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The Mormons: An Illustrated History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
by Roy A. Prete
Reviewed by aml
27/02/2014 11:26:12 PM
Reviewed by Tabb Clements for the Association for Mormon Letters

I am very close to all of my maternal first cousins. We grew up on a "Walton's Mountain" of sorts in Virginia...just without the mountain and the last name was Newman! I am particularly close to one of my first cousins, Laurie. Her father and my mother are brother and sister. My cousin and I being separated by 10 years did not make a difference--we even share the same birth month! Growing up, though, we shared something even more important--religion. We came from a line of Southern ministers where seeking after Christ and learning of him was a normal part of my Virginia upbringing.

My cousin was open to seeking out the Lord in various congregations. Whenever our paths would cross we would discuss religion and she would share her knowledge and experiences with me. I remember many nights when we would be at the house of my grandmother, who we called Mother Newman, and my cousin and I would be upstairs in the front bedroom discussing the scriptures and the life of the Savior.

It was only natural then that, when my cousin was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in college, this too would become one of our topics for discussion. Laurie was so impressed by the teachings, doctrines, and spirit she felt that she joined the Church.

It was from my cousin in the early 1970's that I received a copy of "Meet The Mormons: A Pictorial Introduction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Its People." The copyright is 1968 and my copy was published in 1970. A quick math check reveals this "pictorial introduction" is now 43 years old! "The Prologue" reported a membership of 2,235,000 (2). "Church Organization" shows the two junior Apostles as a young Thomas S. Monson and even younger Boyd K. Packer (56). I can still remember how happy I was to have the book and to be able to both read and "see" who the Mormons were and what they believed.

With the above as background, I was very much excited when given the opportunity to receive and review a copy of "The Mormons: An Illustrated History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," edited by Roy A. Prete. Printed in 2013! When the book came in the mail I went right to it. Once again, I was able to both read about the Mormons and to "see" who the Mormons are and learn more of what they believe.

The book is 11" x 8 1/2". It is glossy and professional. At the same time the book is both warm and inviting! You are immediately grabbed by the winter season cover photo showing from a distance the Salt Lake Temple, the Conference Center, the Capitol building, the Church Office Building, and the Joseph Smith Building. When the book arrived I thought I would just glance at several pages and then put the book and come back to it when I had more time; however, the book was so beautiful to look at and informative that I found myself slowly looking at ALL the pages of the book before finally being able to put it down.

In the "Preface" editor Roy A. Prete states: "This book offers a behind-the-scenes look at Mormons. It tells the story of Mormonism as seen through the eyes of those who practice it every day. For them it is more than a religion; it is a way of life!" (vii). In speaking of the Church today, the editor further adds: "It has become the fourth largest religion in the United States, with six million members...it has become a world religion found in 150 countries with a membership of over 14 million" (vii).

A very exciting feature of the book is that each chapter is written by a different author. For example, Chapter 1, "A Visit to Temple Square," is written by Lloyd D. Newell, the narrator for the weekly "Music and the Spoken Word." Chapter 3, "Joseph Smith and the Restoration," is written by Susan Easton Black. Chapter 4, "Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation" is penned by Brent L. Top, while chapter 5, "The Bible, the Book of Mormon and Additional Scriptures," is explained by John W. Welch. Chapter 9, "Education: A High Priority," is written by Mary Jane Woodger. Richard O. Cowan explains "Mormon Temples Dot the Earth" in chapter 11. Anyone familiar with the LDS publishing world will recognize these names as being reliable authors who can be counted on to share exciting gospel tidbits about whatever subject they are addressing. Just a short way into the book you are left wondering if the very appeal of the book lies more in the stunning photography and incredible images or in the beautiful commentary and conversational explanations of what it is to be Mormon.

The book begins with a "Preface" and is then divided into 14 chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with "A Visit to Temple Square" and "Salt Lake City and Utah." Chapters 3-6 discuss such topics as "Joseph Smith and the Restoration," "Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation," "The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Additional Scriptures," and "The Foundation of Apostles and Prophets." Chapters 7-10 explain "Meetinghouses and Church Programs," "Mormon Lifestyle," "Education: A High Priority," and "Reaching Out to Those in Need." The final four chapters focus on "Mormon Temples Dot the Earth," "Family History and Genealogy," "Unto Every Nation," and "Mormons Who Have Made a Difference." The book ends with "Conclusions" and a ''For Further Reading" section. The final unnumbered sections cover the "Contributors," "Image Credits," and a subject index.

