The Mormon Church: A Basic History

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The Mormon Church: A Basic History
Author Dean Hughes
Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986

The Mormon Church: A Basic History

Reviewer Paul H. Peterson

Can a history of the Church be written that blends faith and humanity in a package that will satisfy the diverse surveyors of LDS history? Probably not. Can a fine stylist, even though his intended audience is unsophisticated in historical matters, provide an adequate survey of LDS history in just two hundred pages? I doubt it. But Dean Hughes, author of several popular books for children and youth, has made a commendable effort and achieved a modicum of success.

Indeed, if I had stopped reading after an hour or so I would have concluded that Hughes did very well. His writing is lean and crisp. The initial chapters are cohesive and tight. For a nonspecialist he demonstrates an impressive acquaintance with the basic outlines, themes, and challenges of LDS history. Likely a good deal of his historical maturity was supplied by his advisors, historians Larry C. Porter and David Whittaker, a fact that Hughes graciously acknowledges in the preface.

Despite expert advisement, there are a fair number of factual errors, suspect interpretations, and unfortunate omissions, and occasionally I wondered if Hughes paid sufficient attention to his mentors. By citing only Parley P. Pratt's description of Joseph's revelatory approach (45–46), Hughes left readers with the impression that all the Prophet's revelations came tightly bundled in a precise package, never to be rewrapped. The notion that Sydney never recovered from his head-thumping in 1832 (47) is speculative, and Joseph's prophetic genius in predicting the outbreak of the Civil War (54) might have been overstated. (I think there are better examples attesting to Joseph's prophetic calling.) In discussing premartyrdom conditions and tensions, Hughes could have stated that while the Saints had legal precedent to prevent the publication of the Expositor, it was probably a mistake to destroy the press. His discussion of the Manifesto era was shallow and lacked the verve and candor that characterized his treatment of sensitive themes in earlier chapters. In fairness to the author it should be stated that a good many errors and shortcomings were likely due to the obvious space constraints under which he had to work.

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