Book Review: David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

May 14, 2005 | 44 comments
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Yes, I’m reviewing two books on David O. McKay. My original intention was to review them together (and explore the larger issue of writing faith-promoting as opposed to warts-and-all history), but I decided that wouldn’t be fair. It didn’t seem fair because David O. McKay: Beloved Prophet is a credible entry in the well-established subgenre of LDS biography. It does exactly what it is supposed to do. But David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism is a category killer.

Because it relies on the extensive (130,000 pages) personal diaries of President McKay (maintained and then deposited at the U of U by his intrepid secretary, Clare Middlemiss, who should be the subject of her own book someday), it contains material that we just don’t get in LDS biography, including such things as verbatim transcripts of First Presidency meetings. ( In fact, it could fairly be said that one of the defining characteristics of LDS biography is the drawing of a discreet curtain around our subject as he enters the Quorum of the Twelve, as if he were an ER patient about to undergo an embarrassing medical procedure.)

For a variety of reasons, this book may be the most important work in Mormon Studies published in this decade (and, yes, I know about Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith that is coming out in the Fall.). Here’s why:

(1) As I said, we don’t normally get this kind of access to a prophet and his work. There is historical as well as devotional value here. Some readers will be uncomfortable with the tussle and disunity among the highest leaders of the Church. At times I was, too. I am sympathetic to the position that history must take a back-seat to faith –that we shouldn’t even allow it along for the ride if it will distract from faith. At the same time, if your testimony is weak enough to be rocked by the shocking revelations herein (Did you know that David O. McKay once asked for a Coca-Cola?), then you have underlying problems that will eventually rear their doubting heads even if you keep your nose out of this book.

I do exaggerate by suggesting that The Coke Incident was the most scandalous part of the book. The picture is of a prophet who loved and was loved by his people, but was not a particularly good administrator, and often backed down either because of weariness brought on by age or a desire not to impede on someone’s agency or, as he put it, “tender heart.” His position was that “we shall never be condemned for what we do not say,” and so he didn’t reign in Elder McConkie (over Mormon Doctrine), Elder Smith (over Man, His Origin and Destiny), or Elder Benson (over his support of the John Birch Society), although apparently he would have liked to. (Interestingly, Woodger subtly suggests that administration wasn’t President McKay’s strong suit, but does it without presenting much supporting data.) Will the average LDS reader be able to swallow the multiple incidents of conflict in the Quorum of the Twelve (here’s President McKay on his feelings about Elder Harold B. Lee going too far with correlation: “It is easy to understand how the Apostasy took place in the early days.”) and First Presidency? I don’t know. (But I won’t be shocked if Deseret pulls this book from its shelves.) There is, on balance, a very positive portrait of President McKay in this book, but I cannot say the same for (future) presidents Smith, Lee, and Benson (but I cringed at the snarky comment that then-Elder Smith made about him).

The issue of faithful-versus-warts history is huge and complicated. While you might think we have a clear contrast between this book and Woodger’s, she’s the one who told us about the young McKay cursing (mildly) at his mission call; Wright and Prince don’t. Rather, they set the tone of the book by starting out with reports from many people (member and non) about the ‘aura’ that President McKay had that caused even Gentiles to watch him walk through a crowded train station and ask, “Who is that?”

The authors quote President McKay as saying, “Perfect people would be awfully tiresome to live with; their stained-glass view of things would seem a constant sermon without intermission, a continuous moral snub of superiority to our self-respect.” Amen, President McKay. It only took me to page 24 (that’s right after the Coke story . . .) to love President McKay.

(2) Prince and Wright could have fairly titled this book something along the lines of A History of the LDS Church from 1950-1970. Without distracting from their overall mission, they fill in enough gaps that this book isn’t just about President McKay. Unlike some people around here, I wasn’t raised on Mormon Studies (I was a convert–the only one in my family–as a teenager) and while I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story of the evolution debate in the Quorum of the Twelve, the Mormon Doctrine controversy, the Sterling McMurrin and Fawn Brodie affairs, Elder Benson’s involvement with ultra-right-wing politics, the BYU spy scandal, baseball baptisms, etc., I didn’t have a solid picture of these things until I read this book.

