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Why the church’s new volume of ‘Saints’ doesn’t shy away from difficult issues

Volume 1 had more than 1 million readers

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A woman holds a copy of “Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

SALT LAKE CITY — Less than one year after Latter-day Saints worked together to heroically rescue stranded and starving handcart pioneers on the Wyoming plains, tensions in southern Utah erupted in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, one of the worst disasters in the state’s history.

Details about both events are included in “Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893,” the second in an official multivolume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints written in an easy-to-follow, narrative style.

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A woman reads a copy of “Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

This new volume doesn’t shy away from controversial issues like the Mountain Meadows Massacre or plural marriage, said Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy serving as church historian and recorder.

“It’s a very difficult period of our history,” Elder Curtis said. “But that’s a story we have to tell. It needs to be told as part of our story.”

The new 833-page volume features true and carefully researched accounts of the pioneers’ journey to the Salt Lake Valley, missionary work to many nations, plural marriage, Utah’s struggle for statehood, the feats of Latter-day Saint women, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, American Indian relations and the building of temples, including the 40-year construction of the Salt Lake Temple and more.

Volume 2 goes on sale Wednesday and is available free online at history.churchofjesuschrist.org/saints and through the Gospel Library App in 14 languages.

The new installment builds on the success of the first volume, “Saints: The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846,” published in September 2018. Volume 1 sold more than 500,000 copies and, with online traffic, was read by more than one million readers, Elder Curtis said.

What church leaders learned from Volume 1 is there’s a healthy appetite among the faith’s members to learn the history. Readers also like the narrative style, Elder Curtis said.

“We really were surprised by how successful Volume 1 was. We had to keep reprinting it,” Elder Curtis said. “I think it has given us great confidence that the narrative style is effective and helping people to understand more about church history.”

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Volume 2 of “Saints” was released Wednesday, Feb. 15. Volume One was released in Sept. 2018.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saiints

Elder Curtis outlined three noteworthy points about Volume 2. First, readers will get the full story of the pioneers crossing the plains, already a rich part of the Latter-day Saint heritage.

“Unfortunately there’s death and hardship, but also the triumph of people banding together,” Elder Curtis said. “I cherish the fact that for church leaders it was important to not leave the poor behind.”

Second, it was important to address the controversial topics. In a digital age where people consume so much information, controversies like the Mountain Meadows Massacre must be addressed, said Jed L. Woodworth, the project’s managing historian and a general editor.

“We have books on this topic written by church historians but the church has never published anything this thorough until this volume,” Woodworth said. “The reception to Volume 1 where we dealt with a number of controversies has been quite positive. That presents a template for us going forward.”

Finally, the volume ends on a “triumphant” note with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, which may or may not be a spoiler, Elder Curtis said.

“Forty years being built by a people who are having their assets taken by the federal government and who have limited resources to begin with, yet, with great determination, this magnificent building was built, complete with heavenly manifestations and a powerful spirit. I think it’s a moment of great triumph,” Elder Curtis said. “That’s a little bit of a spoiler.”

Produced by a team of collaborating writers, editors and historians, Volume 2 is 13% longer that Volume 1. Writers cover 50 years in the same space that covered 20 years with the first book. While this meant that some stories would be left on the editing floor, writers and historians believe “representative” history was compiled, Woodworth said.

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A map featured in Volume 2 of “Saints,” an official history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“It’s been wonderful to see the talents come together to make it work,” Elder Curtis said. “Obviously there are particular decisions that you have to make to get things right that involve a little stress, but I feel very good about where we are and how Volume 2 turned out.”

The goal of the “Saints” team was to produce a historically-accurate and compelling narrative, said Scott A. Hales, another general editor, who was responsible for making sure the book maintained its literary structure. Hales is confident that Volume 2 will be a “page-turner” that brings church history to life for readers.

“The last thing we want is for this book to be a doorstop,” Hales said. “We want people to be reading and talking about this book. We want them to be flying through the pages and rereading it all they can.”

One of the important themes in the new volume is the emphasis on the contributions of women, according to Lisa Olsen Tait, a general editor.

The book follows the lives of Latter-day Saints such as Jane Manning Janes, Emmeline Wells, Louisa Pratt and Susie Young Gates, a daughter of Brigham Young and many more, Tait said.

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“Saints: The Story of The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893,” was released on Feb. 12.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We have some great individual women characters that show either larger developments of women’s history and institutions or just the experience of the history on a more personal level from a woman’s perspective,” Tait said.

Readers will also meet characters like Johan Andreas Jensen, a Danish sea captain and ancestor of President Russell M. Nelson, as well as Chief Sagwitch, a Shoshone leader who survived the Bear River Massacre, was later baptized and whose people helped build the Logan Utah Temple.

Angela Hallstrom, a writer, helped craft the story of the Shoshone Indians, one of many lesser-known stories told in Volume 2. Often history is written from the top down, she said, highlighting only important players and decision-makers. What makes “Saints” different is how it features people from all walks of life in ways that show God in the details of their lives, she said.

“There is so much that people don’t know,” Hallstrom said. “I’m glad that we have this platform to allow so many members around the world to come to read and hear and understand these rich and inspirational stories. People love stories.”

Historians at the Church History Library have these lesser-known stories because some person faithfully kept a journal more than 100 years ago, Tait noted.

“When I do talks I always tell people, ‘Are you keeping your records? Are you keeping your journals? Because maybe you could be a character in Volume 23 of ‘Saints.’”