There is great appeal to the book. You cannot even get to the Table of Contents without first turning to a full page picture of the Replica of the Christus statue by Bertel Thorvaldson on the left page and the large print initial words of the book's title on the right page: "THE MORMONS." An instant connection is made that members of the Church have to Jesus Christ and of His central role in all that we do.

Chapter 1: "A Visit to Temple Square" is seventeen pages of breathtaking photos and some common and not so common information about Temple Square. So many of the pictures are full page. You quickly find yourself not just looking a the photos, but examining them for the beautiful details. You can see and feel the spirit of the Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Conference Center, etc. Chapter author Lloyd D. Newell states that the Salt Lake Temple's "walls are nine feet thick at the base and six feet thick at the top" (1). In speaking of the Tabernacle, Newell shares that "when finished, the roof was nine feet thick, and the plaster ceiling was 68 feet above the floor. The structure was an engineering wonder in its day, prompting Frank Lloyd Wright to later dub the Tabernacle 'one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world" (5). And in speaking of the Conference Center, he states: "It took three large construction companies and 80 subcontractors to handle the mammoth project. Often a thousand workers were at the site each day" (10,13).

Chapter 2: "Salt Lake City and Utah" is co-authored by Craig J. Ostler and John P. Livingstone. There are two full page pictures showing the City Creek Center and the beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park. The authors note that the area is "widely appreciated as a first-rate vacation destination, Utah is well known for its gorgeous scenery. In summer, its breathtaking mountain valleys and canyons draw backwoods hikers and trail bikers. In winter, Utah's famous snow attracts skiers and snow boarders" (21).

Chapter 3: "Joseph Smith and the Restoration" observes that "Joseph was anxious to know which church to join because of the religious confusion in his neighborhood caused by revivalism sweeping the area...Joseph came to the conclusion that he should pray to The Lord for guidance" (25). Author Susan Easton Black explains that the resulting First Vision experience, when related, was not well received by all. "Palmyra resident Thomas Taylor explained, 'There was something about him they could not understand; some way he knew more than they did, and it made them mad'" (25). Black explains that Joseph Smith would go on to be visited by the Angel Moroni who would lead Joseph Smith to the Book of Mormon plates explaining that Joseph would translate the Book of Mormon with others acting as scribe. Also discussed are "Priesthood Authority and Establishment of the Church," "Relocation to Ohio and Missouri," "Building the Kirtland Temple," "Far West, Missouri," and "Moving West to the Rocky Mountains." In explaining the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum the author quotes Elder Orson Hyde as stating that "instead of the work dying, it will be like the mustard stock that was ripe, that a man undertook to throw out of his garden, and scattered seed all over it, and next year it was nothing but mustard. It will be so by shedding the blood of the Prophets--it will make ten saints where there is one now" (33-34). Susan Easton Black is able to explain the basic history of the Restoration in just 14 pages, although several of the pages contain full page photos or paintings, while most remaining pages contain multiple small paintings, photos, or small scale maps.

In chapter 4: "Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation," Brent L. Top begins by quoting Joseph Smith as saying "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (39). The author explains that 'Latter-day Saints believe that only through Christ's intercession can fallen man be reconciled to Heavenly Father. In other words, no amount of human effort can on its own cleanse men from sin or rescue them from death; mankind can fully partake of the blessings of Jesus Christ's Atonement only through the principles and ordinances of His gospel" (39). Top further explains that "in His 'plan of salvation' Heavenly Father created the earth as a place for his children to obtain physical bodies, develop faith, be tested, and gain the necessary experiences to help them become like Him. Central to God's plan for His children is the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (40).

Chapter 5: "The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Additional Scriptures" allows John W. Welch to share some of the beliefs of the Church relative to the word of God. Welch shares that members believe "that God, in His great love for his children, has revealed His will over the ages to His servants, the prophets, whose writings have become scripture" (49). He adds that "what makes Mormons different from most other Christians is their belief that the Bible is not the only scripture. They believe that God has spoken to prophets in many lands and has commanded them to write and declare the words which He speaks to them" (49). After taking several paragraphs to talk about the Church's individual books of scripture, Welch sums up his feelings in stating that "Latter-day Saints find that by carefully studying the scriptures, praying for God's enlightenment, and living these teachings, the truth and meaning of sacred things become known" (57). This chapter includes a half page showing a portion of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, observing that "It is noteworthy that very few cross-outs were made throughout this manuscript as the dictation flowed, phrase after phrase" (53).