There’s also an excellent chapter on blacks and the priesthood, all the more useful because it focuses on an epoch of that issue that is often overlooked. And contrary to the current apologetic position that ‘the Brethren were pro-civil rights, but restrained from giving blacks the priesthood,’ we get here plenty of data points suggesting that many of them were anything but in favor of civil rights and that they, in fact, toyed with the idea of giving at least the Aaronic Priesthood to men of African descent. One of the most poignant passages in the whole book concerns President McKay’s dismay after his repeated pleadings in prayer that he be allowed to ordain blacks were denied.

(3) Even if this were a much inferior work, it would still be a vital contribution to LDS History. You can perhaps be forgiven for hearing the phrase ‘Church History’ and thinking ’19th Century Church History.’ There’s just a lot more out there in print on Joseph and Brigham than there is on David and Spencer and we should rejoice at a work that attempts to fill in that lacuna.

(4) There’s great trivia in this book, and lots of it. Did you know that President McKay was more likely to quote great literature than scripture in his Conference talks? Did you know that in the early 20th century, most LDS didn’t know that the priesthood couldn’t be given to blacks? Did you know that President McKay considered building a Temple on a cruise ship and sailing it around the world (and can you imagine the old people fighting for that assignment?)? Did you know that Paul H. Dunn wrote his dissertation on the difference between what the Brethren said was the doctrine of the Church and what was taught by CES? That President McKay (probably) originated the practice of exchanging rings in the sealing room during a Temple wedding?

I hope I won’t be distracting from this phenomenal book if I note two weak points:

(1) The book is arranged topically, not chronologically. While not a problem in itself, I do question some of the topics selected (and left undone). For example, there is a chapter on ‘ecumenical outreach,’ but this does not seem to have been a major theme for President McKay. Secondly, virtually every chapter covers a controversy surrounding Church practice, not doctrine. Although the policies surrounding blacks and the priesthood, communism, and gathering to Zion are, of course, doctrinally based, they are primarily issues of policy. There’s nothing here, for example, about McKay’s shaping of doctrine (i.e., views on the Godhead, repentence, etc.). Is that because these weren’t major issues during his administration, or does it reflect the selection bias of the authors? I’m not sure.

(2) Paul H. Dunn is quoted extensively in this book from a series of interviews that the authors did with him. In the majority of cases, the quote is introduced with something similar to this: ‘one General Authority said . . .’ I can see why they interviewed him and used his statements (he is much more frank than I would imagine virtually any other GA would be on the record), but to never mention in the book his dubious standing (even in the biographical information in the end) in the Church and to often ‘hide’ his identity by only naming him in the endnotes, not the text, seems a little sloppy to me. This is especially true since the book contains an excellent summary of the Douglas Stringfellow hoax, a situation very similar to Dunn’s (except that Stringfellow was a Utah politician, not a GA) and President McKay’s condemnation of it. It is debatable whether Dunn can be considered a reliable source given his past, so I think the authors should have been more transparent if they were going to quote him.

These are minor points, however. It is just about killing me not to write a 10,000-word post and detail everything that fascinated me in this book. But I don’t want to give you the impression that you’ve gotten the good stuff and can skip reading it. Because you can’t. (You’ll just need to read it for yourself to find out how Mormon Doctrine ended up having one very positive effect on LDS-Catholic relations.) This one is mandatory for anyone with an interest in Mormon Studies.

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44 Responses to Book Review: David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

  1. danithew on May 15, 2005 at 12:49 am

    I really really really have to get this book. Thanks for the review. And pass me a Coca-cola please.

  2. J. Stapley on May 15, 2005 at 1:45 am

    I almost got this at Powell’s in Portland yesterday. I must now live with this regret.

    Great review, I’ll just have to wait another couple months (when my book budget replenishes itself).

    President McKay (probably) originated the practice of exchanging rings in the sealing room during a Temple wedding

    Not to threadjack, but I didn’t exchange rings in the sealing room (Manti). I thought that was normal.

