Getting Hooked

By November 6, 2008

Michael CrichtonMichael Crichton passed away this week.  As a measure of the stature he has attained in popular culture, the news penetrated the roar of a presidential election to make a headline or two in just about every media source.  One that caught my eye is “Michael Crichton got my son hooked on reading.”  Yup, I remember reading The Terminal Man as a kid and thinking it was sort of different — it was science fiction, but without ray guns or spaceships.  But science fiction is an easy hook compared with history.  This being a history blog, the question we need to ask is: When did you get hooked on history?  What was the first history book that made you sheepishly approach the reference desk at the local library and say, “Did this guy write any other books?”

I can’t think of any LDS history book that fits the bill for me. At 16 I checked out Essentials of Church History from the ward library (back when the ward library actually had books) but I don’t recall it made much of an impression on me — the prose doesn’t exactly sizzle. I remember back in grade school I was fascinated with a couple of books on World War II, one on the Battle of the Atlantic with German submarines hunting Allied freighters and Allied destroyers hunting German submarines, the other on the Battle of Britain, with Spitfires and Hurricanes battling Messerchmidts and Focke-Wulfs. But I didn’t consciously identify these as history books and head off to explore the wonders of 909 or 973.  A missed opportunity.

So what was the first book you recall reading in history or LDS history that made an impression on you? And if you have read any Crichton books, you’re welcome to toss those in, too.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Great Basin Kingdom. It fascinated me because it created context for so many things I already knew something about and help me understand them. Before that, the only history I had encountered was the straightforward, boring recitation of names and dates.

    Comment by Mark Brown — November 6, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  2. For me, it was natural history, which of course meant Edward Abbey and Desert Solitair.

    Comment by PJD — November 6, 2008 @ 11:03 am

  3. As a second or third grader, I discovered an old series of historical fiction — “A Little Maid of Old — ” (Boston, Philadelphia, New York), featuring a little girl who carried a message or overheard a critical conversation or otherwise played some role in the American Revolution. I was hooked on history from then on, reading biographies, writing childish biographies of Louisa May Alcott and Thomas Paine and Nathan Hale from fourth grade on, and using interlibrary loan at the public library beginning in 6th grade to order books about the Brontes.

    I don’t remember my first church history book, unless it was the red-paper-covered church history manual for my 6th grade Sunday School course. My dad was my teacher that year so I could (and did) read the manual anytime during the week. Or maybe it was even before that, with the yellow-paper-covered retellings of the Book of Mormon, which I read as history.

    Sorry I can’t suggest a more adult it-blew-me-away book, but I’ve been nuts on history since before I can really remember.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — November 6, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  4. For me, it was my 5th Grade teacher reading aloud “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes. From there, she moved on to a WWII spy book (don’t remember the name), and coupled with watching Daniel Boone re-runs on TV, I was hooked!

    Comment by Hunter — November 6, 2008 @ 11:27 am

  5. As for my interest in LDS History, I would say reading a pamphlet edition of the King Follett Discourse as well as browsing “American Moses” were starters for me.

    Comment by Hunter — November 6, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  6. I didn’t start reading history (or even have a remote interest in history) until my mission, when I read Lucy Mack Smith’s History of JS, Parley P. Pratt’s Auto, and Teachings of JS.

    The first book that got me hooked on scholarly Mormon History was Thomas Alexander’s bio of Wilford Woodruff, which I read by staying up late in my mission apartment after my companion went to sleep since it was against mission rules to read outside the mission library. Looking back, I have no idea why I picked up this book other than I thought Woodruff was my favorite prophet and I wanted to learn more about him. My history thirst has never been satisfied since.

    Comment by Ben — November 6, 2008 @ 11:44 am

  7. I think rather than a specific book, I think I would have to point to specific people. My dad. My high school history teacher. My high school government teacher.

    I very much enjoy some Crichton but thoroughly despise others of his books.

    Comment by Researcher — November 6, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  8. I remember sitting in my parents library and reading some vintage volumes which reprinted sermons from various “greats” in church history, I think published in the 1940’s. It had Widtsoe’s spirit ether, HC Kimball’s exaltation theology, and Talmage’s old earth creationism among others. Historiographically the compilation was poor, but it highlighted some important differences between “now and then.” I nursed an appetite for “deep” doctrine, which I naturally associated with history from then on; but it wasn’t until after my PhD that I had time to devote to history more systematically (though I do cringe when I think abut how much time I wasted at BYU without going down into the special collections).

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2008 @ 11:54 am

  9. though I do cringe when I think abut how much time I wasted at BYU without going down into the special collections

    And I cringe that I am currently wasting time at BYU without spending enough time in the special collections.

    Comment by Ben — November 6, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

  10. I’m with Ben. It wasn’t really until my mission that I got into LDS history, and my desire in reading was primarily to have answers to argue with the “antis” I encountered daily. I read Nibley’s Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass and then Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints. I was hooked on this suddenly exciting and foreign world of nineteenth century Mormonism. I read whatever I could get my hands on, which consisted primarily of apologetic tracts and books (lots of FARMS and FAIR stuff).

