BCC Christmas gift book guide

Christmas gift buying can be a stressful experience. What to get somebody that already has everything? Books are always great. There are typically affordable titles and nobody I know has every book they would like to own. Additionally, Mormon books aren’t widely available through the library system (outside the corridor). So don’t fret over the tie pattern or night gown and peruse the bookshelf.

November_2006_anytimeAnytime, Anywhere, by John H. Groberg. [Deseret Book] $15.96
The majority of the Saints aren’t interested in the esoteric or obscure. The devotional is a resolute tradition in Mormon publishing and John Groberg has a proven track record in the true-story genre. Author of The Other Side of Heaven (which made it to the big screen), Groberg inspires with his readable and faith filled stories. Sometimes we forget that God interacts with the faithful, this book is a great reminder that he does. Anytime, Anywhere takes us from President Kimball’s invitation of service and shows us the world.

November_2006_ntJesus Christ and the World of the New Testament: An LDS Perspective, by Richard Holzapfel, Eric Huntsman and Thomas A. Wayment. [Deseret Book] $33.96
Not only will we be ringing out wild bells as we enter the New Year, but we will also be shifting from the talking donkey and carnage of the Jewish Bible to our Lord’s New Testament ministry in Sunday School. Being committed to the King James Version and living far distant in time and place from the narrative, study aids open a vast world that is otherwise inaccessible. Holzapfel and Huntsman have delivered a beautiful and well reviewed volume that will be a blessing to anyone who is interested, Gospel Doctrine teacher and student alike.

The book is filled with amazing images and interesting historical asides. Most importantly, however, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament is filled with scholarship (really). This work is perhaps the glamorized distillation of the three volume The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ series (~$25 a pop) which Jeff Needle describes as a “veritable avalanche of new information.” I’ve only cracked open the vol. 2, but it is excellent (these are also great gift ideas).

November_2006_backsliderThe Backslider, by Levi S. Peterson. [Signature Books] $5.95
20 years ago, Levi Peterson changed the world of Mormon letters. The Backslider remains to this day the most important and best work of fiction in Mormonism. I say this not just because Sister Stapley plays the organ at the Ruby Inn, but because Levi has told a story that resonates like none other has before or since. Frank Windham is a cowboy in Southern Utah and we watch as he struggles to find the true Christian miracle. My mom thinks it is hilarious and at six bucks it could be a stocking stuffer.

November_2006_mckay November_2006_stride November_2006_rsr
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory A Prince and Wm Robert Wright. [University of Utah Press] $19.77

Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, by Edward L. Kimball. [Deseret Book] $29.95

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman Bushman. [Knopf] $23.10

2005 brought us the great biographical trifecta. While there are a few biographies lurking on the horizon (Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant) I think it is safe to say that the bounty of 2005 will never be repeated. Since publication, all three have received tremendous amounts of attention, and for good reason. We do live in a different age of Mormon Scholarship, and this is the proof. Kimball gives Elder McConkie making the case that there is no Scriptural precedent for the Priesthood Ban. Prince shows us the struggle for influence in the First Presidency. Bushman gives us a Joseph in which we need not shame. Your head will spin, but it is a wonderful feeling. All three are must-reads.

November_2006_esplinThe Emergence of Brigham Young and the Twelve: to Mormon Leadership, 1830-1841, by Ronald K. Esplin. [BYU Studies] $19.95
BYU Studies (and the Smith Institute before it) has made an effort to disseminate some of the more impactful theses in Mormon Studies (e.g., see here). Esplin’s thesis definitely qualifies. Sometimes (er, oft times) there is a gap between the casual or lay student of Mormonism and the insider-historian. Here, you will find lots of tasty morsels that you really can’t find anywhere else. Slowly chew your way into the inner sanctum. Remember: this is a thesis and does not read like a novel.