  3. Larry on May 15, 2005 at 3:12 am

    It’s too bad you didn’t live during his administration so you could have felt the underlying currents that existed in the political and religious arenas.
    Communism was a big deal. The last days were a topic on everyone’s tongue.
    Look at the literature that was written in the Church during that period. These were troubling and highly unstable times, having just come out of the Second World War, the Korean War, the atom bomb, Hell’s Angels, Vietnam heating up, “God is dead”, free love, the hippie movement, women’s lib, etc.etc.
    What was needed during these times was not an administrative genius, but rather one who stood out and inspired, one who could take the Gospel to the world and not have it appear to be a wacky sect. His quotes in General conferences were literary, and the impact of that was to inspire the young (and some old) to read good literature and poetry and to look for beauty.
    He took us out of a cocoon and opened the world to the Saints. He looked and acted every bit the role of an apostle and prophet.
    I used to love his long locks. He looked so dignified. He was less bothered by form than by content.
    I appreciate your review of the book and look forward to getting it. Julie, I wish you could have lived then…and understood why the other Brethern acted the way they did. They were impacted by the events of the time, each differently, and their influence was felt by different groups in the Church.
    I believe this part of the reason Brother Packer was so forceful in his denying access to Church history by academics. If this information and other historical material had come out sooner, there might not have been the intellectual capacity to handle this material as appropriately as you have done.
    It would be another book on Deseret’s best seller’s list. The internet and blog site such as yours have opened up the opportunity for real discussion to take place in real time and for individuals to exercise their intelligence and faith in studying them out in the present.
    This has never before been available. This is a terrific age to be living in. We don’t have to rely on editors and publishers to release information that they want to release and spike the rest. Now everything can be up front and available. Congratulations to you pioneers who have laid the foundation for a great work.

  4. Wilfried on May 15, 2005 at 3:58 am

    Thanks, Julie. I joined the Church when President McKay was the prophet. Converts always retain a special bond with their “first” living prophet. Yes, those were the times when the Church started reaching out on the international scene to take root in other countries, with stakes organized and temples built outside the U.S. But also, as Larry just said, those were “troubling and highly unstable times”, making President McKay an anchor of supreme dimensions in what he achieved.

    I have known for some years that this book was coming, knowing Greg Prince personally. He has invested an enormous amount of time and energy in this book. I was looking forward to its publication. It seems indeed an exceptional endeavor, ushering us into a new era of history writing about Church leaders. You put it well, Julie: “At the same time, if your testimony is weak enough to be rocked by the shocking revelations herein (Did you know that David O. McKay once asked for a Coca-Cola?), then you have underlying problems that will eventually rear their doubting heads even if you keep your nose out of this book.”

    I would hope most of us have matured to the point where our testimonies can be strengthened by discovering the human side of leaders, their hesitations, searching, even conflicts. Peter, Paul and the early apostles did not work differently. The main point is to realize how such problems are resolved, progression is made and the Kingdom built.

  5. Soyde River on May 15, 2005 at 4:10 am

    You don’t have to be around Church history very long before you realize that our leaders are very strong men, with minds of their own. Do they always agree? Of course not. Did Paul always agree with Peter? No, and Paul takes Peter to task for something he did which Paul viewed as wrong. Paul was right; if the gospel was to go to the Gentiles, as Peter had received the revelation, then it was wrong for Peter to pretend to exclude himself from eating with the Gentiles (as Jewish custom required).

    Similarly, in our day and age, the leaders of the Church will have different views. It does not do my testimony any harm to know that they disagree on many things. However, they do not disagree on basic doctrine, and they do not disagree on supporting those who have been called to lead us. It is interesting to see how the Brethren support the First Presidency completely, and recognize the authority of that presiding council to determine the course of the Church.

    I am competely comfortable with that.

  6. Aaron Brown on May 15, 2005 at 4:59 am

    Julie, your book reviews are fast becoming one of my favorite things-to-read at T&S. Thanks for this. I remember a time, in the not so distant past, when I voraciously read everything I came across in Mormon Studies, or at least became somewhat familiar with it through reviews, publisher catalogs, etc. Nowadays, I’m too busy and too out of the loop to keep up on everything that’s coming out. I look forward to reading more future reviews.

    Aaron B

  7. lyle on May 15, 2005 at 6:18 am

    Yet…if the Prophet and the 12 keep such things private; maybe there is a reason? Doing an ER/embarrassement analogy doesn’t seem very apt; unless you prefer secret over sacred when talking about the temple.