    Upon returning from my mission and going back to BYU, I was enrolled in Spencer Fluhman’s D&C class (I had no clue who Fluhman was, and my older brother had registered me for classes that semester). Fluhman introduced me to more academic history. That semester I read drafts of some of his chapters of his (then still in progress) dissertation, Kathryn Daynes’s More Wives Than One, and Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity.

    Comment by Christopher — November 6, 2008 @ 1:41 pm

  11. I was like J., in the sense that my fascination with “deep” doctrine in high school led into a fascination with history. After my mission I got a job at an LDS bookstore in Dallas, whose owner is a bit of an intellectual, which set me on course toward devoting my life to academic history. I’d point to Quinn as the first historian that really got me hooked on an academic reading of LDS history.

    Comment by David G. — November 6, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  12. The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999 by Misha Glenny

    Comment by Dane — November 6, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

  13. Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale was probably most significant in pointing me toward the idea that I could write history and would enjoy it. I was 25. For Mormon history it was probably the FARMS Review.

    Comment by Edje — November 6, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  14. Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    Comment by Justin — November 6, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  15. When I was 15 (1968), my Sunday School teacher — Brent Erkman — decided that we weren’t going to deal with any namby-pamby Sunday School manual and instead taught us out of (and made us read from) Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage. Both books had a tremendous impact on me, and I have read Jesus the Christ a number of times since then. While I certainly recognize some of the dated scholarship issues with Jesus the Christ (after all, I had Kent Brown and Wilford Griggs for all my New Testament classes as an undergrad at BYU, and I’ve read plenty of non-LDS NT scholarship since then), it is Talmage’s overarching portrayal of Christ as Savior and Son of God that has remained with me.

    My senior year of high school (1970-71), I tackled and read both History of the Church and B. H. Roberts’ Comprehensive History of the Church. However, history as a general topic was certainly not my strong suit in high school; I did only OK in US History, never took World History, and managed to get out of even taking Civics (by taking an experimental Humanities summer school class). My Achievement Test score in History was a pathetically low 540 (out of 800). This made for some uncomfortable moments when I was interviewed for a scholarship at BYU — and one of the three faculty members interviewing me was Dr. Ted Warner, then Chairman of the BYU History Department (“So, Bruce, explain to me this 540 AT score in History….”).

    That actually started my turn-around on history. My freshman year at BYU I took an Honors seminar on “The Indian in American History” — which turned out to be a graduate History seminar taught by (ta-da!) Dr. Ted Warner. Four undergrad (Honors) students, six Masters candidates, and one PhD candidate. We read and discussed quite a few different books. We all had to research and write term papers, and we spent one class period per term paper critiquing it. Imaging yourself as a college freshman having seven grad students — and the chairman of the History Department — spending a hour ripping your history term paper to shreds. Brutal. Also one of the most valuable educational experiences I’ve ever had.

    A few years later (post-mission), I ran into Dr. Warner again and told him that I really, really didn’t want to take History 170 (the mass-produced American History class absolutely required for graduation), and did he have some kind of alternative. He did: instead, I read 16 books from “The New American Nation Series” (edited by Commager & Morris) and wrote proposed study questions for each. He turned those into a class on readings in American History for BYU Independent Studies and split the honorarium with me. It was a wonderful experience, and I have loved history every since then (and continue to read steadily in it). ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — November 6, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

  16. When I was an early teen about a thousand years ago, I discovered a big library of church books at the El Camino College LDS Institute. I read through the extensive collection (instead of doing my classwork) and was enamored with church history accounts. I also enjoyed the early collection of Dialog.

    I zoomed through th Journal of Discourses, discovered the writings of Parley P. Pratt, Brigham Young, Heber C Kimball, and other inspired and inspiring writings.

    The Institute director also stocked the library with the writings of liberals and dissidents, and even foaming-at-the-mouth anti-mormons. It was not a very selective collection, but included a bit of everything. I learned quickly to distinguish between those who were working to build up the Lord’s kingdom, and those who would tear it down.

    Very shortly after that, I departed for a full-time mission.

    Comment by Jim Cobabe — November 6, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

  17. Well, not exactly church history, but the books by Micheal and Jeff Sharra are all very good. They cover mostly the Civil War.

    Comment by KVB — November 6, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

  18. Is this post by DMI Dave?

    Comment by Geoff J — November 7, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

  19. Is this post by DMI Dave?

    It is. Dave came on as an occasional contributor to the JI a little over a month ago. See here for more information.

    Comment by Christopher — November 7, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  20. I remember reading The Terminal Man as a kid and thinking it was sort of different

    I remember reading The Terminal Man as a kid and thinking it was sort of bad. In fact, it was my first introduction to the idea that books written for adults could be bad. They didn’t teach me about that in school.

    Comment by Last Lemming — November 7, 2008 @ 3:16 pm

  21. I devoured Robert’s Comprehensive History on my mission and just finished the last volume before the Mission President told me that there actually existed an approved reading list (limiting even Church publications).

    Comment by NoCoolName_Tom — November 7, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

  22. […] wisdom out of the best books that Mormonism and the world have to offer (perfectly illustrated by Dave?s Getting Hooked post and the accompanying […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Textual Iconoclasm? Part 1 — November 11, 2008 @ 6:11 pm


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