Chapter 6: "The Foundation of Apostles and Prophets" has Brent L. Top explaining that "when the gospel of Jesus Christ has been on the earth, the purpose of the Church has been to teach faith in Jesus Christ, to administer the ordinances and covenants of the gospel, and to provide members opportunities to serve their fellow men--necessary steps in coming to know God" (59). In helps the reader to understand that "differing from both the Catholic claim of unbroken authority through Peter and the popes and the Protestant claim of 'priesthood of all believers,' Mormons view their Church as the 'restored' (not merely reformed) Church of Jesus Christ" (59). "The claim to have authority from God is the essence of Mormon beliefs regarding the role of the modern Church" (60). Top shares that "today the Church is a worldwide organization with over 14 million members and nearly 30,000 congregations in 150 countries" (60). Also, "there is no paid professional clergy....[and] although women are not ordained to the priesthood, they serve in partnership with men...men and women are considered equal in the Lord's plan (2 Ne. 26:33) and receive all the same ordinances and blessings" (61).

Chapter 7: "Meetinghouses and Church Programs" has Brent W. Roberts writing about chapels, church programs, focus on the family, home teaching and visiting teaching and coming to Christ. He adds that "members believe that the family is the fundamental building block of society and that through obedience to the commandments of The Lord Jesus Christ, families can be together forever." (70). Relief Society, he explains, was "established in 1842" and "now boasts six million members, who are organized to teach and inspire women 'to build faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need'" (73). "Men who hold the priesthood are organized into service groups, known as quorums, whose main purpose is to teach the gospel, provide social experience, and give opportunities for service" (74). After describing the varied activities to be found in church buildings throughout the week, Roberts explains, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strives to help individuals and families come to know their Savior Jesus Christ and become more like Him" (77). All of this is done in 12 short pages, again, many of them full page photographs, with most all the other pages containing multiple photographs.

Chapter 8: "Mormon Lifestyles" by John P. Livingstone states that "Mormons do not necessarily stand out by their dress, speech, or behavior in obvious, public ways. Like their neighbors they drive cars and go to work each day" (79). Livingstone talks of the importance of family, marriage, moral standards, Family Home Evening, scripture study, family prayer, the Word of Wisdom, education, community service, missions, politics, the role of the Temple, etc. A few paragraphs are taken as a large side bar to explain the past relationship of the church with polygamy. (84) Livingstone explains the focus of the Church as "all of the activities and programs of the Church are intended to produce Christ-centered lives, so that members and their children may enjoy the full blessings of the gospel, both in this life and in the world to come" (87).

Chapter 9 is titled: "Education: A High Priority". Mary Jane Woodger explains that the Church "has always made the education of its members a high priority and part of its mission...early Church leaders did not differentiate between secular and religious education" (89). "The Church Educational System (CES) operates through the world through four main programs: religious education (seminaries and institute of religion), higher education (universities and colleges), elementary and secondary schools, and continuing education" (90). The rest of this chapter deals with these 4 areas of Church education showing pictures from several of the Church's universities.

In chapter 10: "Reaching Out to Those in Need," Neil K. Newell addresses such topics as "The Modern-day Welfare Program," "Fast Offering," "Self-reliance," and "Humanitarian Work." A half page sidebar on the Welfare Program makes note of the "54 farms and orchards, 143 store houses, 101 home storage centers, etc., that contribute to the Program. Also noted are components of a "soap factory, Pasta processing facility, Peanut butter cannery, bakery", etc. (100) Newell notes that "members of the Church are known for gathering by the thousands, eager to help those in distress in whatever way they can" (104). Also noted is that "members have given their time, resources, and material goods to reach out and lift up others in need. This act of charity is central to the disciple of Jesus Christ. it is the essence of the gospel" (105).

Chapter 11: "Mormon Temples Dot the Earth" is written by Richard O. Cowan. This chapter describes Temples as places of "revelation" and "sacred rites" (107). Cowan briefly touches on Kirtland, Nauvoo and the knowledge of Temple rites revealed including sacred authority being restored and baptisms for the dead, respectively. Several paragraphs are dedicated to the question "Why Do Latter-day Saints Do Vicarious Work for the Dead?" (111). The chapter has beautiful full page pictures of the Idaho Falls, Nauvoo, Manti, London, San Diego, and Kyiv Ukraine Temples.

Chapter 12: "Family History and Genealogy" is a broad overview of the history of record keeping and gathering names. The author Kip Sperry discusses the easy access stating that "an estimated 1,500 people visit the library each day" (122). On line access is also reviewed referring to www.familysearch.org which was introduced in May of 1999, adding that "Familysearch is today the largest genealogical research organization and repository in the world" (123). The program of digitizing records proceeds "at the rate of approximately 75 million new images each year" and the indexing of those records by volunteers with "over 400 million names per year" being indexed" (124).

