Iâ€™m going to be up front here, I do not normally purchase books published by Signature Books, due to the companyâ€™s controversial place in Current Mormon Culture. So you can read all my comments as someone who is biased by their culture to have a disposition to dislike Signature Books.
That said, Every Latter-day Saint who has even a remote interest in Church History should own at least this book. I am about 50 pages in and so far it has given me an insiderâ€™s view of: The Zionâ€™s Camp affair, the Kirtland Safety Society, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Early Temple worship, The Endowment, The 12â€™s Mission to UK, The Book of Abraham, and more. Woodruff is incredibly articulate and Staker does an excellent job of abridging the text to keep the pace quick and interesting.
1. When Joseph Smith is imprisoned in relation to Zionâ€™s Camp, Woodruff does not blame the Missourians, but puts Boggs response in the context of a man reacting to false reports of Thomas Marsh and Orson Hyde. Further He blames General Hinckle for surrendering the leadership. I do not know much about the events around Zionâ€™s Camp, but it is interesting to me that from Woodruffâ€™s perspective the fault was with the saints as much as with anyone else.
2. The initial temple ceremony in Kirtland was days long, and Woodruff makes it so exciting! His spiritual battle to overcome Satan he relays in the middle of this event is simply fascinating and moving as an example of the powers of spiritual brotherhood.
3. Missionary work has changed. I donâ€™t think we can understand just how incredible the Mission to UK by the 12 was as we read it through our modern cultural lense. 1st, no one cares that these were apostles. 2nd, they had no money, 3rd, there were no churches or congregations waiting for them, not even 1 single member 4th, they baptized thousands! Wilford Woodruff acquired chapels for the Church by baptizing the Pastor and gaining the building!
4. Wilford Woodruff recorded the visions and thoughts of early LDS sisters with the view that they were as interesting and important as the sermons of Joseph Smith. There is an especially poignant recording from the vision of one Eliza Bromley (Who Iâ€™d love to know who she is!) where she notes â€œYour tears number more than your enemies.” Followed by an urgent petition to love our enemies. Itâ€™s beautiful and compelling, and Woodruff took it in as from God. He calls women prophetesses, and he draws strength from them. As a father of girls, I love these vignettes of powerful LDS women I can share with my daughters in years to come.
1. The Introduction is unfortunate, in that Staker begins basically by telling us all the reasons her primary market, the LDS base, should not purchase this book. She only made it to get money, she sets herself up as not really liking Woodruff, and speculating that he wouldnâ€™t like her or this book. She calls her labors on this project a â€œconfinementâ€ and herself â€œskepticalâ€ of the truth claims Woodruff lived for. Basically she is saying she doesnâ€™t really give a crap about Woodruff, and all in the first few paragraphs of her introduction! This is unfortunate because it really hurts her overall goal of selling more copies of this book. If another edition of this book is ever published, I would suggest the introduction focus more on Woodruff (and in a more complementary fashion) and less on his editor. (I have intentionally started my post hypocritically in the same fashion I feel , as an effort to make this point more clear)
2. The Cover suffers the same problem as do many of the covers to Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon thought, in that they fail to make any effort to appeal to the general aesthetics of the Mormon Base, which should be the primary market. The cover features a photo of Woodruff in tones of Yellow with one Eye in Red, almost denoting it as an â€œevil eyeâ€ and has a picture of some sort of Red Army, perhaps some sort of Apocalyptic Army in reference to the last days and the Title of the book? In any case, the cover does not scream, this is Woodruffâ€™s life in his own words, check it out, but instead seems to want to imply something sinister in the contents. My guess, is the cover artist at most read the first few paragraphs of the introduction as a basis for inspiration, and may have only been given the title of the book. In any case, the cover sucks, not as bad as the cover of â€œshaken faith syndromeâ€ but it definitely makes no effort to appeal to mainstream Mormonism, which again is sad, because the book is awesome!
3. My only editorial gripe on the contents is that when Sarah Emma dies, Wilford records the entirety of his wifeâ€™s letter in his journal to track the event, but this edition omits his own thoughts on it, as Spartan as they admittedly are. All Wilford had to say, according the Church Manual on the event was :
â€œOther than copying Phoebeâ€™s letter, Elder Woodruff wrote very little about his daughterâ€™s passing. He merely said that Sarah Emma had been â€œtaken from timeâ€ and that she was â€œgone to be seen no more in this life.â€
While this isnâ€™t very much, It atleast gives Woodruff the impression of having thought on his daughter, which is somewhat lacking in the break neck speed of the current edition.
In Conclusion, I stand by what I said, everyone should own this book who is interested in Church History. Staker does an excellent Job of making Woodruff very readable, and the ride is incredible! So ignore the cover, ignore the introduction, and if you are a biased goat like me, ignore the publisher, but check this book out. You wonâ€™t regret it.