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Vintage reprint of Leonard J. Arrington's landmark biography of Brigham Young.

Book Review: Brigham Young: American Moses by Leonard J. Arrington

As the de facto Republican candidate for President this year, Mitt Romney’s devout Mormonism has become a very hot topic of debate. Like a lot of other people in the country, I know very little about the Mormon religion, or one of its most important figures, Brigham Young. So this Vintage edition of Leonard J. Arrington’s 1985 book Brigham Young: American Moses could not have been better timed.

Young’s name is one of the most famous in American history, yet the true story of his life had been obscured by various rumors, legends, and outright lies over the years. The reasons for this are obvious. As his religion’s “Moses” figure he has always been a lightning rod. Leonard J. Arrington was a Mormon, and thanks to his appointment as the Church Historian, had full access to the vast amount of archives in Salt Lake City. But rather than write a glossed-over account of Brigham Young (1801-1877), Mr. Arrington (1917-1999), told the truth, warts and all.

It is a fascinating tale. We begin in the town of Wilmington, Vermont and in his young life, Young was a devout Methodist. He “officially” converted to Mormonism at the age of 31, two years after first reading The Book of Mormon. He devoted his life to the church, and when Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in 1844, Young began working towards taking the vacant position of President of the Mormon Church. He was finally ordained in 1847.

Young led his followers to Utah, arriving on July 24, 1847. Today, July 24 is officially recognized as “Pioneer Day,“ by the way. He founded Salt Lake City, and was appointed the territory’s first governor by President Fillmore in 1851. One of the most lasting legacies of Brigham Young’s life was the foundation of what came to be known as Brigham Young University, or BYU. The history of how the university came to be built is convoluted, to say the least, and the author takes us through it step by step.

Brigham Young believed in building, and saw the completion of a great many projects in Utah over the course of his life. There was also a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding him, which Arrington does not shy away from. There was the polygamy issue, the banning of blacks from the church, and charges of obstruction of justice, just to name a few.

As I think is clear with just these basic facts about Brigham Young’s life, he was an extremely complex man. To be honest, there is plenty of ammunition for those on either side of the fence in regards to Mormonism, and Young himself. At 522 pages, Leonard J. Arrington’s book fully examines the many different facets of Brigham Young.

The author’s balanced approach has been deservedly praised over the years. It is especially important (and relevant) because Brigham Young’s life and legacy has touched many lives. It is a nearly impossible task to separate Brigham Young the man, from Brigham Young the President of the Mormon church. The author has done an excellent job in doing so, and has certainly opened my eyes as to who this famous figure actually was.

With Romney a very strong contender for the Presidency this year, understanding the life of one of his church’s most powerful figures of all time is important. Brigham Young: American Moses by Leonard J. Arrington remains the definitive study of the man and is highly recommended.

About Greg Barbrick

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