Book Review: The 1920 Edition of the Book of Mormon

Richard L. Saunders
The 1920 Edition of the Book of Mormon: A Centennial Adventure in Latter-day Saint Book History
The W. W. Phelps Society and Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2021
Hardcover: $79.95
ISBN 978-1-58958-775-5

I’ll just get this out of the way up front: Richard L. Saunders has produced an admirable and fascinating work of book history. It’s detail, accuracy, and breadth match the highest standards. Moreover, in spite of its swim in technicalities, it is a fun read.

Book history is a powerful tool in the study of religion and in the case of Mormonism, it is especially useful, given Mormonism’s reliance on recent texts. And Richard Saunders has experience to recommend his work. Author of Printing in Deseret: Mormons, Economy, Politics, and Utah Incunabula 1849-1851 (Univ. of Utah Press, 2000), he brings expertise to the project. Learning how the Saints have read and produced their books in the past provides a great advantage to historians and scholars of religion. In particular, The 1920 Edition shows how the Utah Church and its imprint efforts displayed a multi-jection of personalities, culture, technology, principle, politics, and text.


Books are not just content. They are material artifacts. They demonstrate the intellectual landscape of the past in unique, often neglected ways. Book history provides a window into the past that shows the many bargains made between some ideal text and its material image.

Saunders’s work on The 1920 Edition is remarkable on several grounds, but one I want to single out is the deep dive into the ways the LDS Church tried to print its works. For example, while early twentieth-century church imprints, including works like James E. Talmage’s Articles of Faith or Jesus the Christ bear marks that link them to local presses such as, “Deseret News Press,” they were frequently produced by commercial presses in the eastern half of the United States. The print technology used to produce such books is a study in itself. Ferreting out that information is a hallmark of fine book history. Saunders pulls it off. There is really nothing like it in the Latter-day Saint book genre.

One may guess that so well known a text as the Book of Mormon would make a discussion of a ninety year anniversary edition a trivial matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Go forth and find out why. It’s a solid journey. Greg Kofford Books and the W. W. Phelps Society deserve to be lauded for this work. I highly recommend this book. Go ahead and get that Christmas gift early. Libraries, take note.


  1. I talked about this book on my radio program last week in St. George. Its a great read and I agree with everything WVS says about it. It will make a great gift. Its definitely for book lovers. I enthusiastically recommend.

  2. tannerdurant says:

    Started reading the current Penguin Classics version of the Book of Mormon. It’s a non-versified version that reads almost like a very postmodern novel. Intro by Dr. Maffly-Kipp of U.Va. I haven’t read the Book of Mormon in full since like 2011, so I’m excited to work on this. Found it at Boise Barned Barnes and Noble.

    Lots of interesting stuff happened in the world around 1920, so I’m sure the editorial choices were fascinating. Cheers!

  3. tannerdurrant: The Penguin Classics edition is the 1840 edition, which was the last one with editorial changes by Joseph Smith himself. The print run was very small and there aren’t many copies. The book reviewed in the original post has more to say about this one.

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