The "Book of Mormon": A Biography

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"Paul Gutjahr has written the perfect book on the Book of Mormon: fascinating, forthright, empathetic, critical, and discerning. Gutjahr employs his sheer intellectual curiosity to produce a lively, enlightening history that deftly circles among Joseph Smith, Mormons, and critics as though they were themselves engaged in an intelligent civil conversation. The result is an ideal guide to the life of a now-iconic American religious text."—Jon Butler, Yale University

"There can be ...

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Overview

"Paul Gutjahr has written the perfect book on the Book of Mormon: fascinating, forthright, empathetic, critical, and discerning. Gutjahr employs his sheer intellectual curiosity to produce a lively, enlightening history that deftly circles among Joseph Smith, Mormons, and critics as though they were themselves engaged in an intelligent civil conversation. The result is an ideal guide to the life of a now-iconic American religious text."—Jon Butler, Yale University

"There can be no doubt that the Book of Mormon is among the most influential books in American history. Gutjahr's clear, compelling narrative traces this influence from the book's American beginnings through translations, migrations, and cultural adaptations into its global twenty-first century. Gutjahr treats his subject with respect, thoughtfulness, appreciation, scholarly rigor, and intellectual curiosity. Mormons and non-Mormons alike will find his book fascinating, freshly informative, and a pleasure to read."—Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl

"With impressive command of detail rendered in lucid, accessible prose, Paul Gutjahr has produced a marvelously informative account of the Book of Mormon from its origins to the present. This is a very useful book for understanding American religious history."—Randall Balmer, author of The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond

"This probing and engaging study surveys the history, use, translation, and adaptation into other media of the Book of Mormon. I know of nothing else quite like it. Religious traditions change over time, and controlling a sacred text plays an important role in the self-identity of the community. Gutjahr explains not simply how changes in the text took place, but why."—Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, editor of American Scriptures: An Anthology of Sacred Writings

