"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 1, 2012
Books Answer "Golden Questions" in Contrasting Styles
by Laurie Williams Sowby

Mormons, An Open Book (What You Really Want to Know), published by Ensign Peak, 46 pages in soft cover, $16.99; and LDS Beliefs, A Doctrinal Reference, Deseret Book, 688 pages in hard cover, $39.99. Barnes and Noble carries Mormons, and both are available through LDS book outlets.

What do you know about Mormons? Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are one. But for those who’d like to know more or would like something to offer their friends who need to know more, two books recently published under Deseret Book’s umbrella could come in handy.

Mormons, An Open Book, “written by a Mormon,” contains “What you really want to know.” The off-putting white cover with absolutely no illustration is a literal example of the axiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” for within it is a delightful mix of photos, cartoon drawings, and explanations in a bright, witty style.

I found myself laughing out loud as I turned at random to a page with “before” and “after” photos of the back of a bald man’s head. The photos illustrate the concept of resurrection explained in Chapter 10, “The Mormon View of the Afterlife.” The same page has a QR code which readers may scan to “Meet a Mormon” [on mormon.org] and hear a wife and mother of five tell how “her faith in the eternal nature of our spirits has helped her deal with the tragic death of her four-year-old son.”

The brains behind this refreshing book belong to seminary teacher Anthony Sweat, principal at a high school seminary in the Salt Lake City area. (He’s also on the EFY and Education Week circuit.) His candor and self-deprecating good humor are all too rare in books explaining LDS doctrine and beliefs.

The book is divided into three major sections: Mormon Beliefs, Mormon History, and The Mormon Way of Life. Twenty-six chapters cover things such as what to know before meeting a Mormon, what happens inside temples, why we need The Book of Mormon when we already have the Bible, and Mormon views on sex, education, and politics.

This book pretty much covers it all, and does it in a way that communicates doctrines and beliefs clearly and accurately while not taking the cultural aspects of Mormonism too seriously. Notes in the back credit every quote, reference, and bit of art used in the book. Humorous but true are the chapters titled “Mo-cabulary” (LDS vernacular) and “The Weird and Wonderful World of Mormon Culture.”

Non-members acquainted with Latter-day Saints should welcome this “open book.” Come to think of it, even if you are a Mormon and already know plenty, there are probably a few things you could still learn.

For serious, in-depth study and research, there’s the new LDS Beliefs, A Doctrinal Reference, by BYU religious education professors Robert L. Millet, Camille Fronk Olson, Andrew C. Skinner, and Brent L. Top.

This hefty volume serves as an encyclopedia, with topics listed alphabetically. However, individual entries are written by only the four authors rather than by several contributors. The book treats Latter-day Saint doctrine, teachings, and beliefs from Aaron to Zion in the formal, academic tone you’d expect of a project of this dimension.

The authors do not necessarily define a subject but explain it by putting it in context as it relates to LDS history and practice. The initials of the author follow an entry, along with sources for its content. An index of topics at the back also refers readers to other topics addressed in the book.

Entries range from a few lines to several pages, with the length of any single entry no indicator of its relative importance. For instance, “Son of Man” consists of a single paragraph, while “Lectures on Faith” is discussed for more than six pages, underscoring the authors’ purpose not to produce an exhaustive encyclopedia, but add to what’s already available.

The reader would do well to start with the introduction in order to understand the how and why of subjects treated, and how to use the book. Whether LDS Beliefs is used as background for teaching Sunday School or for enhancing personal scripture reading, there is more than enough reference material here for several years of gospel study.

Conveying LDS beliefs to different audiences, both books are definitely keepers.


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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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