of Mormon within Academia, though hopefully this work will be something of an influence towards lessening that unhappy reality.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David

    A very good introduction and summary of the Book of Mormon as a religious artefact. Generally informative and quick read, although there are a couple of things that are debatable, such as the importance of the book in missiology in the British Isles in the nineteenth century (or lack thereof), (p.101) the renaming of the Church to its present name in 1838, as well as the prior 1834 change that omitted 'Jesus Christ' from its usage rather than 1833 as the author suggested. (p.77) as well as the a A very good introduction and summary of the Book of Mormon as a religious artefact. Generally informative and quick read, although there are a couple of things that are debatable, such as the importance of the book in missiology in the British Isles in the nineteenth century (or lack thereof), (p.101) the renaming of the Church to its present name in 1838, as well as the prior 1834 change that omitted 'Jesus Christ' from its usage rather than 1833 as the author suggested. (p.77) as well as the age that women can serve missions, 21 and not 'after 26' as stated. (p.133) These are small matters, however, Gutjahr provides a fascinating journey which naturally leads the reader to perhaps Terryl L. Givens' "By the hand of Mormon" OUP. A full book review will appear in International Journal of Mormon Studies www.ijmsonline.org in due course.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    This was a fair and balanced overview of the Book of Mormon by a non-LDS (Latter-day Saint) author. Since I'm LDS I didn't think I was going to learn too much, since I've grown up hearing the story of the finding and translation of the book over and over again. I was wrong though. It was fascinating to learn about the different official and non-official versions of the book, the process of translation into other languages (a very streamlined and literal, word for word process) and the history of This was a fair and balanced overview of the Book of Mormon by a non-LDS (Latter-day Saint) author. Since I'm LDS I didn't think I was going to learn too much, since I've grown up hearing the story of the finding and translation of the book over and over again. I was wrong though. It was fascinating to learn about the different official and non-official versions of the book, the process of translation into other languages (a very streamlined and literal, word for word process) and the history of the book's emphasis in the LDS church (after Joseph Smith, the church relied on the Bible more than the BoM and didn't really emphasize it as much until Ezra Taft Benson's tenure as prophet in the 1980's). I'm going to read other books by this author and other books in the series ("Lives of Great Religious Books").

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joey Dye

    This was a very interesting "biography" of the Book of Mormon. Gutjahr gives a great overview of the book's history up through the Book Of Mormon musical. The discussion of Mormonism's various branches was particularly interesting. We have become acclimated to the idea that Mormons are either polygamists or LDS, but this is an observation of only the largest and the most extreme. This book doesn't dwell on matters of doctrine and theology, but rather looks at the Book Of Mormon's literary and cu This was a very interesting "biography" of the Book of Mormon. Gutjahr gives a great overview of the book's history up through the Book Of Mormon musical. The discussion of Mormonism's various branches was particularly interesting. We have become acclimated to the idea that Mormons are either polygamists or LDS, but this is an observation of only the largest and the most extreme. This book doesn't dwell on matters of doctrine and theology, but rather looks at the Book Of Mormon's literary and cultural influences. I'll definitely be looking at other books in the Lives of Great Religious Books series.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katrinka

    A refreshing read for its respectful outside perspective and recognition of the Book of Mormon as not only a piece of literature worthy of study, but as a contribution to American history and culture. While there is some inaccurate wording, I, nonetheless, appreciate hearing the viewpoint of someone who is both not a Mormon and not antagonistic toward the Book of Mormon. Because Gutjahr is neutral and takes no interest in attempting to prove The Book of Mormon true or not, he is able to intellig A refreshing read for its respectful outside perspective and recognition of the Book of Mormon as not only a piece of literature worthy of study, but as a contribution to American history and culture. While there is some inaccurate wording, I, nonetheless, appreciate hearing the viewpoint of someone who is both not a Mormon and not antagonistic toward the Book of Mormon. Because Gutjahr is neutral and takes no interest in attempting to prove The Book of Mormon true or not, he is able to intelligently share its influence and history, acquainting even myself, a Mormon, with some new Book of Mormon history, while also demonstrating its importance.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David James

