I was pleased to receive a review copy of What You Didn’t Know About the 100 Most Important Events in Church History by Casey Paul Griffiths, Susan Easton Black, and Mary Jane Woodger. It’s the perfect coffee table book, describing 100 events in LDS church history in about 3 page chunks. It’s easy to read, and I wondered how much would be information I already knew vs actual new information. I was pleasantly surprised.
The book is obviously intended for a general Mormon audience. The authors note that “it is not our intention to create a definitive list of such events. We have made no attempt to list these 100 events in order of importance or prominence–we have simply listed them chronologically.” It does have some footnotes for those seeking more information, and I think it is a nice way to get general knowledge to understand events in church history, and it does seem like they make an attempt to discuss controversial topics, including Joseph using a seer stone, Mormon colonies in Mexico/Canada, and a nice version of the federal laws which led to the jailing of polygamist men (even a photo of these men standing in their striped jailhouse uniforms.) There was also the Trial of George Reynolds, a polygamist the church pinned its hopes to overturn anti-polygamy legislation. It references the Joseph Smith Papers extensively. As such, this is some of the newest and best historical information out there.
Of course they cover commonly-known events like the First Vision. I was pleased that they discussed the multiple accounts of the First Vision. As mentioned in my transcript of the Richard Bushman interview, I know some people try to make a big issue of discrepancies. I’ll give this book credit for mentioning the multiple accounts, though with such a short summary, they don’t really address the subject of discrepancies. However, they did quote some second hand quotes of people who had recorded hearing Joseph describe the First Vision. I wasn’t familiar with many of these accounts, so that was a nice addition. I did learn something.
Greg Prince describes the proposal under President David O. McKay to build a temple ship to help give remote saints access to the Endowment. While I was familiar with the story, I expect others might not be aware of this story. They also talk about important revelations, such as those Joseph Smith received in the Liberty Jail, Consecration. I was surprised to see them discuss the Chicago Experiment, a more obscure event of Mormon history that I blogged about in 2011. I thought it was pretty even-handed in it’s approach. Modern events include the church’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, President Benson’s call to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon, and launching the Church Welfare program. The book ends with the 2012 announcement lowering the missionary age.
I liked most of the things I read, but I did have to quibble with some quotes regarding the race ban. I know the church likes to trumpet the fact that Brigham Young said the “time will come when they [persons of black descent] will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more.” However, Wilford Woodruff quoted Young saying that blacks wouldn’t get priesthood “untill Abels posterity will get all the Blessing their is for him.” When will we know that about Abel’s posterity? Never, which is what Brigham Young really meant. I find this hopeful quote not in line with Brigham’s well documented quotes. Young believed the ban would last at least until Christ’s Second Coming.
They discuss the Utah War too, which led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre. They shy away from blaming Brigham Young for the massacre, and do note that Juanita Brooks “deserve[s] credit” for her research on the topic. They put the best face possible on the Rescue of Mormon Handcart Pioneers disastrous trek. While they mentioned that the saints left too late in the year, they didn’t try to assign blame to any church leaders. Brigham Young publicly reprimanded Franklin D. Richards for advising the saints to leave Nebraska so late in the year.
Anyone can pick up 3 pages of history to get a basic idea of these events, and I think it is a great way to get to know more about Mormon history for the average member. It shouldn’t shock any orthodox members, and if you want your family members to know more about the seer stone, for example, this book is a great primer to start a conversation, though obviously it’s not going to get into nitty-gritty details. I suspect that there will be information on certain events that everyone will learn from, no matter your level of expertise in Mormon history. Overall, I’d recommend the book, especially for those who dabble in Mormon history. It might be the springboard to learning more.
Are you pleased the the LDS Church is putting out better church history? Is this something you would buy for yourself or your family?
Interesting. Maybe a good thing for kids to glance through, too. I’m trying to think of the target audience…the Deseret book types that buy pseudo-history-guy? Actually it’s probably a way to make JSP insights accessible to non academics. A considerable need.
It sounds like the kind of thing I would have bought for my kids when they were growing up, and possibly dip into myself in a spare moment. Less likely I’d get it now they’re approaching adulthood/are adults.