    I know some folks who refuse to read the Lazarus (?) expose on the Supreme Court written by a former clerk. I wonder if this book will have a similar problem.

  8. Julie in Austin on May 15, 2005 at 10:01 am

    Lyle–

    I am sympathetic to your concerns, especially because the vision that Soyde River presents of leaders (1) not disagreeing on basic doctrine and (2) fully supporting one another after a decision has been made is not supported by this book.

    At the same time, David O. McKay (I would assume) knew that his secretary was collating these materials in order to write a biography about him. (She wasn’t able to because of her age and health and turned everything over to her nephew.)

    On the other hand (I’m on the third hand here; can you tell I am conflicted about this?), Miss Middlemiss probably wouldn’t have used the materials in the same way that Wright and Prince do.

    On the fourth and final hand, if this is the worst expose (and their goal is not expose, and they appear to love President McKay and believe in his calling) that one could come up with, you can only conclude that the leadership is squeaky-clean and remarkably free from bickering and back-biting, although not completely free from those things, as we might wish.

    I think an interesting question is whether these conflicts represented a tumultous time in history (see comment #3), or whether the same kind of thing happens today.

  9. Seth Rogers on May 15, 2005 at 10:48 am

    I’m going to betray my ignorance here.

    What are “baseball baptisms?”

  10. Kelly Knight on May 15, 2005 at 11:07 am

    The Quorum of Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency are made up of men who are learned, bright, professional, and self-motivated to righteous living. Most assuredly, they have their own thoughts and positions on any given subject based on the way they were raised, their parents’ teaching styles, what they studied in university, and so on.

    To assume that each holds exactly the same position on everything would be ludicrous. Were that so, there would be no need of a weekly meeting in the temple. President Hinckley would simply make all the decisions, pass around a memo that everyone would sign off on, and save all that time and effort.

    On the contrary, debate is the process we have been encouraged to take. Heavenly Father tells us to study it out in our minds, make a decision, then pray about it. That study is the debate process used by the general authorities (I have always disliked the term “GA”).

    As for President McKay’s thoughts on the writings of McConckie, et al, I would tend to agree. Though I have read Mormon Doctrine from cover to cover, a couple of times, I am inclined only to accept Elder McConckie’s testimony from April 1985 as his best work, and Mormon Doctrine as opinion for much of it.

  11. Kevin Barney on May 15, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    For “baseball baptisms,” see comment 6 by Jim F. at this T&S thread:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2244

  12. danithew on May 15, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    If you’re a little bit too lazy to scroll down, here’s a direct link to the comment (#6) that Kevin is talking about: http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2244#comment-70031

  13. Jed on May 15, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    I agree with Julie’s assessment of this book as a “category killer.” I’m nearly done with the book and I find myself surprised on nearly every page turn. This book will rewrite the history of Mormonism in the twentieth century.

    For me the book raises important questions transcending Mormonism. The questions are legal and ethical questions about the nature of public and private history and the responsibilities of historians in using records intended for private use. This book would never have been written without a motherload of diaries and minutes falling into the hands of the authors, and there is some question–never confronted in the book–about whether they ever should have had them in the first place.

    The records were kept by Clare Middlemiss, McKay’s secretary and the aunt of one of the book’s coauthors, Robert Wright. Upon Middlemiss’s death in 1983, the records fell into Wright’s hands, who later deposited them at the Marriott Library of the University of Utah, where the records are now open for historical researchers.

    According to Wright’s introduction to the book, Middlemiss labored evening after evening organizing “numerous stacks of articles, pictures, and other information that she painstakingly organized into diaries, discourses, and scrapbooks” (ix). That makes it sound like she was cobbling together a history on her own time as a welcome diversion from her day job.

    But what the authors don’t tell us is that keeping all these records was her day job–spilling over into the night. Middlemiss never married, and the division between her day job and her night job was apparently non-existent. The authors tell us at one point that the work was too heavy to be completed in an 8-hour work day. Evenings were required just to keep up. Middlemiss was recording McKay’s daily dictations as a church employee, not as a private citizen collecting records for a history. For some reason she retained copies of the minutes and diaries she wrote for McKay while under the church’s employ. (Presumambly originals are locked away in the LDS Church Archives.) Wright and Prince make a point of saying over and over that the McKay records are hers and she would have wanted them used to to write a history, but they never confront the legal and ethical questions about whether Middlemiss had a right to retain them in the first place if she created them while writing for and behalf of other people. Are the records Middlemiss’s, McKay’s, or the Church’s?