November_2006_tannerThe Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years, edited by Dean L. May and Reid L. Neilson. [University of Illinois Press] $30.00 or $70.00
Every year at the Mormon History Association meeting, a non-Mormon scholar is invited to present on their area of expertise that in some way relates to Mormonism. This volume presents 21 of these lectures in three sections (that have introductory essays by an all-star line up). Not all the lectures are spectacular, but they are all better than good. The topics are diverse, ranging from dancing to politics to scripture (see the table of contents). One of the essays in particular will also give the individual that is new to and unfamiliar with the dynamics within Mormon history over the decades a nice view. This volume isn’t one that you won’t be able to put down, but it is a solid compilation that is good for the beginner and veteran.

Merry Christmas shopping!


  1. If you’re going to give someone _The Backslider_, you should also give them _A Scoundrel by Nature; A Christian by Yearning_ (University of Utah Press), Levi’s memoir. It’s not quite as inexpensive as _The Backslider_, but it’s a great read.
    When is someone going to do a boxed set of Levi’s work?

  2. A great list, J.

  3. Stephen Taysom says:

    “Slowly chew your way into the inner sanctum.” That’s tasty prose! I love it.

  4. I heartily recommend the Prince/Wright, Kimball, and Bushman books.

    Jan Shipman said that the Prince/Wright book was one of the best of the decade. For the period it covers, there will likely never be a better source.

    Kimball’s book about his father is the first that I know of to have a “Publisher’s Preface” at the beginning that basically says that the publisher really didn’t want to include a lot of what’s in it (but didn’t dare let the book go to another publishing house). And besides, Deseret needed a new book to tout.

    What else can be said about Bushman? He is the preeminent “believing” historian of our time. He said that it is not his way to “compel people to reason and belief”, but to provide information that would allow people to come to conclusions for themselves.

    Bibliophiles enjoy.

  5. Thanks all, and yes Margaret, it is hilarious. Also following Margaret’s lead, be sure to post your Christmas picks.

  6. While I enjoyed the Prince book and RSR, I found the Kimball bio to essentially be a series of anecdotes about President Kimball. While pleasant this book is no where near as compelling as the previous two mentioned. I put it down after a couple of chapters. Am I missing something? Can someone point me to some more interesting sections of the book?

  7. Julie M. Smith says:

    Stick with it, gomez. Or read it off the CD. It is less “scholarly” than the other two, but there is great stuff in it and it is well worth reading.

  8. I have to admit, gomez, that I read the unabridged digital edition that comes with it. The footnotes are actually significant (although, reading a screen is inferior to handling the book) and there is more and better stuff. I think the chapters on the Priesthood ban are very important and a compelling read. I also liked the stuff on the Temple very much.

  9. Thanks v. much Julie and J. I did read the Priesthood chapter (before anything else actually). I’ll take a look at what is on the CD, for that chapter and the temple stuff, at least.

  10. I meant Jan Shipps in #4. Sorry. I was thinking about a friend named Shipman … It’s been a day.

    The CD that comes with the Kimball book is a very important part of the package. On it there is some additional light shed on SWK’s relationship with his oldest son. I found it to be very instructive.

  11. The Prince Book was a great read, but had a lot of big flaws in it. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t read Mr. Prince’s forward and decided I thought he was a horse’s patoot from the onset. I think my expectations were too high. I will admit I read the book all the way through and it kept my interest, which RSR hasn’t, but do not think it deserves nearly half the credit it is given.

    I’d recommend a set of the Blake Ostler books, because that’s what I want :)

  12. Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices choir has released a Christmas cd. Their previous album won a grammy in the gospel category. Hearing them sing live was a real thrill. So I’m thinking those might make good gifts.

  13. Whoops, those aren’t books. My bad. For some reason I was thinking this was a more general thread about LDS-related Christmas gifts.

  14. As for Backslider, if you can wait until February, Signature is coming out with a 20th Anniversary hardcover edition.


  15. Signature is also coming out with the compiled Statements of the LDS First Presidency, which ought to be interesting. Was supposed to be released in December, but now looks like it might be January.

  16. One more note. You can get Jesus Christ and the New Testament a bit cheaper at BYU’s bookstore ($29.99). They will also ship it for free (at least for now; in the past shipment has only been free for orders over $75, but when I checked today, the website says free shipping on orders over $25).


  17. Matt, those are definitely great picks. I think they are a bit esoteric for the general membership, but good stuff…and very reasonably priced.

