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The Book of Mormon: A Biography

(Lives of Great Religious Books)

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  87 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Late one night in 1823 Joseph Smith, Jr., was reportedly visited in his family's farmhouse in upstate New York by an angel named Moroni. According to Smith, Moroni told him of a buried stack of gold plates that were inscribed with a history of the Americas' ancient peoples, and which would restore the pure Gospel message as Jesus had delivered it to them. Thus began the un ...more
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published April 2012 by Princeton University Press (first published March 21st 2012)
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3.56  · 
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 ·  87 ratings  ·  33 reviews

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Mar 28, 2015 rated it liked it
It's one of those dilemmas for anyone writing a book about the foundational text for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--the believers will argue that the writer is being too harsh on Mormons and the non-believers will argue that the writer is not being harsh enough.

Writing from my perspective as a believer, I don't think that Gutjahr was too harsh. I think he generally struck a good balance between both sides--with a few exceptions. He approaches the Book of Mormon from a historica
Tim Malone
Jul 13, 2013 rated it liked it
I was asked by the publisher to review it, and did so. I published the review on my blog:


This is a book about a book. That’s not unique but the subject of the book is very unique. The Book of Mormon launched a religious movement. It is an influential book, a controversial book, a best-selling book (150 million copies) and a well-read book. It has a lot of history (182 years), has been translated into over 100 languages and has survived intense scrutiny and criticism.

The book has insp
David Harris
Nov 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I discovered this book after having read a "biography" of the Quran. Both books are written on a similar model, that of tracking the influence of a specific book across history and noting how the book changes influential people across the ages and also how the attention those same people give the book changes perceptions of the book and its role in various cultures through time.

The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being publish
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mormon-studies
This book is a quick and enjoyable read about the Book of Mormon, how it orginated, how it has been received, and how it has been interpreted and valued throughout the years. With the exception of a couple of minor quibbles, it was a very readable, balanced, well-written introduction to the Book of Mormon from a pretty neutral perspective. I particularly enjoyed the last two chapters of the book, which covered the Book of Mormon in art, film, and dramatic productions. I also enjoyed the material ...more
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is part of a new series published by Princeton University Press called Lives of Great Religious Texts, in it the author Paul Gutjahr presents an evenhanded “biography” of the Book of Mormon. I found it to be a great overview, it is surprisingly comprehensive for such a short book. He includes a description of the Book of Mormon's origin, history of revisions, controversies, translations (currently 109 languages and counting), cultural influences, artistic portrayals, schismatic groups ...more
Oct 26, 2012 added it
Sometimes a book is a pleasure to read simply for how well it accomplishes its assigned task. Gutjahr's book is one in Princeton's new series of "biographies" of significant books. It is short, engaging, and presents a large historical subject clearly and concisely, providing the reader with a general outline of the book's history and suggesting sources in which to find more detail.

Gutjahr's book would be ideal for covering the history of the Book of Mormon in a class that included both Mormons
Paul Gutjahr's book is an interesting bibliographic history of the Book of Mormon, including its effect on the wider American cultural milieu. This is effect is, speaking generously, negligible. Gutjahr does his absolute best to situate the Book of Mormon in a wider context, but outside of its effect on religious believers and detractors, he has to try too hard to demonstrate cultural impact. A movie here, a play there do not indicate wide cultural interest or acclaim, especially in the niche-ce ...more
Aug 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mormon-studies
This is basically a Cliff Notes version of Terryl Givens' By the Hand of Mormon, which goes into most of the same subjects with a lot more depth. For a shorter book, though, this one does a great job of covering all of the basics of the Book of Mormon's history and reception, and has the added benefit of being more up to date than Givens' work. I was particularly interested in how Gutjahr's book covered the ongoing efforts of the LDS church to translate the Book of Mormon into other languages, a ...more
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a fairly interesting, very quick and easy read that gives some new information on the publication and dissemination of The Book of Mormon over its short life. The part about the translation process was especially interesting, and there was some intriguing history about the way the Book of Mormon has been used in General Conference addresses, etc. It was very readable and would serve as a nice little primer for someone who is perhaps curious about the most important book of scripture used ...more
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to David by: Princeton University Press for review
A very good introduction and summary of the Book of Mormon as a religious artefact. Generally informative and quick read, although there are a couple of things that are debatable, such as the importance of the book in missiology in the British Isles in the nineteenth century (or lack thereof), (p.101) the renaming of the Church to its present name in 1838, as well as the prior 1834 change that omitted 'Jesus Christ' from its usage rather than 1833 as the author suggested. (p.77) as well as the a ...more
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a fair and balanced overview of the Book of Mormon by a non-LDS (Latter-day Saint) author. Since I'm LDS I didn't think I was going to learn too much, since I've grown up hearing the story of the finding and translation of the book over and over again. I was wrong though. It was fascinating to learn about the different official and non-official versions of the book, the process of translation into other languages (a very streamlined and literal, word for word process) and the history of ...more
Mark Stephenson
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Just published by the Princeton University press, this brief volume focuses much less on the content of The Book of Mormon than on its publishing history which is indeed remarkable. Though I've read The Book of Mormon many times I learned several new things from this author, especially from its final chapters. My one criticism would be that for a professor of English at Indiana University it is odd that this author ignores the impact of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith on Herman Melville. Whi ...more
David James
Sep 26, 2013 rated it liked it
While I have no interest in converting to Mormonism (or any religion, for that matter), the church's history has long fascinated me. This book traces the history of the Book of Mormon itself. It's brief but gives a nice overview of its writing and dissemination, its translation and revisions, and its adoption into artwork, cinema, and theater. A section covering the book's impact on American culture would have been a nice addition, and its absence is felt.