    The question asked more pointedly is this: Did McKay know Middlemiss was retaining copies of all his private musings, and if so, would he have approved of future historians using them to write a history of his life? Even if the answer is yes, we might ask if McKay as a private citizen had a right to reveal the private conferences of the office of the LDS church president. Are the 1Presidency minutes official minutes or his own reconstructions? How would other members of the 1Presidency feel if they knew their councils would be scrutinized in a public archive within thirty years of their deaths?

  14. Jed on May 15, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    I should say, for the record, that I like this book, and I am happy the book was written. I raise these legal and ethical issues as points for discussion, not in an effort to chastise the authors, McKay, or Middlemiss. If such a treasure of records had fallen into my hands, perhaps I would have done the same.

  15. Julie in Austin on May 15, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    Excellent questions, Jed. I’d wondered about all of those things but haven’t articulated them nearly as well as you have. I would also add: if we have leadership concerned that release of records will happen again, they will be more circumspect in what they say (I would assume). This would have advantages and disadvantages.

    One thought: Why *are* these records kept if they are never supposed to be released?

  16. Jed on May 15, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    Julie: On the question of why records are kept if never to released, one answer is the issue of precedants. If the 1P or 12 have a record of their conclusions, they have a way of chartering their present and future courses with reference to the past. They have institutional memory. Leonard Arrington’s memoir Adventures of a Church Historian mentions a time the Q12 did a self-study of references to blacks and priesthood within the minutes of the meetings of the 12. The current 12 seemed to be using the past records as a kind of quorum scripture in which they could search for precidents that might help constrain or shape their current decisions.

    The larger point is the records are theirs, because they created them. They can do what they want with the records. If I want to lock up my journal in a safety deposit box, that is my right, isn’t it? But I guess we might argue whether the 12 as stewards have a right to lock up records if they are acting in trust for all the members of the church who are like shareholders in a corporation.

  17. Nate Oman on May 15, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    Sheesh. Yet another book that I am going to have to read…

  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 15, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    Middlemiss was recording McKay’s daily dictations as a church employee, not as a private citizen collecting records for a history.

    I’m still glad of the chance to read the book. I’ll have to order a copy.

  19. DavidH on May 15, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    I very much enjoyed the book, and highly recommend it. In my mind, its refreshing candor and readability are in the same category as the biography
    of Spencer W. Kimball.

  20. Russell Arben Fox on May 15, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    Excellent review, Julie; your comments have really whetted my appetite for this book. A quick question, for anyone: is there any biography of another LDS general authority (church president or otherwise) which is comparable to this book? The way you describe this book, with its reliance upon a massive store of otherwise completely private communications and written documents, makes it sound truly sui generis. My impression is that the extant records are just too sketchy for early leaders of the church, and too closely protected by those of later leaders. Am I wrong? If so, I’d be really curious–in terms of coverage of church history from the inside out, has any book been published which is the biography’s equal?

  21. Jed on May 15, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    Russell: Among Mormon historians, Edward and Andrew Kimball’s biography of Spencer W. is often put forward as the best of the biographies of Mormon church presidents, based as it is on Kimball’s voluminous journals, as well as its candor, humanity, and good humor. I think it is still the best Mormon biography around. Prince and Wright are the not the stylists that Andrew Kimball is, and the McKay book is, as Julie points out, as much an administrative history as a portrait of the man. In many ways McKay remains as elusive as ever, in part because the authors believe the documents “speak for themselves”; when the documents don’t speak neither do the authors. Moreover, the McKay book suffers from the detail-overload and Mormon exceptionalism common to much Mormon history. There is very little American context here. But in terms of access to materials Prince and Wright surpasses the Kimball book and probably rivals Tom Alexander’s Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, as well as the recent collection of Heber J. Grant essays published by Ron Walker in a special issue of BYU Studies, both of which cite several journals and diaries now closed to historical research.

