Book Review – The Council of Fifty: What the records reveal about Mormon history

“The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal About Mormon History,” is a timely book published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center. While the minutes of the council were published in their totality via the Joseph Smith Papers in 2016, they still remain somewhat inaccessible to general readers. “The Council of Fifty” contains 15 essays by leading scholars about relevant topics of interest.

A companion article to this review appeared in the Deseret News under the title, “Five fascinating facts about the Council of Fifty.”

Additionally, the editors of this volume participated in a “10 questions” interview via this link.

The text of my review as found in the January 11, 2018 edition of the Mormon Times is as follows:


THE COUNCIL OF FIFTY: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History,” edited by Matthew J. Grow and R. Eric Smith, BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, $21.99, 201 pages (nf) 

“The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History,” is a compilation of essays about the recently released Council of Fifty minutes.

Several months before the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a council was formed to address a number of issues relative to the safety and future of the early Mormons. Joseph Smith led the council and was joined by a number of men from different backgrounds — including some who were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The council continued to meet after his death and even had meetings in Utah until it eventually sputtered out.

The prophet Joseph Smith gave instructions the records — or minutes — of the meeting were to be hidden or destroyed. Accordingly, they were carefully preserved and have remained a manuscript of mystery until they were made public by the LDS Church in 2016.

“The Council of Fifty” contains 15 essays by leading historians in a variety of fields and discusses the magnitude and relevance of the minutes released as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

The essays range from the conceptual and contextual to the detailed and descriptive, from an overview of the minutes to specifics about the efforts of the council to form a new government, establish Joseph Smith as president of the United States, and proselyte among Native Americans. Selected authors include renowned Mormon historian Richard Bushman and former assistant church historian, Richard E. Turley Jr.

The book includes excerpts from the minutes and has an average of over one reference to the minutes per page — a veritable treasure trove of information for the historian and layman alike. Additionally, each essay is kept to a maximum of 3,000 words, making each topic consumable in a single sitting.

Matthew J. Grow and R. Eric Smith edited the volume. Grow is the director of publications for the LDS Church History Department and Smith is the editorial manager for the Publications Division of the Church History Department.

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