"Paul Gutjahr's book offers a well-written, balanced summary of much of the scholarship on the Book of Mormon, and presents new insights and lesser-known information as well."—Richard Lyman Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
To explain this book—now published in 150 million copies in 110 languages—Gutjahr recounts the life of Joseph Smith, whose status as the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests upon his claim that he translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates delivered to him by an angel. . . . Undeterred by skeptics' allegations of fraud, a small army of missionaries have made the book a powerful proselytizing tool . . . but as an engaging human story, it has also inspired the creative impulses of visual, cinematic, and theatrical artists. . . . A very helpful introduction to a perplexing but increasingly visible religious text.
— Bryce Christensen
The Guardian
[A] fascinating history of an important document of American culture.
— Steven Poole
Pacific Standard Magazine
America is experiencing something of a Mormon moment. . . . But much remains unknown about this faith, including the circumstances surrounding its primary sacred text. Paul C. Gutjahr's well-written and erudite account of the history of the Book of Mormon fills much of this void. . . . Gutjahr's account leaves one with considerable appreciation for the enduring value of the Book of Mormon.
— Wade Clark Roof
Meridian Magazine
Gutjahr has read widely in both Mormon and non-Mormon sources, and he has taken the trouble to get the basic facts right. . . . The Book of Mormon: A Biography is a quick read that Latter-day Saints will find enjoyable and thought-provoking. It would also be perfect for non-member friends who are curious about the Book of Mormon but are looking for something more neutral or balanced than materials published by the Church, yet are perhaps not quite interested enough to take on a thick monograph like By the Hand of Mormon or Understanding the Book of Mormon.
— Grant Hardy
Washington Post Book World
[I]t's refreshing to read a nonpartisan book about Mormonism.
— Justin Moyer
Dialogue
Gutjahr's biography is an easy-to-read overview of the Book of Mormon's life, a reminder that the Book of Mormon is the world's text, not merely the text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in spite of the Church's careful efforts (through copyright measures and other means) to maintain the text's integrity. And even within the LDS tradition itself, the book shapeshifts as it traverses landscapes of differing historical contexts and rhetorical objectives. Such is the life of books, such is the life Gutjahr ably recounts.
— Blair Hodges
Deseret News
Book of Mormon: A Biography takes readers on a quick journey through Mormon history from past to present focused on the Book of Mormon. The topics covered include Joseph Smith, the translation of the Book of Mormon, how the book was used in early church history, the death of Joseph Smith, the church's move to Utah, missionary work, further growth of the church, and the influence of the Book of Mormon on movies, music, theater, art and culture.
— Ryan Morgenegg
Booklist - Bryce Christensen
To explain this book—now published in 150 million copies in 110 languages—Gutjahr recounts the life of Joseph Smith, whose status as the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests upon his claim that he translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates delivered to him by an angel. . . . Undeterred by skeptics' allegations of fraud, a small army of missionaries have made the book a powerful proselytizing tool . . . but as an engaging human story, it has also inspired the creative impulses of visual, cinematic, and theatrical artists. . . . A very helpful introduction to a perplexing but increasingly visible religious text.
The Guardian - Steven Poole
[A] fascinating history of an important document of American culture.
Pacific Standard Magazine - Wade Clark Roof
America is experiencing something of a Mormon moment. . . . But much remains unknown about this faith, including the circumstances surrounding its primary sacred text. Paul C. Gutjahr's well-written and erudite account of the history of the Book of Mormon fills much of this void. . . . Gutjahr's account leaves one with considerable appreciation for the enduring value of the Book of Mormon.
Meridian Magazine - Grant Hardy
Gutjahr has read widely in both Mormon and non-Mormon sources, and he has taken the trouble to get the basic facts right. . . . The Book of Mormon: A Biography is a quick read that Latter-day Saints will find enjoyable and thought-provoking. It would also be perfect for non-member friends who are curious about the Book of Mormon but are looking for something more neutral or balanced than materials published by the Church, yet are perhaps not quite interested enough to take on a thick monograph like By the Hand of Mormon or Understanding the Book of Mormon.
Washington Post Book World - Justin Moyer
[I]t's refreshing to read a nonpartisan book about Mormonism.
Dialogue - Blair Hodges
Gutjahr's biography is an easy-to-read overview of the Book of Mormon's life, a reminder that the Book of Mormon is the world's text, not merely the text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in spite of the Church's careful efforts (through copyright measures and other means) to maintain the text's integrity. And even within the LDS tradition itself, the book shapeshifts as it traverses landscapes of differing historical contexts and rhetorical objectives. Such is the life of books, such is the life Gutjahr ably recounts.
Deseret News - Ryan Morgenegg
Book of Mormon: A Biography takes readers on a quick journey through Mormon history from past to present focused on the Book of Mormon. The topics covered include Joseph Smith, the translation of the Book of Mormon, how the book was used in early church history, the death of Joseph Smith, the church's move to Utah, missionary work, further growth of the church, and the influence of the Book of Mormon on movies, music, theater, art and culture.
Tablet - Jon Sweeney
Gutjahr tells the story of this very strange book . . . with courage and verve.
Choice
Gutjahr's contribution to the 'Lives of Great Religious Books' series is a concise and eminently teachable history of the most important American-made world scripture. In a welcome departure from most such accounts, Gutjahr gives as much space to the Book of Mormon's 20th-century life as he does to its ancient or 19th-century origins, presenting in a compact, readable form a great deal of relatively recent history about its cultural and religious significance. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers.
BYU Studies Quarterly - Tod R. Harris
The Book of Mormon: A Biography is overall a delight. . . . Gutjahr's . . . book is a terrific example of a work typifying legitimate academic study, particularly as compared with most of the poor mistreatments of Mormon studies. It is balanced and engaging enough to give non-LDS readers a clear insight into what members consider a truly divine work and, perhaps more importantly, accurate and honest enough to satisfy LDS readers.
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"To explain this book—now published in 150 million copies in 110 languages—Gutjahr recounts the life of Joseph Smith, whose status as the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests upon his claim that he translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates delivered to him by an angel. . . . Undeterred by skeptics' allegations of fraud, a small army of missionaries have made the book a powerful proselytizing tool . . . but as an engaging human story, it has also inspired the creative impulses of visual, cinematic, and theatrical artists. . . . A very helpful introduction to a perplexing but increasingly visible religious text."—Bryce Christensen, Booklist

"[A] fascinating history of an important document of American culture."—Steven Poole, The Guardian

"This is a book that has been waiting to be written. There have been previous accounts of the Book of Mormon by believers and nonbelievers, but most have been too polemical for general readers. Gutjahr (English, Indiana Univ.; Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy) doesn't ignore controversial issues of history and authenticity, as is the case with some other short introductions; rather, he provides several alternative interpretations of the book's origins. . . . Needless to say, especially with the tremendous success of the Broadway show The Book of Mormon, there is a great need for a book like this. It should appeal to scholars and interested general readers alike."—David S. Azzolina, Library Journal (starred review)