  22. Greg Call on May 15, 2005 at 10:28 pm

    Russell: It may not be as intimate as the McKay bio, but Mike Quinn’s volume on J. Reuben Clark also relies heavily on letters and other private writings, and very effectively so.

  23. Soyde River on May 15, 2005 at 10:52 pm

    I think we have to be careful in assuming that Claire Middlemiss’s records are an absolutely accurate record of what took place. There is no doubt that she had a very privileged position, and much of it is probably true. But it is also true that she may have abused her position (as anyone might, if they are close to the powerful), and she undoubtedly had those with whom she disagreed. And there were those who disagreed with her.

    As always, read with interest, but with care and objectivity.

  24. Julie in Austin on May 15, 2005 at 11:51 pm

    This link has the Deseret News reviews of both of these books. I think the reviewer drew opposite conclusions for virtually everything that I commented on.

    http://mailman.xmission.com/lurker/message/20050323.001441.639dc36c.en.html

  25. obi-wan on May 16, 2005 at 12:14 am

    Wright and Prince make a point of saying over and over that the McKay records are hers and she would have wanted them used to to write a history, but they never confront the legal and ethical questions about whether Middlemiss had a right to retain them in the first place if she created them while writing for and behalf of other people. Are the records Middlemiss’s, McKay’s, or the Church’s?

    Difficult to answer without more facts. There are two separate questions: one regarding the physical objects deposited at the Marriott Library, and the other regarding the content of those physical objects.

    If Middlemiss was using supplies purchased or provided by the Church, then the Church may have some claim to that actual diaries, unless title was somehow transferred to Middlemiss — by gift, purchase, or bequest. Assuming that she used materials of her own, or obtained title to the materials purchased by the Church, she could devise or transfer them like any other chattel.

    The content of the diaries is a different story, however. One possibility is that what Middlemiss recorded or created was work made for hire for the Church, if what she was doing was done as an employee within the scope of her employment, in which case the copyright would vest in the Church. The term of the copyright is a bit tricky since the works were created, but unpublished, under the 1909 act. Federal copyright would have attached as of 1978, the effective date of the current statute, and runs for 120 years from creation. So under that scenario, the Church would still hold the copyright in the contents of the diaries.

    Alternatively, what Middlemiss created could be work made for hire for David O. McKay in his personal capacity. Same calculation for the term, but he could have transferred or bequeathed the copyright to someone in that case — if not Middlemiss, then under the statute to his spouse first, or to his natural heirs per stirpes.

    Or, it could be that what Middlemiss compiled contained no original expression of hers, but only of David O. McKay’s. Then we ask whether what McKay created was work made for hire for the Church — i.e., created as an employee within the scope of his employment. That doesn’t strike me as correct if these really are personal diaries, but if so, same analysis as to term and Church ownership.

    Final possibility, that what Middlemiss compiled contained no original expression of hers, but only of David O. McKay’s in his personal capacity. This strikes me as the most likely scenario. Then copyright vests in McKay as of 1978, and runs for 70 years after his death — until Jan. 1, 2041, but again he could transfer or bequeath the copyright, as above.

    Assuming that the physical diaries were legally transferred to the U of U, but that the copyright was not, the authors of the biography would be constrained as to how much of the content they could reproduce in their work without infringing — so long as what they took were facts, and ideas, without too much of the diaries’ expression, they could avoid infringement. There are a number of cases (e.g., Salinger v. Random House) parsing the line between biography and infringement.

    If McKay somehow transferred the copyright to Middlemiss, and she bequeathed it to Prince, then he could authorize however much quotation from the works he wished.

    Bottom line — there is enough legal uncertainty here that I’m fairly sure the Church could have enjoined publication of the biography had it really wanted to.

  26. Matt Witten on May 16, 2005 at 1:58 am

    As to whether this sort of thing happens anymore, at Regional Conference here in San Antonio, L. Tom Perry, while commenting on the differences in the men that make up our twelve noted rather humurously “It’s a wonder we get anthing done at all!” This would imply that there are still differences there. Personally, I think God works through those differences.