    While I have no interest in converting to Mormonism (or any religion, for that matter), the church's history has long fascinated me. This book traces the history of the Book of Mormon itself. It's brief but gives a nice overview of its writing and dissemination, its translation and revisions, and its adoption into artwork, cinema, and theater. A section covering the book's impact on American culture would have been a nice addition, and its absence is felt. This book was not intended as a compreh While I have no interest in converting to Mormonism (or any religion, for that matter), the church's history has long fascinated me. This book traces the history of the Book of Mormon itself. It's brief but gives a nice overview of its writing and dissemination, its translation and revisions, and its adoption into artwork, cinema, and theater. A section covering the book's impact on American culture would have been a nice addition, and its absence is felt. This book was not intended as a comprehensive work, and it isn't. But it is a decent if limited introduction to the founding document of a distinctively American religion.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    This book is a good version of what it is. The author offers a short, readable, engaging history of the publication and adaptation of The Book of Mormon, from Joseph Smith to Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Gutjahr treats the book as a significant document in the history of American literature. Beyond that, he doesn't engage directly in debates about its "authenticity," preferring to let voices inside and outside of the Mormon community speak to those issues. This standoffish approach may leave some This book is a good version of what it is. The author offers a short, readable, engaging history of the publication and adaptation of The Book of Mormon, from Joseph Smith to Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Gutjahr treats the book as a significant document in the history of American literature. Beyond that, he doesn't engage directly in debates about its "authenticity," preferring to let voices inside and outside of the Mormon community speak to those issues. This standoffish approach may leave some readers unsatisfied, but it again serves the relatively narrow purposes that The Book of Mormon: A Biography sets out to accomplish.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I thought this a well researched, even-handed scholarly perspective of how the Book of Mormon came to be. It is a good introductory to those who know little to nothing about Joseph Smith, Mormonism, and the Book of Mormon, but want a brief short story version of how it all came to be. This scholarly (as opposed to faith based) perspective also does a good job of showing how the Book of Mormon has come to impact American culture even for those not of the LDS faith. A quick and interesting read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Justin Hill

