“Although we cite scholarly sources we intend this book for general readers and have followed widely accepted editing practices aimed at ease of reading.” “Readers can verify the facts in our book by consulting the sources cited in the notes, which we have deliberately tucked in the back so as not to interrupt our narratives.”
So begin Richard E. Turley and William M. Slaughter in the Preface of their book How We Got the Book of Mormon. The reassuring tone of the Preface reveals the authors’ perceptions that the general reader is, perhaps, wary of books with citations and references. Turley, in a recent interview states “We feel that general readers can benefit from excellent work done by scholars in recent years, but many general readers won’t approach works written by scholars for scholars.” The reassuring Preface doubles as a challenge. The authors throw down the gauntlet to the adventurous reader and encourage her to “verify facts,” thus raising the bar for books produced for a general audience. Every reader will be better off for having read the book.
For those readers who are more inclined toward academic treatments of the Book of Mormon, How We Got the Book of Mormon, is written in a decidedly devotional tone, and yet, is not overtly dripping with apologetic interruptions. The inspirational pay-off of the volume is not in the standard practice of telling readers the book is true, but rather, in showing readers the human drama and efforts of the individuals involved in the production and transmission of a text regarded as sacred by millions.
The authors’ challenge, of course, is that the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is imprinted into the minds of every Latter-day Saint. We know about the angel, the gold plates and the three witnesses. What facts are there to verify? We already know the story. At least, we think we do. Turley and Slaughter do an excellent job in encouraging Latter-day Saints to re-evaluate and expand the traditional production narrative.
Missing from the book are any illustrations of Joseph Smith tracing his hand over the gold plates, as if he is using reading directly from the metal. Rather, Turley and Slaughter point readers to the historical accounts of Joseph peering into seer stones “blocking out external light . . . placing the interpreters into a hat and putting his face down into it.”
Turley and Slaughter trace the practical and logistical details involved in the production of the Book of Mormon including efforts to obtain a copyright, find a printer, secure funds, and even to fight piracy. Readers learn that the Book of Mormon was not immune to copyright infringement, with pages showing up in a local New York newspaper.
While Martin Harris is mostly known as the man who lost the 116 pages of the manuscript, Turley and Slaughter redeem Martin from traditional narratives by highlighting his contribution to finance the first edition: “Martin’s sacrifice had made it possible to publish the Book of Mormon to the world.” This one sentence paragraph subtly reminds readers that people’s lives are too complex for us to reduce their legacy to one mistake.
Readers are also introduced to Ebenezer Robinson, who received a revelation that provided him with a new approach to printing the Book of Mormon with greater speed. Readers learn of early attempts to produce combination scriptures—a vision that ultimately would not be realized until printing technology advanced years later. Innovative ideas to advance missionary work by producing more portable scriptures are woven into the narrative. The story exudes human ingenuity and American practicality.
The part of history most interesting to this reviewer is Orson Pratt’s hand in dividing the Book of Mormon into chapter and verse in 1879. Perhaps no other act in the transmission history of the Book of Mormon has had more significance on how Mormons actually read, quote from, and study the Book of Mormon.
“I must tell you of a work that has moved quietly in the Church virtually unnoticed.” Those were the words of Elder Boyd K. Packer in the fall of 1982. The work he spoke of was the production of the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon. In many ways, Packer’s statement still holds true today, but Turley and Slaughter assist readers in appreciating those efforts. The authors utilize the biographies of those involved and make good use of the production The Promised Day: The Coming Forth of the LDS Scriptures.
Consumers of academic treatments of the Book of Mormon will probably want to know if Turley and Slaughter’s volume breaks new ground historically, or perhaps how it treats certain historical moments. Let me suggest that the real contribution of Turley and Slaughter is that they have created a new production narrative of the Book of Mormon. To do that, the story must be compelling and yet brief enough to exist as a narrative. I believe the authors succeed on both accounts.
The selection of illustrations and photographs is impressive and moving. The images are beautifully printed. The photographs breathe life into the story. The printing of the book, the binding, the type selection and design, are all high-quality. The care and attention to detail in this volume is evident. This is narrative creation at its finest.
I wish Turley and Slaughter would have been able to work the translation of the Book of Mormon into foreign languages into their overall narrative. The book is titled how “we” got the Book of Mormon, but perhaps the story of how the Korean saints or the Japanese saints got the Book of Mormon, for example, could have received some kind of mention. Of course, space limitations are always a consideration, and it may have not been possible to work those stories into the narrative and still keep it short enough.
Turley and Slaughter’s genius is in providing an expanded, richer, and more nuanced production narrative, artfully designed, beautifully illustrated, and well-tailored to their target audience. I hope to see more books for general audiences that follow the authors’ approach. I’m confident that this book will supersede prior narratives of how we got the Book of Mormon.
 Turley, Richard E Jr. & Slaughter, William W. How We Got the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011): vii-viii.
 Stapley, J. “How We Got the Book of Mormon: An interview with co-author Richard E. Turley Jr.” By Common Consent, August 19, 2011. http://bycommonconsent.com/2011/08/19/how-we-got-the-book-of-mormon-an-interview-with-co-author-richard-e-turley-jr/
 How We Got the Book of Mormon, p. 13.
 How We Got the Book of Mormon, p. 36.
 While exegetical history is beyond the scope of the Turley and Slaughter volume, it should be pointed out that the Book of Mormon is not only an object or artifact, but an interpretive tradition. That interpretive tradition required the instrument of chapter and verse to thrive. In addition, Orson Pratt provided the first footnotes.
 Boyd K. Packer “Scriptures.” Ensign, November 1982.
 By “production narrative” I don’t mean a treatment of the production history, but rather the “story” that is passed on within a community about how the Book of Mormon came to be, a story that families tell each other, etc.
 I wish the publishers would have included a Works Cited page. It’s oddly missing from the otherwise useful reference materials.
 An appendix with information about foreign language translations would have been a welcomed addition.