  27. Mimi on May 16, 2005 at 9:35 am

    Julie, Thanks for a great review. As soon as I finished reading this, I immediately went to Amazon to purchase the book (quite a bit cheaper than getting it from DeseretBook online).

    You mention that this could become the best work in Mormon studies of the decade. What other books from the past would you put in this category? As a newcomer to the field, I would be interested for yours and others recommendations. Thanks.

  28. Julie in Austin on May 16, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Mimi–

    If you go to the sidebar, under previous posts, under other features, you’ll find essential texts in mormon studies.

  29. Jed on May 16, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    See also Arnold K. Garr, Which Are the Most Important Mormon Books?” BYU Studies 41, no. 3 (2002).

  30. Heather Oman on May 16, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    The result of Claire Middlemiss’ fastidious note-taking was the book, “Cherished Experiences”, right? It seems to be that surely David O. McKay’s family would have known about the publication of the book, and as far as I know, nobody objected to the publication. Furthermore, that book has served to be a primary source for this year’s David O. McKay manual, which would suggest that at least the Church feels that it is accurate enough to be put into a work where everything would be attributed directly to DOM.

  31. MDS on May 19, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    Tried to buy this at Deseret Book’s flagship store in the ZCMI center today. Unfortunately, although their system shows that they should have 5 copies there, none could be found? Are these such a hot item that people are willing to steal them?

  32. Julie in Austin on May 19, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    MDS–

    It’s a big book (not standard hardback size, but the size of the Hugh Nibley bio) and about 450 pages–would take a lot of nerve (and skill!) to steal it!!

  33. Jim F on May 19, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    MDS: I’ve had that experience in a number of bookstores. I am sure it has as much to do with the inefficiency of their inventory control systems (regradless of the fact that they are computerized) as it has to do with theft. Sometimes they are just on the wrong shelf.

  34. Silus Grok on May 23, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    FYI: The author of the book will be on KUER’s call-in program RADIO WEST today at 11am MT with a re-broadcast tonight. You can call in at 1 (801) 585-WEST, or e-mail them a question: radiowest@kuer.org

    Episode page:

    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=774892

  35. Silus Grok on May 24, 2005 at 1:45 pm

    The recording of the show is now available at the link provided above.

  36. Ben S. on June 2, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    My copy finally came, and I have been devouring it in whatever time I can spare. What I find so interesting is how a book intent on not pulling any punches on difficult issues also includes example after example of faith-building anecdotes. I have laughed out loud several times from the sheer pleasure of reading President McKay, and there’s plenty of blog-material in there. As soon as I find time…

  37. Lorin on June 2, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    I too just received my copy, and I have been fascinated by all the background details of many of the events I lived through.
    Someone posted that DOM was not a great leader. It seems to me his leadership in so many cases was to keep in bounds the dynamic energies of many of those below him in the organization. Some examples discussed in the book are Wilkinson’s desire to build a system of junior colleges, HBL’s moving from reorganizing the curriculum to reorganizing the whole Church, BRM’s efforts to publish a definitive “Mormon Doctrine,” JFS’s desire to combat evolution and excommunicate McMurrin, the escalating theological wars with the Catholic Church, etc. It seems DOM’s leadership was in part keeping the Church from expending its resources into inappropriate tangents.
    I was especially interested to see how the conflicts with the Catholic Church resulted in large part from misunderstandings, and how it took the generosity and good will of DOM to overcome that. It was fascinating to see the interplay between HBL and DOM on the development of the correlation program. Many felt that when HBL died, the Church missed an unique opportunity for a great leader to finish his reform of the Church organization. After reading that part of the book, I had the feeling that it was better to have had HBL do his reforming under the watchful eye and control of DOM. I was also fascinated by the junior college episode with Wilkinson. The book mentions junior colleges well beyond the planning stages in Anaheim and Portland. The book fails to mention the efforts well under way in Fremont, CA. Local members in Fremont had helped the Church buy up all the real estate in a parcel large enough for a college. The local Mormon realtor was so eager to have a local college he did not charge the Church commissions on any of the purchases. The locals were very disappointed when the Church decided not to proceed. The land was eventually sold to the State and has now become the State schools for the deaf and the blind.
    I agree. Just from what I have read so far, I think It’s a great book. I hope more like it are yet to come. I hope our history continues to be told with such insight, detail, and honesty. Manufactured images are never so inspiring as the real thing.