Chapter 13: "Unto Every Nation" speaks of the the rich history of Mormons being a "missionary-minded people." Fun facts are shared -- for example, when referencing the first baptisms in Preston, Lancashire, that "by winning a foot race, George D. Watt gained the privilege of being the first of the multitudes who would join the new faith in Britain" (127). Also, "today nearly 50 percent of Tongans are members of the Church" (128). The author Richard O. Cowan shares that "the first two nations outside the United States to reach a Mormon membership of one million were Mexico in 2004 and Brazil in 2007" (133). In speaking of Africa, the author notes that "Africa has continued to have one of the highest Latter-day Saint growth rates anywhere in the world" (133). Addressing Church growth as a whole, Cowan notes that "in recent years, convert baptisms have accounted for about two-thirds to three-quarters of Mormon growth" (134).

Chapter 14: "Mormons Who Have Made a Difference" was written by three authors: Helen K.Warner, Michael H. Clifton, and Carma T. Prete. This chapter highlights members who may be more well known for their contributions in the areas of entertainment; some of them mentioned are The Osmonds, Gladys Knight, Stephenie Meyer, and David Archuleta. In sports, some of the members mentioned are Peter Vidmar, Jabari Parker, and Steve Young. In business they make reference to the Marriotts, David Neeleman, and Stephen R. Covey. For science just some of the members on the authors' list are Philo T. Farnsworth, Harvey Fletcher, Russell M. Nelson. In completing the categories of LDS members from government, the authors cite Harry Reid, Orrin Hatch, and Mitt Romney, among others.

The "Conclusions" to the book note that "Mormonism claims to be the restored Church of Jesus Christ, an inspired update of traditional Christianity." In describing Mormon beliefs, the author notes: "Like other Christians, they believe in the Trinity, but not in triune...they teach that salvation is available to all through faith in Christ, by following His teachings and by 'by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel' Their affirmation of Christ is the core of their belief system....While they have some distinctive beliefs and practices, their Christian discipleship is amply demonstrated by their faith in Jesus Christ and their commitment to following His teachings" (150).

What I like about the book is that each chapter is kept to a minimum number of pages with two of the shortest chapters being only six pages long! I like that each chapter can easily be read in one sitting. I like that the chapters are informative and light, sprinkled with interesting facts, numbers, trends, and basic beliefs and practices of members of the Church worldwide. Saving the best "like" for last would be the beautiful and multiple photographs that accompany and adorn every page...many times taking up the whole page! Then there are the stunning paintings by such well know artists as Carl Bloch, Harry Anderson, and Minerva Teichert. There is also an Index in the back of the book to help direct you to subjects of interest.

The likely question then is "Who is the book really for?" The answers to this question are many. Surely, it IS for the coffee table in your living room or any other room where you have friends and neighbors visit you in your home. Every LDS home should have a ready-to-share copy. This is a wonderful gift idea for Christmas, birthdays, baptisms, etc. For a child away from home at school, then this book becomes a friendly missionary aid and a personal reminder of all that it means to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When a non-member roommate or dorm member asks about membership in the Mormon Church, the natural response would be "Here! Take a look at this book that my mom/dad gave me. It will answer a lot of questions you may have. Just be sure and bring it back to me in a couple of days!"

With such truly amazing pictures and photographs, small charts and maps, all of them in color and many of them being full page, this is a great book for teaching IN the Church. I can see it augmenting any lesson from Primary to High Priests and from Sunday School at all ages to Relief Society. Just today I was in the Gospel Principles class for the lesson on tithing. I was reflecting back on the several chapters that would have applied and could have provided rich supplemental material and pictures to the lesson pertaining to how tithing is used to help the members and non-members, for the Welfare Program, for education--both religious and secular, and for the building programs for wards and temples worldwide.

In going through the book there were a few things that I would like to have seen mentioned; however, I have no doubt, based on the quality of authors chosen and the brevity of space allowed each chapter, that each author left out parts of their initial efforts that would have resonated with the reader.

In returning to the Preface, I am reminded that the editor, Roy A. Prete, states, "This book, which is a pictorial introduction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its people, appeals for its human interest and the superb quality of its imagery. But is is more. By focusing on the background, basic beliefs, and core values of this vigorous religious tradition, it lays the groundwork for understanding Mormonism" (vii). The Editor and the various authors get it right. This is a visual journey into and through what makes the LDS faith so unique and one of the fastest growing faiths in the world. This is more than a stunning see, more than an incredible read, it is also a deep heart-felt feel that will speak to not only you, but also to all those who open its pages.