"America is experiencing something of a Mormon moment. . . . But much remains unknown about this faith, including the circumstances surrounding its primary sacred text. Paul C. Gutjahr's well-written and erudite account of the history of the Book of Mormon fills much of this void. . . . Gutjahr's account leaves one with considerable appreciation for the enduring value of the Book of Mormon."—Wade Clark Roof, Pacific Standard Magazine

"Gutjahr has read widely in both Mormon and non-Mormon sources, and he has taken the trouble to get the basic facts right. . . . The Book of Mormon: A Biography is a quick read that Latter-day Saints will find enjoyable and thought-provoking. It would also be perfect for non-member friends who are curious about the Book of Mormon but are looking for something more neutral or balanced than materials published by the Church, yet are perhaps not quite interested enough to take on a thick monograph like By the Hand of Mormon or Understanding the Book of Mormon."—Grant Hardy, Meridian Magazine

"[I]t's refreshing to read a nonpartisan book about Mormonism."—Justin Moyer, Washington Post Book World

"Gutjahr's biography is an easy-to-read overview of the Book of Mormon's life, a reminder that the Book of Mormon is the world's text, not merely the text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in spite of the Church's careful efforts (through copyright measures and other means) to maintain the text's integrity. And even within the LDS tradition itself, the book shapeshifts as it traverses landscapes of differing historical contexts and rhetorical objectives. Such is the life of books, such is the life Gutjahr ably recounts."—Blair Hodges, Dialogue

"Book of Mormon: A Biography takes readers on a quick journey through Mormon history from past to present focused on the Book of Mormon. The topics covered include Joseph Smith, the translation of the Book of Mormon, how the book was used in early church history, the death of Joseph Smith, the church's move to Utah, missionary work, further growth of the church, and the influence of the Book of Mormon on movies, music, theater, art and culture."—Ryan Morgenegg, Deseret News

"Gutjahr tells the story of this very strange book . . . with courage and verve."—Jon Sweeney, Tablet
"Gutjahr's contribution to the 'Lives of Great Religious Books' series is a concise and eminently teachable history of the most important American-made world scripture. In a welcome departure from most such accounts, Gutjahr gives as much space to the Book of Mormon's 20th-century life as he does to its ancient or 19th-century origins, presenting in a compact, readable form a great deal of relatively recent history about its cultural and religious significance. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers."—Choice, Editor's Picks

"The Book of Mormon: A Biography is overall a delight. . . . Gutjahr's . . . book is a terrific example of a work typifying legitimate academic study, particularly as compared with most of the poor mistreatments of Mormon studies. It is balanced and engaging enough to give non-LDS readers a clear insight into what members consider a truly divine work and, perhaps more importantly, accurate and honest enough to satisfy LDS readers."—Tod R. Harris, BYU Studies Quarterly

"Gutjahr succeeded in writing an informative account of the history of the Book of Mormon. His style provides enough information for those who are just curious about the Book of Mormon and Mormonism while at the same time satisfying a more interested reader's curiosity by providing a platform for further research."—Ingrid Sherlock-Taselaar, International Journal for the Study of New Religions

"Gutjahr has produced a valuable biography of an American apocrypha for a general audience. He provides a valuable summary of various editions and translations of a sacred text that has made an indelible impact on religion in America and beyond. The overview of scholarly debates about the historical claims of the scripture is fair, accessible and concise. His outline of the illustrations in the Book of Mormon and its life on the stage and in the cinema is original and will be of value even to specialists in Mormonism."—Thomas Murphy, Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions

Booklist

To explain this book—now published in 150 million copies in 110 languages—Gutjahr recounts the life of Joseph Smith, whose status as the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests upon his claim that he translated the Book of Mormon from ancient gold plates delivered to him by an angel. . . . Undeterred by skeptics' allegations of fraud, a small army of missionaries have made the book a powerful proselytizing tool . . . but as an engaging human story, it has also inspired the creative impulses of visual, cinematic, and theatrical artists. . . . A very helpful introduction to a perplexing but increasingly visible religious text.
— Bryce Christensen

The Guardian

[A] fascinating history of an important document of American culture.
— Steven Poole

Deseret News

Book of Mormon: A Biography takes readers on a quick journey through Mormon history from past to present focused on the Book of Mormon. The topics covered include Joseph Smith, the translation of the Book of Mormon, how the book was used in early church history, the death of Joseph Smith, the church's move to Utah, missionary work, further growth of the church, and the influence of the Book of Mormon on movies, music, theater, art and culture.
— Ryan Morgenegg

