Category Archives: Book Commentary

Posts that discuss specific books, whether or not they’re new releases.

New release: “Ancient Apostles” by David O. McKay

David O. McKay is best known as the 9th President of the Church, serving 1951-1970, and unfortunately his later writings will likely remain under copyright for many, many years. But earlier in his 64 year tenure as a general authority, he served as Sunday School General Superintendent and wrote Ancient Apostles. The second edition, published 1921, is up on Project Gutenberg. McKay describes it thus in his preface:

“Ancient Apostles” is written as one of the series of text books prepared for use in the Sunday Schools of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its purpose is to give a simple account of the leading incidents in the lives of the chief Apostles of Christ in the Holy Land, with the view of developing faith in the hearts of the children in the principles of the Gospel, and in the divine organization of the Church.

Prominent traits of character in the different disciples are pointed out as the circumstances in the lessons permit. These should be so emphasized in the presentation to the class that the pupils will be led not only to appreciate them as commendable and emulative, but to realize that by personal exertion all these good traits may become theirs. Virtuous and honorable actions are the stones by which we build the mansion of character.

Each chapter is planned, also, to emphasize one general aim, which should be correlated with the incident or incidents with which the personality of the Apostle and his companions is associated. Since it is difficult, if not impossible to teach morality and doctrine without personality, the wise teachers will ever keep in mind that the persons, settings, actions, and conversations in this little work are only a means of teaching truths and principles of conduct that will contribute to the moulding of God-like character in their boys and girls.

The suggestive outlines and aims in the appendix are offered as helps and guides to teachers. Only a few suggestive applications are offered; but no lesson should be given, or even prepared, without the teachers attempting, at least, to devise the most efficient means of introducing into the children’s daily lives the aims and ideals taught.

The sincere wish of the author is that at least part of the pleasure experienced in writing these lessons may be realized by those who prepare to teach them, and by those who read them, and that their studious efforts through the blessings of the Lord, will bring to them that peace and satisfaction which come with the realization of having helped to make better and more efficient the men and women of tomorrow.

Enjoy!

 

The Mormon Battalion vs. the stray dogs of L.A.

Things I have learned from reading pioneer James S. Brown’s autobiography: the Mormon Battalion executed a military order to exterminate the stray dogs of Los Angeles. Brown recounts:

Another event about this period was an order by Colonel Cooke for a detail of good marksmen and trusty men to go through the town and shoot or bayonet all the dogs to be found in the streets. The colonel had notified the town authorities of his intention. Accordingly the detail was made and ammunition issued. The writer was one of the trusted marksmen. We sallied forth in the town of Los Angeles, where the dogs were more numerous than human beings, and commenced our disagreeable and deadly work. Muskets rattled in every street and byway, dogs barked and howled in every direction, and women and children wept to have the animals spared. But military orders had to be obeyed, for the dog nuisance had become intolerable. After that, there were sanitary orders sent forth, and the streets were cleared of the dogs and a great amount of bones and other rubbish.

I will admit that after my mission experiences with stray dogs, I read this with some enthusiasm. But the Battalion’s exploits against animals don’t stop there; they also fought a battle with a herd of wild cattle, with casualties of one mule for the Battalion and 20-25 for the cattle:

In a very brief space of time we found ourselves plunged into a warm climate, where we could not see any plant or shrub that we had been acquainted with before. There was some small, scrubby ash, sycamore and black walnut, but everything, even to the rocks, had a strange appearance. We also had entered the land of wild horses and cattle, which roamed the hills by thousands. The wild cattle became excited at the rumbling wagons, and gathered thickly along our way.

At last the muskets commenced to rattle, partly through fear, and partly because we wanted beef. Finally a herd of wild cattle charged our line, tossed some men into the air, pierced others with their horns, knocking some down, and ran over others, attacking one light wagon, the hind end of which was lifted clear from the road. One large bull plunged into a six-mule team, ran his head under the off-swing mule, throwing him entirely over the near one and thrusting his horn into the mule’s vitals, injuring our animal so it had to be left on the ground, where it expired in a few minutes. There were several men and mules roughly used and bruised, just the number I do not now recall. The attacking party lost twenty or twenty-five of their number killed, with many others badly or slightly wounded.

B. H. Roberts also recounts the battle with the cattle in his book The Mormon Battalion. And of course all this helped fulfill a prophecy from Brigham Young (quoting Brown, emphasis added):

…the words of President Brigham Young, in his farewell address to the battalion, in which he said: “You are now going into an enemy’s land at your country’s call. If you will live your religion, obey and respect your officers, and hold sacred the property of the people among whom you travel, and never take anything but what you pay for, I promise you in the name of Israel’s God that not one of you shall fall by the hand of an enemy. Though there will be battles fought in your front and in your rear, on your right hand and on your left, you will not have any fighting to do except with wild beasts.”

This is good stuff, guys. Read the book.

Now releasing…all the pamphlets!