    Randy, I’ll be interested to see how Bergera’s Statements compares to Clark’s 4 volumes of Messages. I’m also surprised that Signature’s Diaries of L. John Nuttall were put of until the begining of 2007. At $125, they are not particularly going to get wide distribution, but it would seem like Christmas would be an ideal opportunity to move product.

  18. Matt W.- I’m interested to learn what you feel are the major flaws in Prince’s book. Does he come across in his preface as too sure of himself and his conclusions?

    What about the content itself?


  19. Looks like I’ll be reading the Nuttall diaries in a library. I’m excited about their forthcoming availability, though. Nuttall recorded the big 1879 meeting between John Taylor, Abraham Smoot, and Zebedee Coltrin over the issue of Elijah Abel’s priesthood. I failed to find the diary in Church Archives and had to go a circuitous route to get the full scoop on that meeting–via a Master’s Thesis on Zebedee Coltrin. That was interesting. I disagreed with the assumptions the writer had about Zebedee (he took every claim Coltrin made seriously and I did not), so I was reading through a glass darkly.
    I am certain I will receive John Groberg’s book for Christmas, since he is my uncle and so reading him is an implied–but pleasant–family requirement. I’ve enjoyed his past books. His favorite author is Joseph Conrad, btw. Anyone see Conrad’s influence on Groberg?
    What I really wish is that _Rough Stone Rolling_ were available on audiotape/CD. I love the book as far as I’ve read it, but time is such an issue. I know I’d miss the wonderful footnotes, but I’d still like to hear the text while driving.

  20. I agree Margaret. My wife is an audible.com addict and it would be nice to have some meaty Mormon titles. LDSaudio.com only has the more fluffy variants.

  21. MRB:

    Prince spends his portion of the prologue talking about himself and how thorough he was and all the work he did, etc etc. This to me is not a good trait in a Biographer.

    As for content, Francis M. Gibbons published a DOM biography in 1984 or 1986 which also had access to Claire Middlemiss’s journals and also frankly discusses the ERA issues. It is a bit disengenuous of Prince to imply he is the first with this access.

    Claire Middlemiss herself put out an account of David O. Mckay reporting a dream/vision in which he saw the savior (I do not have a reference handy.) and it seems a bit incomplete to not mention this in the chapter on the spirutal experiences of McKay.

    Paul H. Dunn is quoted ad nauseam through out the book, often concealed as “One General Authority” with out even flinching, while the book itself speaks of another LDS politcal scandal which is very closely related to the Paul Dunn issue.

    I don’t have the book in front of me, but at one point, Hugh B. Brown is quoted as saying one thing, and directly afterward, the author draws exactly the opposite conclusion.

    In general I can be forgiving of these sorts of oversights, and I did really enjoy the discussions of blacks and the priesthood (Though they painted a pretty inaccurate portrait of HBL, considering he also supposedly prayed for revelation on he blacks and priesthood issue in his tenure as president.), the BYU schools, and evolution. I just didn’t think the book lived up to Prince’s endorsement of him having gotten access to data that was never before available, and it seemed that he had a particular paradigm of how things are which tinted much of his writing and perspective.

    Sorry this is a bit lacking. I finished the book a while back and this is what comes to mind off the top of my head. There were a few other things.

  22. Matt W.- Thanks for the summary. I have read only some chapters (like you, a while ago) but wanted to get the perspective of other readers–not just reviewers for magazines or newspapers.

    I wondered like you about the access to Middlemiss’s journals that he seems to tout. I still don’t understand who exactly had access over the years, who took advantage of that access, and why it took so long for someone to use the material.

  23. MRB,
    Let me just say I was pretty shocked when I grabbed the Gibbons Biography of the shelf at my Father in Law’s to see the forward thanking Ms. Middlemiss for use.

  24. I agree that the repeated use of quotes, from Dunn in which he was not named in the text, (although he was named in the notes) was a bit shady and a flaw in an otherwise fine book.

