Category Archives: Book Commentary

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

New Release: Spanish Flu “Saturday Night Thoughts” by Orson F. Whitney

Now on Project Gutenberg! Notable writer Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Twelve explained this book in its foreword as follows:

Most of the contents of this volume appeared originally as a series of articles in Saturday issues of the Deseret Evening News, beginning October 26, 1918, and ending May 31, 1919. As stated by the News, these articles “were designed to fill in some degree a spiritual void and meet a special need of those who were in the habit of attending Sunday services, but were denied that privilege by the prevalence of the influenza epidemic.” That epidemic caused a suspension of public gatherings for several months, and even made necessary the postponement of one General Conference of the Church.

It was during this period of suspension that these contributions to the Church organ began. They were given place on the editorial page, and subsequently the News said of them: “These ‘Thoughts’ have subserved a far more than temporary and passing purpose—they have stimulated study and deep reflection, and they have been greatly enjoyed and prized by the thoughtful reader everywhere.”

Among those who uttered similar sentiments was President George H. Brimhall, of the Brigham Young University, who, in a letter to the author, expressed the hope that provision would be made for publication of the essays in book form, “thus adding one more choice volume to Latter-day Saint literature, especially suited to the needs of students at home and missionaries abroad.” Like expressions came from President Heber J. Grant, Senator Reed Smoot, President John A. Widtsoe, of the University of Utah, and many other prominent people.

In response to this cordial, widespread sentiment of appreciation, and under the sanction of the General Authorities of the Church, the “Saturday Night Thoughts” were compiled for republication, and the result is here presented.

May, 1921

THE AUTHOR.

 

New Release: “Mr. Durant” by Ben E. Rich

Mr. Durant of Salt Lake City, “That Mormon” is an 1893 novel by Ben E. Rich, publisher, missionary, and later on President of the Southern States Mission. (We’ve talked about Rich elsewhere.) Set in Tennessee, it tells the story of a missionary (Durant) who has a series of gospel discussions with people in a given town. The novel is more like a frame story for the discussions than a drama in its own right, but Durant does almost get mobbed. Interesting as an indication of how the gospel was being presented and received in the South during this time frame.

New Release: “The Lectures on Faith”

They’re finally out! McConkie wrote concerning the Lectures: “They were not themselves classed as revelations, but in them is to be found some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars.” They were prepared by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon as lesson material for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, and were included in editions of the Doctrine & Covenants from 1835 through 1921. A good overview of their significance is available in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (also the source of the quote). The Lectures are well worth a read, and quite short.

Get the e-book free on PG. You can also scans of the 1835 edition at the Joseph Smith Papers site.

New Release: “Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet” by Edward Stevenson

This 1893 book is notable as a source about Joseph Smith–the author was a teenager in Kirtland, and published this in his later years. Elder Stevenson is also significant as a many-time missionary and one of the Presidents of the Seventy. Check it out on Project Gutenberg.

New release: Churchill and the “Mormon Question” in England

The title of this pamphlet says it all: “Being a Summary Statement of the Investigation made by the British Government of the ‘Mormon’ Question in England.” Notable as it bears on British attitudes to the Church at the time (circa 1911-1914) and quotes Winston Churchill, who as Home Secretary was responsible for government inquiries regarding the Church. (Spoiler: he discovered no “ground for legislative action.”) Get it free now on Project Gutenberg.

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.