Not quite all the pamphlets, but Scrap Book of Mormon Literature vol. 2, now on PG, contains an embarrassment of riches. It includes about 45 selections from authors including:

  • Brigham Young
  • Joseph Fielding Smith
  • Heber J. Grant
  • B. H. Roberts
  • Parley P. Pratt
  • George Q. Cannon
  • Orson Pratt
  • Orson Hyde
  • Orson F. Whitney

Obviously that’s a pretty good cross section from the first century of Church writing, thanks to mission president and compiler Ben E. Rich. He included materials originally published everywhere from the Liverpool to Japan.

And if you’re wondering…you didn’t miss the release of volume 1; it’s just still in progress. Stay tuned. Fortunately the volumes work independently of each other.

New Release: “Proclamation of the Twelve”

Now available: Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saintsan 1845 pamphlet declaring the doctrine of the Gospel in the spirit of D&C 124:2-3. Those verses state: “Your prayers are acceptable before me; and in answer to them I say unto you, that you are now called immediately to make a solemn proclamation of my gospel, and of this stake which I have planted to be a cornerstone of Zion, which shall be polished with the refinement which is after the similitude of a palace. This proclamation shall be made to all the kings of the world, to the four corners thereof, to the honorable president-elect, and the high-minded governors of the nation in which you live, and to all the nations of the earth scattered abroad.” It’s one of only a handful of formal Proclamations issued by the Twelve. Recently (by MTP standards) President Benson discussed it in this talk.

New autobiography release: “Life of a Pioneer”

James S. Brown (born 1828) was a pioneer captain, member of the Mormon Battalion, settlement founder, serial missionary (to the American Indians, the South Pacific, England, and the eastern U.S.), and all-around interesting guy. His 1900 book Life of a Pioneer: Being the Autobiography of James S. Brown is now available free on Project Gutenberg. Enjoy.

New Release: “The Women of Mormondom”

“The night before he died, Brigham Young said he would like 1000 of this book distributed at the east.” These are the words scribbled on the first page of the Bancroft Library’s copy of Edward Tullidge’s The Women of Mormondom. Regardless of the accuracy of this quote, Tullidge’s 1877 book, now available on Project Gutenberg, is doubtlessly one of the precious treasures of Mormon history. Tullidge compiled several accounts of women living in the Joseph Smith and Brigham Young eras of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and laid them before the world in this work. He valiantly defended them in their practice of plural marriage and their campaign for women’s suffrage.

Due to its rich collection of first-person accounts and biographical sketches, this book has been quoted several times by modern-day church leaders. Indeed, this book has been quoted by President Gordon B. Hinckley in the general conferences of the church. This has all been done despite the fact that Tullidge at the time of the book’s publication was excommunicated for apostasy and strong beliefs in mysticism that plagued the church during the mid-eighteen hundreds. Even with his apostate viewpoints glossing the pages of this book occasionally, the historical sources and narratives of this book truly testify of the faithfulness of these early women of the Latter-day Saint Church.

For more information on Tullidge and his relationship with the church during his publication of this book, see Ronald W. Walker’s “Edward Tullidge: Historian of the Mormon Commonwealth” in Journal of Mormon History Vol. 3 (1976), pages 55-72.

Thanks to Steven Fluckiger for proofreading this work and contributing this blog post.

New Release: “What Jesus Taught” by Osborne Widtsoe

Is it still nepotism when you look into a dead guy’s book because his brother* was cool? We’re somewhere in that vicinity…Elder John A. Widtsoe’s brother Osborne Widtsoe wrote this 1918 book for the Deseret Sunday School Union, for use as a youth Sunday School course, and I will admit I initially found it through the family name. But the proofreader tells me What Jesus Taught does stand on its own merits.

It includes 40 lessons, each with references and discussion questions. The discussion questions get pretty intense–I’d like to have a youth class today discuss the significance of Napoleon Bonaparte’s testimony of Christ, or the “particular value [of Christ’s] testimony to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.” The book definitely makes for an interesting time capsule of what youth were seeing back in the day.

In Widtsoe’s words:

This little book is an attempt modestly to present in popular form the teachings of Jesus. It is intended for boys and girls of high-school age. It is to be understood, then, that there is here no exhaustive treatise of the teachings of Jesus; nor is there conducted a study and investigation of profound scholarship. Such a work from the Mormon point of view must be deferred, if desirable at all. But it is hoped that what Jesus taught—in part at least—is here presented simply and plainly and truly, so that anyone who reads may understand. It is further hoped that the writing of these lessons has been “moved by the Holy Ghost,” so that those who read them may learn to love the teachings of Jesus, and to know and to love God, and His Son, Jesus, whom He sent to redeem the world. “Worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

So there you go. Happy reading.

*On Elder John A. Widtsoe being cool: his book Rational Theology is my favorite non-scriptural Mormon work and is the reason I got involved in MTP–I read the PG version of Rational Theology, saw the credit line, and wanted more.