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Book review: King Follett biography parallels church history

"THE MAN BEHIND THE DISCOURSE: A Biography of King Follett," by Joann Follett Mortensen, Greg Kofford Books, $29.95, 601 pages (nf)

“The Man behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett,” written by his third- great-granddaughter, Joann Follett Mortensen, puts a face on the man mentioned in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s famous discourse.

“The King Follett Discourse,” known to many as Joseph’s greatest sermon, was inspired, in part, by the untimely death of King Follett, who was killed when a bucket of rocks fell on his head while he was walling up a well.

It is widely assumed that the sermon was given at Follett’s funeral, but Mortensen’s research shows that he was buried with Masonic honors about three weeks before the sermon was given as "part of the church’s five-day general conference (Friday, April 5, to Tuesday, April 9, 1844).”

Follett’s obituary, included in the biography, states: “Baptized in 1831, Follett had survived Missouri, including militia and vigilante actions as well as a bout in prison, only to die of a workplace accident among friends, striving to make the city of Nauvoo blossom like a rose.”

The book is meticulously researched, well-documented and nicely written. Mortensen shows us the Follett family in the context of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For more than 30 years, Mortensen has pieced together information about Follett and his family from documents, diaries and journals of his contemporaries.

In the epilogue, Mortensen says she thought she knew a lot about LDS Church history and the life of the Prophet, but “I had to learn more in order to put King’s life into perspective because he left no written record.”

Each chapter concludes with detailed endnotes. Appendices include: King Follett’s ancestry, the text of the King Follett Discourse, as recorded in the History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; a journal of Follett’s wife, Louisa Tanner Follett, kept between June 5, 1844, and Sept. 8, 1845; brief biographies of the children of King and Louisa Follett; and a 37-page bibliography.

There is also a 22-page index. A number of black and white photos, maps and documents illustrate the book. An ebook edition of the book is also available.

The author and her husband currently live in Safford, Ariz., where they work as church service missionaries for the collections and development department of the LDS Church History Library.

Rosemarie Howard lives in a 100-year-old house on Main Street in Springville, Utah. She enjoys creating multimedia projects. Her website is at