  25. J,
    I also have liked the depth and reach of Rough Stone Rolling, though I haven’t finished it (like others here). I find however, that the new age of Mormon scholarhip also comes with its pitfalls. I felt that Bushman’s methodology in construcitng a documentary history left him in the awkward position of being unable to value one source more than another unless there were documentary evidecne that would favor the source. Thus he was unable to give more weight to Joseph’s own accounts, a must in writing the sort of book he is writing, but not necessarily without its drawbacks for me. I can’t jsutify not giving his word more weight, though I see the reasons Bushman must not given the genre and his publisher. Perhaps I should make that the subject of another post, though. Generally the sort of list that makes me hope that I’ll get books under the tree–though heaven knows when I’ll get to read them.

  26. I have noticed that some of the books coming out of the University of Utah Press could use a good (or better than they had) editor. Too many errors creep in and too many instances of bad judgment appear (such as the use of a former general authority whose credibility might be questioned, as in the case of Prince’s book).

    Another recent book, “Murder of the Mormon Prophet”, by LeGrand Baker, although not coming from a university press, probably should have. For a book that took the author 30 years to complete, it is a disappointment to see it done in a way that might cause a reader to question its credibility. It was poorly edited and poorly typeset, yet the content is probably some of the most interesting and ground-breaking in many years.

  27. I just happened to see Greg Prince last night (with some of the other BCC folk). I asked him about his reliance on Paul Dunn and that it has been used by a criticism against his work. He pretty much scoffed, almost defiant. He said that Dunn was one of his most consistent and reliable sources. His comments always checked out and that they went along way in providing insight into the era.

    While I have never “gotten” the criticism, after hearing him I was definitely converted. What exactly is the criticism? That Dunn is not a reliable source? Or is it a label of disingenuity for citing him as “one general authority” in the text?

  28. What Margaret said. Although there are few women in my ward who would wet their pants in shock. Their problem.

  29. 27: Although Matt W. can certainly speak for himself, I’ll state my perhaps similar criticism so he doesn’t look like the lone quibbler.

    To a greatly unfair extent, when many readers see Paul H. Dunn quoted, they automatically hesitate to give full credit to him as a reliable source. (That’s unfair because he was a good man, with the only marks I know of against him limited to autobiographical details in highly recognizable story patterns.) Yet Prince’s usual purpose for referring to PHD is to lend support to his editorial statements.

    The quibble is that Prince tries to have it both ways: to weight his argument by referring to the testimony of a General Authority, but to disguise the fact that his source is one that many readers would find questionable. He seems to recognize this by the frequency with which he conceals PHD’s name, and that makes Prince appear disingenuous.

    Yes, the General Authority unnamed in the text is easily identified by referring to the notes. I don’t go so far in my quibbling as to say that that makes Prince look inept as a manipulator, but then I’m more fanatic than most about reading notes.

    It’s a good book, but it has major problems (mostly in relying on the diary as reflecting the interior life and spirituality of DOM — the diary is 100% Claire Middlemiss, and Claire Middlemiss was a supremely stupid woman with exactly zero insight into DOM’s mind), and to say that it is the book of the decade or the last word on the DOM administration reflects Jan Shipps’ limited insight into what makes Mormonism tick.

    And speaking of ticking, how many more authors can I tick off in one post?

  30. I wouldn’t say that the diary is 100% Middlemiss, Ardis. She included much that wasn’t filtered through her lens (Though she did have editorial control obviously). I’m a little shocked at your characterization of her. Sure there are aspects of her personality/character that I wouldn’t want to emulate, but “supremely stupid,” “with exactly zero insight” seems a little over the top, no?

  31. J. It’s more the fact that Prince uses the book to incriminate Douglas Stringfellow of the exact same follies of Paul H. Dunn with out even mentioning the problems of Mr. Dunn. It is also that everytime a “general authority” makes a comment in the book that I consider asinine, I would at first think, “who said that, that’s awful.”, and then flip to the back, and it would be Mr. Dunn. Further, if Mr. Prince interview millions and millions of people to make this wonderful book (exageration is intentional), why is he quoting the same source 2 to 3 times per chapter?

    Anyway, all in all, I still think it is a good and important book. I just don’t think it is the magnum opus it is portrayed as.