    A quick read, and a great summary of the history of The Book of Mormon (the book itself, not the history of the people described in it), including its revisions, illustrations (including Teichert and Friberg), pageants, scholarship (Hugh Nibley and FARMS, etc.), movies, plays, adjustments in missionary focus, and even action figures and comic books. I found the overview of Joseph Smith's life and early Church history to be interesting and I learned a few things. A quick read, and a great summary of the history of The Book of Mormon (the book itself, not the history of the people described in it), including its revisions, illustrations (including Teichert and Friberg), pageants, scholarship (Hugh Nibley and FARMS, etc.), movies, plays, adjustments in missionary focus, and even action figures and comic books. I found the overview of Joseph Smith's life and early Church history to be interesting and I learned a few things.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    Really interesting facts on the Book of Mormon, the various editions, etc. I learned things I did not know. For instance, Joseph Smith made some inspired changes in the 1840 edition, which were not followed in all the British editions used mainly by the church in the 19th Century (which was using the 1837 ed.). They did not get in the main LDS edition until 1981. Also, Orson Pratt in the 1870s made some format changes so it would more resemble the Bible. Nice read if you are into this.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Traces the history of the Book through its writing, revisions, adherents and detractors. Easy to read but informative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    This small book—a little taller (and mercifully much shorter) than the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon—has many fine parts that should interest both believers and non-believers. For instance, Chapter 2 provides an excellent introduction to theories about the origin of the book, and Chapter 3 elegantly describes the how the Book of Mormon was received by lesser sects within the Latter Day Saint movement. I also found informative Chapter 7, a discussion of illustrations of the book, espec This small book—a little taller (and mercifully much shorter) than the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon—has many fine parts that should interest both believers and non-believers. For instance, Chapter 2 provides an excellent introduction to theories about the origin of the book, and Chapter 3 elegantly describes the how the Book of Mormon was received by lesser sects within the Latter Day Saint movement. I also found informative Chapter 7, a discussion of illustrations of the book, especially the preference of the LDS Church for the mixed biblical-Teutonic style of Arnold Friberg (1913-2010), horned helmets and all. Finally, much of the material in the final chapter, “The Book on Screen and Stage” was new to me, though Gutjahr did ignore Leroy Robertson’s Oratorio from the Book of Mormon, with its brooding setting of The Lord’s Prayer; and he included the wildly successful Broadway musical, which shares little connection with the book except its name and the broad spoofing of its stories. Nevertheless, as a non-Mormon, I found Gutjahr’s work overly sympathetic to an LDS point-of-view. For instance, Gutjahr’s discussion of the First Vision takes Smith at his word that he had “a highly personal encounter with God at the age of fourteen” although there is no evidence Smith ever mentioned such a vision until 1832, two years after he founded the Mormon church. (The very different, canonized version of the story came at least six years after that). Likewise, Gutjahr understatedly describes Smith’s early financial supporter Martin Harris as “somewhat religiously enthusiastic,” although one neighbor testified that Harris had seen Jesus in the shape of a deer and another declared, “Martin was a man that would do just as he agreed with you. But, he was a great man for seeing spooks.” Gutjahr’s discussion of the Three and Eight Witnesses to the golden plates similarly treats their testimony without regard to their time and place and the magic worldview they shared. My greatest complaint about Gutjahr is his insistence that the Book of Mormon is an “immensely complex narrative” (149) that “should rank among the great achievements of American literature.” (9) I would argue to the contrary that the Book of Mormon is, as Mark Twain called it, “chloroform in print,” written in wretched prose with characters who are absolutely flat. One does not have to believe the Bible to be supernatural to marvel at its rounded characterization of say, David, who impregnates his subordinate’s wife, insures the subordinate is killed in battle, fasts and prays over the sick child conceived in adultery, and then arises and eats after the child dies. As the late literary critic Sir Frank Kermode (1919-2010) has written, if moments like these “occurred in a novel we should admire its depth and its surprise.” There are no such moments of depth and surprise in the Book of Mormon; and it makes no difference if 90% of the world’s population can read it in their native tongue if the majority of its readers endure its gracelessness only from a sense of religious duty.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Gutjahr provides a historical overview of the origins of the Book of Mormon and the history that led it to its prominent place in both Mormon religious circles and American writing and culture. Gutjahr writes in a way that is accessible by providing historical context for the history of the book but not doing so in an academic textbook style. This book differs from others describing the Book of Mormon in Gutjahr is not looking to assess the religious nature of it compared to Christianity or othe Gutjahr provides a historical overview of the origins of the Book of Mormon and the history that led it to its prominent place in both Mormon religious circles and American writing and culture. Gutjahr writes in a way that is accessible by providing historical context for the history of the book but not doing so in an academic textbook style. This book differs from others describing the Book of Mormon in Gutjahr is not looking to assess the religious nature of it compared to Christianity or other religions, he's presenting a historical narrative with context for how the book came to be, how it's viewed by the LDS and RLDS religious communities with ties to it, and how it has since been widely accepted into broader American culture. I found it a delightful, informative, and accurate portrayal of the origins of the book and one that I would happily recommend to someone with no understanding of the history of Mormonism in that it provides an informative and straightforward understanding without straying excessively into religious arguments for/against it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jason Hall

    A fine introduction to the Book of Mormon, and part of an intriguing series I plan to look into (Lives of Great Religious Books). If you want a short (200 small pages) introduction to the Book of Mormon or to the LDS faith more generally, you could do a lot worse than this. If you already are very familiar with the topic, this might be an enjoyable read but don’t expect more than a survey with little new information. I found the tone to be very much on the positive side, as far as showing respec A fine introduction to the Book of Mormon, and part of an intriguing series I plan to look into (Lives of Great Religious Books). If you want a short (200 small pages) introduction to the Book of Mormon or to the LDS faith more generally, you could do a lot worse than this. If you already are very familiar with the topic, this might be an enjoyable read but don’t expect more than a survey with little new information. I found the tone to be very much on the positive side, as far as showing respect for the text of the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church’s claims about the book. I’m not sure a believing Mormon would feel the same, but it’s hard to imagine a more sympathetic tone from a non-Mormon academic publisher. There is treatment of religious and scholarly criticism of the Book of Mormon, but that isn’t a major focus. There’s nothing at all wrong with that approach, of course, but if you’re looking for a scholarly critique you won’t find that with this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jackson T.