Washington Post Book World

[I]t's refreshing to read a nonpartisan book about Mormonism.
— Justin Moyer

Meridian Magazine

Gutjahr has read widely in both Mormon and non-Mormon sources, and he has taken the trouble to get the basic facts right. . . . The Book of Mormon: A Biography is a quick read that Latter-day Saints will find enjoyable and thought-provoking. It would also be perfect for non-member friends who are curious about the Book of Mormon but are looking for something more neutral or balanced than materials published by the Church, yet are perhaps not quite interested enough to take on a thick monograph like By the Hand of Mormon or Understanding the Book of Mormon.
— Grant Hardy

Dialogue

Gutjahr's biography is an easy-to-read overview of the Book of Mormon's life, a reminder that the Book of Mormon is the world's text, not merely the text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in spite of the Church's careful efforts (through copyright measures and other means) to maintain the text's integrity. And even within the LDS tradition itself, the book shapeshifts as it traverses landscapes of differing historical contexts and rhetorical objectives. Such is the life of books, such is the life Gutjahr ably recounts.
— Blair Hodges

Pacific Standard Magazine

America is experiencing something of a Mormon moment. . . . But much remains unknown about this faith, including the circumstances surrounding its primary sacred text. Paul C. Gutjahr's well-written and erudite account of the history of the Book of Mormon fills much of this void. . . . Gutjahr's account leaves one with considerable appreciation for the enduring value of the Book of Mormon.
— Wade Clark Roof

Meridian Magazine
Gutjahr has read widely in both Mormon and non-Mormon sources, and he has taken the trouble to get the basic facts right. . . . The Book of Mormon: A Biography is a quick read that Latter-day Saints will find enjoyable and thought-provoking. It would also be perfect for non-member friends who are curious about the Book of Mormon but are looking for something more neutral or balanced than materials published by the Church, yet are perhaps not quite interested enough to take on a thick monograph like By the Hand of Mormon or Understanding the Book of Mormon.
— Grant Hardy
Library Journal
This is a book that has been waiting to be written. There have been previous accounts of the Book of Mormon by believers and nonbelievers, but most have been too polemical for general readers. Gutjahr (English, Indiana Univ.; Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy) doesn't ignore controversial issues of history and authenticity, as is the case with some other short introductions; rather, he provides several alternative interpretations of the book's origins. But the uniqueness here is in his account of the book's publication history and its path to becoming part of Mormon and more general culture in fiction, film, and theater. Trenchant illustrations accompany this part of the work. Most people are probably unaware that a number of early silent movies were based on the Book of Mormon and that many novels have adapted it. The well-known LDS pageant America's Witness for Christ is discussed as well. VERDICT Needless to say, especially with the tremendous success of the Broadway show The Book of Mormon, there is a great need for a book like this. It should appeal to scholars and interested general readers alike.—David S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia
Justin Moyer
While some of Gutjahr's claims stretch credulity—does the musical comedy Book of Mormon by the creators of South Park really prove that the book has "finally escaped the confines of strictly religious discourse"?—it's refreshing to read a nonpartisan book about Mormonism.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691144801
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/25/2012
  • Series: Lives of Great Religious Books Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 780,373
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul C. Gutjahr is professor of English at Indiana University. His books include "Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy" and "An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880".

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xiii
A Note on Usage xix
Part I: Germination 1
Prologue 3
Chapter 1: Joseph’s Gold Bible 11
Chapter 2: Holy Writ or Humbug? 38
Part II: Budding 59
Chapter 3 Multiplying Prophets 61
Chapter 4 Great Basin Saints and
The Book 86

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted September 29, 2012

    Outstanding work of scholarship!

    Professor Gutjahr has produced a work of outstanding scholarship about a subject which few Americans know much about. He points out that The Book of Mormon can now be read by nearly 90 per cent of the world's population and that it has achieved a distribution of 150 million worldwide by 2011. A convincing case is made by the author that "without the book, there would be no Mormon religious tradition" The eminent contemporary American historian Gordon Wood has referred to it as "one of the greatest documents in American cultural history."
    While the theme and concentration is the Book of Mormon, one learns much about Mormon history from its very beginnings to the present. In addition to the familiar figures of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the reader is introduced to many other lesser know major leaders. For instance,the crucial role played by Ezra Taft Benson, a member of Eisenhower's cabinet, in greatly promoting the role and relevance of this essential religious text is explained in detail. There are insightful chapters devoted to the importance of the book in missionary work and scholarship which includes the fields of anthropology and microbiology.
    A fascinating chapter outlines the history of the book on screen and stage from the first film in 1915 right up to the current Tony award winning muscial, "The Book of Mormon." I can't think of a better place to start than with this marvelous, compelling guide to gain knowledge and insight into the Mormon faith and its role in American history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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