Mormonism began with a book—the Book of Mormon (published in March 1830). During the next decade, many books were written and published by members and nonmembers to explain, understand, or attack the new faith.
One of Mormonism’s early converts was Parley Parker Pratt (1807–57). He read the Book of Mormon and after a few days sought baptism. This began a long journey with the Saints that ended tragically in Arkansas when Pratt was murdered. Between the time of his baptism and his death, he traveled widely as a missionary in the United States, Canada, and the British Isles. Pratt not only preached the gospel but also took pen and paper to hand and wrote important missionary tracts and booklets. One of his books, A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, Containing a Declaration of the Faith and Doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Commonly Called Mormons (New York: W. Sandford, 1837), is believed by many historians to be the most important Mormon book, outside the scriptures, in the nineteenth century.
Although A Voice of Warning was not the very first book to explain what the Saints believed, it was the first to compare and contrast Mormon beliefs with conventional Christianity. Some thirty editions in English were released during the next fifty years. Additionally, during this period, the book was also published in numerous language translations, including Danish, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish. For many investigators and early converts, A Voice of Warning was the first book they read.
In 2004 the New York book company Barnes & Noble established a new paperback series, the Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading. Their webpage states that the series had been established “to provide access to books of literary, academic, and historic value—works of both well-known writers and those who have been long forgotten. Selected and introduced by scholars and specialist with an intimate knowledge of the works they discuss, these volumes present unabridged texts in a readable modern typeface, welcoming a new generation to important and influential books of the past.” Now numbering more than 250 titles, the series includes Trial and Death of Socrates, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, St. Augustine’s City of God, and de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
In late 2008, Barnes & Noble released a new edition of Pratt’s A Voice of Warning. My BYU colleague Kent P. Jackson prepared a thoughtful introductory essay for this new volume based on 1854 edition of the book (Pratt’s last before he was murdered). Reading the 137 pages in this well-designed volume reminds us of the passion and excitement that existed during the early day of the Restoration. Pratt can write well. He is clear and straightforward. The prose sings, and his arguments thunder loud and clear. The book is worth a read, especially for anyone interested in the listening into a conversation from this critical period of Church history. Congratulations to Kent Jackson and to Barnes & Noble!