    A wonderful introduction to the external history of the Book of Mormon, easily the strangest and more influential text to ever be produced in the United States. One fault I had, aside from the dull but ultimately necessary portions detailing the production of every edition of the Book of Mormon published, was the lack of discussion on the books contents. Surely a nice chapter would have sufficed, giving a neat explication on the narrative of themes on every book (Gutjahr does, in however, give a A wonderful introduction to the external history of the Book of Mormon, easily the strangest and more influential text to ever be produced in the United States. One fault I had, aside from the dull but ultimately necessary portions detailing the production of every edition of the Book of Mormon published, was the lack of discussion on the books contents. Surely a nice chapter would have sufficed, giving a neat explication on the narrative of themes on every book (Gutjahr does, in however, give a broad overview of the Book of Mormon's contents). While I assume the goal of Princeton's Lives of Great Religious Books series is to encourage religious literacy, I, for one, would have appreciated to see how Gutjahr (and fellow Mormon's of religious importance) and viewed and analyzed the individual books.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kent

    Writing a biography of a book is an interesting approach that Gutjahr pulls off easily in this review of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and its far-reaching impact, demonstrated by its 150+ million copies in print. Gutjahr manages to remain mostly unbiased in this approach, sharing arguments and insights from Book of Mormon critics as well as believers. His cited bibliography and suggested further reading list is extensive and impressive, suggesting his own depth of research and knowledg Writing a biography of a book is an interesting approach that Gutjahr pulls off easily in this review of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and its far-reaching impact, demonstrated by its 150+ million copies in print. Gutjahr manages to remain mostly unbiased in this approach, sharing arguments and insights from Book of Mormon critics as well as believers. His cited bibliography and suggested further reading list is extensive and impressive, suggesting his own depth of research and knowledge. I found this work to be easy to read, insightful, informative and useful in my own study of the Book of Mormon.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ellison

    Shares that a treasure digger (Joseph Smith Jr) is led by an angel-like being to a golden book that is the story of a group of people that came to the United States from Israel. He translates the book and gains followers. Soon the locals want him out due to beliefs. He ends up dead and the group splits based up how much they believe in different portions of the material. insightful. B/W images.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

    Generous with 3 stars. Almost feels a little bit like he wants to slide in some negative aspect of his research topic, or the occasional opinion of its true origins and current developments. Should be 2 stars, maybe.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Gutjahr (whose An American Bible is an excellent and beautifully illustrated window into the printing, marketing and dissemination of the Bible in 19th century America) provides an easily accessible history of The Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith to its appearance on Broadway. He provides the origin story and a brief biography of Smith, and the book's printing history, but also recounts its fall and rise again in Mormon teaching, its use in the missionary enterprise, its illustration and transla Gutjahr (whose An American Bible is an excellent and beautifully illustrated window into the printing, marketing and dissemination of the Bible in 19th century America) provides an easily accessible history of The Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith to its appearance on Broadway. He provides the origin story and a brief biography of Smith, and the book's printing history, but also recounts its fall and rise again in Mormon teaching, its use in the missionary enterprise, its illustration and translation, and attempts to dramatize it, effectively in pageants, and without success in film. A respectful book, but not an apologetic one, as he firmly notes the repeated failures to validate the book historically or scientifically (via DNA). He makes an excellent argument for the book's place in America's cultural history, beyond its role just as a sacred text.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dobby

    I’m not a member of the LDS church, but I have a lot of family who are. This book is an analysis of how the primary sacred text that founded Mormonism - the Book of Mormon - came to be, how it has been attacked and defended, how the church translates it into other languages, how it has influenced American culture, and how it has come to be one of the most influential pieces of home-grown American writing (whether you believe in it or not). It’s succinct and an easy read even if you’re not a Morm I’m not a member of the LDS church, but I have a lot of family who are. This book is an analysis of how the primary sacred text that founded Mormonism - the Book of Mormon - came to be, how it has been attacked and defended, how the church translates it into other languages, how it has influenced American culture, and how it has come to be one of the most influential pieces of home-grown American writing (whether you believe in it or not). It’s succinct and an easy read even if you’re not a Mormon or have never read the Book of Mormon.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Quick read. The 1st chapter will be review to anyone who's grown up Mormon, and the 2nd just made me angry. But then Gutjahr got into some interesting stuff. I have actually ordered the comic book adaptation and the Easy-to-Read version, but I will never see the Book of Mormon Movie. Also, I still want to pass around a sign up list in church to carpool to LA for the Book of Mormon Musical with check boxes: ( ) Attending ( ) Protesting. Quick read. The 1st chapter will be review to anyone who's grown up Mormon, and the 2nd just made me angry. But then Gutjahr got into some interesting stuff. I have actually ordered the comic book adaptation and the Easy-to-Read version, but I will never see the Book of Mormon Movie. Also, I still want to pass around a sign up list in church to carpool to LA for the Book of Mormon Musical with check boxes: ( ) Attending ( ) Protesting.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...