This book was not intended as a compreh
Joey Dye
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting "biography" of the Book of Mormon. Gutjahr gives a great overview of the book's history up through the Book Of Mormon musical. The discussion of Mormonism's various branches was particularly interesting. We have become acclimated to the idea that Mormons are either polygamists or LDS, but this is an observation of only the largest and the most extreme. This book doesn't dwell on matters of doctrine and theology, but rather looks at the Book Of Mormon's literary and cu ...more
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a good version of what it is. The author offers a short, readable, engaging history of the publication and adaptation of The Book of Mormon, from Joseph Smith to Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Gutjahr treats the book as a significant document in the history of American literature. Beyond that, he doesn't engage directly in debates about its "authenticity," preferring to let voices inside and outside of the Mormon community speak to those issues. This standoffish approach may leave some ...more
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
A refreshing read for its respectful outside perspective and recognition of the Book of Mormon as not only a piece of literature worthy of study, but as a contribution to American history and culture. While there is some inaccurate wording, I, nonetheless, appreciate hearing the viewpoint of someone who is both not a Mormon and not antagonistic toward the Book of Mormon. Because Gutjahr is neutral and takes no interest in attempting to prove The Book of Mormon true or not, he is able to intellig ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
I thought this a well researched, even-handed scholarly perspective of how the Book of Mormon came to be. It is a good introductory to those who know little to nothing about Joseph Smith, Mormonism, and the Book of Mormon, but want a brief short story version of how it all came to be. This scholarly (as opposed to faith based) perspective also does a good job of showing how the Book of Mormon has come to impact American culture even for those not of the LDS faith. A quick and interesting read.
Justin Hill
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
A quick read, and a great summary of the history of The Book of Mormon (the book itself, not the history of the people described in it), including its revisions, illustrations (including Teichert and Friberg), pageants, scholarship (Hugh Nibley and FARMS, etc.), movies, plays, adjustments in missionary focus, and even action figures and comic books. I found the overview of Joseph Smith's life and early Church history to be interesting and I learned a few things.
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really interesting facts on the Book of Mormon, the various editions, etc. I learned things I did not know. For instance, Joseph Smith made some inspired changes in the 1840 edition, which were not followed in all the British editions used mainly by the church in the 19th Century (which was using the 1837 ed.). They did not get in the main LDS edition until 1981. Also, Orson Pratt in the 1870s made some format changes so it would more resemble the Bible. Nice read if you are into this.
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Traces the history of the Book through its writing, revisions, adherents and detractors. Easy to read but informative.
Jason Hall
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lds
A fine introduction to the Book of Mormon, and part of an intriguing series I plan to look into (Lives of Great Religious Books). If you want a short (200 small pages) introduction to the Book of Mormon or to the LDS faith more generally, you could do a lot worse than this. If you already are very familiar with the topic, this might be an enjoyable read but don’t expect more than a survey with little new information.

I found the tone to be very much on the positive side, as far as showing respec
Nov 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shares that a treasure digger (Joseph Smith Jr) is led by an angel-like being to a golden book that is the story of a group of people that came to the United States from Israel. He translates the book and gains followers. Soon the locals want him out due to beliefs. He ends up dead and the group splits based up how much they believe in different portions of the material. insightful. B/W images.
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Generous with 3 stars.
Almost feels a little bit like he wants to slide in some negative aspect of his research topic, or the occasional opinion of its true origins and current developments.
Should be 2 stars, maybe.
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Gutjahr (whose An American Bible is an excellent and beautifully illustrated window into the printing, marketing and dissemination of the Bible in 19th century America) provides an easily accessible history of The Book of Mormon from Joseph Smith to its appearance on Broadway. He provides the origin story and a brief biography of Smith, and the book's printing history, but also recounts its fall and rise again in Mormon teaching, its use in the missionary enterprise, its illustration and transla ...more
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Quick read. The 1st chapter will be review to anyone who's grown up Mormon, and the 2nd just made me angry. But then Gutjahr got into some interesting stuff. I have actually ordered the comic book adaptation and the Easy-to-Read version, but I will never see the Book of Mormon Movie.

Also, I still want to pass around a sign up list in church to carpool to LA for the Book of Mormon Musical with check boxes: ( ) Attending ( ) Protesting.
This is a well rounded book about the history of The Book of Mormon. It is informative and well put together.

The book follows the history of The Book of Mormon from it's conception to today's status. Paul C. Gutjahr has written a book that covers a lot of aspects of this religious test, but he does so in limited detail, which probably was his intention, to keep the book short and precise. I as usual would love more information and more details.
Samuel Brown
Apr 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fun introduction for non-specialists by an accomplished historian.
Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch
May 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: human-ways


Dean Wood
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
Glenn Banks
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
interesting book about a book. though not as interesting as the book itself.
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Other books in the series

Lives of Great Religious Books (7 books)
  • Augustine's "confessions": A Biography
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography
  • The I Ching: A Biography
  • The the Book of Genesis: A Biography
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography