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February 27, 2013
Latter-day Books
Doctrine and Covenants Study Aids Worth Investing In
by Laurie Williams Sowby

This year’s adult Sunday School course takes in modern revelation contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. A variety of related books is available to aid and enhance that study. The nice thing is, an investment this year will still pay dividends every time the four-year course rotation comes around.

An exhaustive resource seven years in the making is Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, literally an A-Z guide. Edited by Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl, the Companion marshals the capabilities of 127 gospel scholars in a sturdy 900-page volume designed for many years of use. Concise explanations of topics are followed by in-depth discussion, and an internal reference system leads the reader to related articles. More than 150 pages are devoted to “Historical Context and Overview of Doctrine and Covenants” section-by-section, with a few photos sprinkled in with the background info. Among the really interesting appendices with things you aren’t likely to find in other D&C-related books is a listing of “Prophecies and Promises.” Giving further insight into the revelations is a list of definitions from Webster’s 1828 dictionary – words whose form and meaning today may be different from what they were in Joseph Smith’s time. (Deseret Book, 2012, $59.99 in hard cover.)

For the more visual among us, BYU Press offers Mapping Mormonism (2012), a unique atlas already in its second printing. Editor in chief is Brandon S. Plew, with associate editors S. Kent Brown, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard H. Jackson, all present or emeritus BYU professors. Its 272 heavyweight, large-format pages feature maps, timelines, charts, cutaway drawings, and a few photos to illustrate not just events in early Church history, but people, places, and politics affected by LDS culture. The Restoration, Empire of Deseret, and regional history of the Church throughout the world receive ample explanation and visual illustration. Especially interesting is the section on “The Expanding Church,” with projected trends in growth around the globe from 2010 through 2040. An extensive index helps make Mapping Mormonism an informative as well as visually appealing reference (hard cover, $39.95).

Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen’s 2008 side-by-side commentary Unlocking the Doctrine and Covenants is another useful study aid (Covenant Communications, $24.95 for 295 pages in soft cover). The scripture is sequential, rather than arranged as the Sunday School course has it this time around, but it’s still simple enough to use. The authors have included not only their own commentary on the right-hand side of each page, but they’ve included quotes from presidents of the Church and cross references to other Standard Works and resources. While there are brief profiles of associates of the Prophet Joseph Smith and other notes about those persons referenced in the revelations, the authors’ emphasis here – like the emphasis in the Sunday School outline -- is on doctrines and principles.

An attractive addition to the study of Church history is Covenants’ History of the Saints: The Great Mormon Exodus and the Establishment of Zion (2012, 282 pages in hard cover, $39.99). A companion to the TV documentary by Glenn Rawson, Dennis Lyman, and Bryant Bush, this richly illustrated book has William G. Hartley as general editor. An array of historical researchers and scholars present information alongside art and photos that bring people and places to life. The inside front cover pages list a chronology of events from the June 27, 1844, martyrdom in Carthage, Ill., to the drought in the summer of 1855 in the Salt Lake Valley. Inside the back cover is a map of Mormon settlements in the West in the second half of the 19th Century. The artistic layout includes work by some outstanding LDS artists. (I’d have liked to see credits with the art, rather than listed at the back.) While History of the Saints is an interesting book to page through, it would benefit from an index, and even brief bios of the various authors would be appreciated.

Mary Jane Woodger’s The Essential Doctrine and Covenants Companion offers “New Insights into Your Gospel Study” (Covenant Communications 2011, 300 pages in hard cover, $34.99). Rather than giving an extensive background and interpretation, the associate professor in BYU’s religion department has created a user-friendly study tool containing key scriptures, summaries of themes and main concepts, a synopsis of the historical background, a quick list of prominent people and other interesting facts and bullet points on each section’s two-page spread. Perhaps most important is a box sharing “key insights” into the Savior Jesus Christ and his teachings. Bonuses are color illustrations, a running time line at the bottom of each page, and a heavy-duty construction in a textbook-size book that’s sure to be a favorite with LDS members.

And what would be the basis for Doctrine and Covenants study without the vision that started it all? LDS historian Steven C. Harper delves into various versions and reasons why details may vary in Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts (Deseret Book 2012, 128 pages in hard cover, $21.99). “It is the potential power of Joseph’s claims that makes them controversial,” asserts the author. “This book. . . takes the vision seriously. It takes all the known evidence that originated with Joseph Smith, the only witness to the event, and it does so in a particular way. It is not a doubting book but neither is it a defensive or a dogmatic one. It seeks truth by study and by faith (D&C 88:118), and it is written for a particular group of readers, namely ‘inquirers, seekers after truth’.” Beyond that, the color plates are a nice bonus.

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