  38. Gary on June 7, 2005 at 3:59 am

    Julie, your post and Jed’s comment have motivated me to get myself up to speed and do my own review of the Prince and Wright book here.

  39. Margaret Young on July 6, 2005 at 7:57 pm

    All the copies of this book are sold out in local Utah stores except the one in St. George, I am told. I have been to two libraries and found all copies checked out. This book is so significant, and apparently a lot of people recognize that. I knew Greg Prince was writing it (I don’t know his co-author) but had the impression it would be yet another decade before it was finished because his research was so exacting and relentless. A friend told me it was now available and at last loaned me his copy. I immediately read the chapter which most interested me–the one on Blacks and the Priesthood. I really thought I knew the full history of this issue, but I learned some things I had never before supposed. I knew about the differing opinions of Elders Benson and Brown but did not know about Elder Dyer’s place in coercing a statement reitterating the Church’s position on the priesthood restriction (a statement Elder Brown was actually very uncomfortable with). Since I am 50 years old, David O. McKay was MY prophet, the prophet of my childhood. I remember attending General Conference with my grandfather and my brother. President McKay, that lover of Scotland, looked up to the balconey where my brother and I, both of us redheads, stood. He stared at us tenderly and I froze, trying to make my mouth say, “Dell [my brother], he’s LOOKING at us!” How I loved that white-haired, godlike man! And I love him no less after reading about the way he handled the issue which has become so extremely important to me. I recognize that he was raised in a racist world and subject, as were Jesus’ disciples, to the darkness of tradition. Most of us have great difficulty shedding the cloaks of our customs–or even realizing that we’re wearing them and that they’re preventing us from feeling some things as deeply as we should. The fact that he did so much to prepare the ground for the revelation of 1978 is inspiring. But of course, there is much more to do. There are still books on the shelves which make statements President McKay would cringe at–most especially that book which he should have nuked from the get-go: _Mormon Doctrine_. But we will continue to grow, nonetheless. As one who has held in one hand a hymnbook belonging to a descendant of Jane Manning James, and in the other an anti-Mormon document quoting _Mormon Doctrine_ which belonged to that same descendant and took her out of the Church, I hope that Prince/Wright’s efforts will turn us back to questions which still demand heartfelt answers.

  40. Greg Call on July 6, 2005 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts, Margaret. I just finished the Blacks and the Priesthood chapter last night and learned a lot. The machinations and efforts with respect to Nigeria, especially, were interesting to me.

    By the way, don’t let bookstore inventories get you down. The book is available at Amazon.com (at a discount, even).

  41. danithew on July 6, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    The more I read about this book the more I know that I actually need to read it.

  42. Julie in Austin on July 6, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    Greg Call–

    Amazon is showing a seven to nine WEEK wait on shipping–perhaps waiting on a new printing?

  43. Greg Call on July 6, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    Julie,

    Wow! I looked quickly and didn’t notice that wait time. I ordered mine from Amazon a day or two after it came out and received it a couple days later. In any event, Amazon shows they have a couple of copies available now through third parties, including (if you don’t mind used books) Sam Wellers in Salt Lake.

  44. Gerald Faerber on July 16, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    I enjoyed reading the book and learning about the behind the scenes details. 3 comments. 1. Price does Mckay an injustice when he talks about doubts skepticism in 1927( p.7) . He overlooked a beautiful vision McKay had in May 10,1921 near Samoa during his world tour. Clair Middlemiss documents the event in Cherished Memories 2nd Edition p 59. David O mcKay had a Vision of the Savior.
    2. The chapter on Temples is inaccurate about the concept of multiple ordinance rooms leading in to the celestial room. According the Prince this began with architect Fetzer in 1968 page 270. The Oakland Temple dedicated in 1964 and designed by Architect Harold W Burton already had this concept. (Refer to Era May 1964 pp380-6).
    3. Only President had the keys to sealing power. That was true until 1984. When President Kimball was very ill the power to perform the sealing ordinances were given to the Apostles. Elder Perry gave the sealing power to temple sealers in Boise Temple in 1984.