Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review: And Should We Die

Last year, I was approached about a book on the Cane Creek Massacre that had been published out of Kentucky, by Bearhead publishing. I would like to say that I am being completely objective in my review, but I know that I might not be. At best all I can hope for is that I will not make the same mistakes when I put my own book on the massacre into print.

There were some great parts of this book. The author, Donald Curtis, has spend nearly three decades in research and his selection of material shows it. For example, he was able to find a photograph of David Hinson, something I wasn't able to do. Plus he collected several letters I never knew existed. One was a letter to John H. Gibbs from John Whitmer on behalf of his brother David Whitmer. Interesting reading.

As for the problems, there were a few. I found the book a little disorganized, jumping around unexpectedly in time. I understand why he wrote it that way, but it gave the book a stream-of-consciousness feel that isn't really my style.

There were some spelling errors. I don't expect every word on every page to be spelled correctly. But names and places are particularly important. Mistakes are understandable in letters, emails and (heaven forbid) blogs. Such publications are informal and frequently not subjected to extensive proofreading. A book, however, is on another level. The time and effort to check your text for errors should be considerable.

My biggest problem was his use of quotes and sources. The way he used quotes made the book difficult for me to read. Often they were taken in their entirety without the benefit of selecting the most relevant portions. In addition, after each quote, there was no analysis or explanation of why the entire piece was needed. Quotes of differing reliability and provenance were treated as equally valid, or at least the reader was left to believe they were equal. A few quotes had no source, though in most cases I could tell where it came from because of my familiarity with them. Sometimes a quote was mischaracterized. Not that it was misquoted, but the context was not quite what was described. For example; one quote was described as a report made to the First Presidency but was actually a newspaper interview.

Ultimately the book was a work of great effort and his years of research were certainly obvious. But his treatment of the material left me thinking his understanding of what he found was not comparable. If you like digging through page after page of quotes and you don't mind filtering through the some flowery language that has little to do with historical evaluation, then this book might have something for you.


Ardis said...

Well, at least you (and we, the eventual readers of your book) will benefit because of what you've learned about how you want or don't want to present your own history.

If you can't be the first, be the best!

BruceAllen said...

Thanks, Ardis.

Deborah Curtis said...

This is a review from

Book Notices

Author: Donald R. Curtis

Reviewer: Mickell J. Summerhays

Categories: Book Reviews

Journal: 52:1

Donald R. Curtis, a Kentucky native, has a passion for early Church history, particularly in Kentucky and the South. Curtis’s work has been featured in publications such as The Kentucky Encyclopediaand the Kentucky Explorer. In this book, Curtis presents the account of the lesser-known massacre in Mormon history at Cane Creek, Tennessee. The Cane Creek Mormon Massacre gives a detailed account from multiple points of view of how a Sunday worship service turned into a violent incident that left five dead and one wounded.

Curtis is able to put the massacre in the context of the greater Mormon movement, beginning the book with a succinct history of Mormonism and missionary work in the South. This history gives the reader background into the area and lends understanding to the developing anti-Mormon atmosphere that escalated into the violence.

After giving multiple detailed accounts of the incident, Curtis focuses a large portion of the book on the immediate aftermath of the massacre. He shows the reaction of the local missionaries and Church members involved and even the national and global reaction, which gives a comprehensive understanding of the tragedy. Curtis then goes on to discuss the lasting impact and hostility that followed the Cane Creek Massacre. The final chapter discusses the years following the incident and what became of those involved and the actual site of the massacre.

While the limitations of a small publisher are evident at times, this volume is extensively researched and filled with letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, and pictures that contribute to giving the reader a thorough understanding of this history and the event in its entirety. The Cane Creek Mormon Massacre will provide Latter-day Saints and scholars alike with a new vista in Church and Southern history. Scholars and enthusiasts of Church history and missionary work will be interested not only because Cane Creek is the first book written on this subject, but because of the clear picture Curtis gives of both the incident and the conditions surrounding it.