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Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon…
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Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History

by Gregory A. Prince

Other authors: Susan Arrington Madsen (Photos), William Whitaker (Cover artist)

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1331,086,865 (3.83)1
Copublished with the Tanner Trust Fund, J. Willard Marriott Library. Leonard Arrington is considered by many the foremost twentieth-century historian of Mormonism. He played a key role in establishing the Western History Association and the Mormon History Association, and more than a half-century after its publication, his revised doctoral dissertation, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900, remains a standard. But Arrington's career was not without controversy. Gregory Prince takes an in-depth look at this respected historian and, in telling Arrington's story, gives readers insight into the workings of the LDS Church in the late twentieth century. In 1972, during a major reorganization of the LDS Church, Arrington was asked to serve as the official church historian, thereby becoming the first--and thus far the only--professional historian to hold that title. He immediately set out to professionalize the entire Church History Division and open its extensive archives to scholarly researching. While the output of and from that division moved Mormon studies to a new level, the shift of historiography from faith promotion ecclesiastical, to scholarly and professional research and analysis was unacceptable to a handful of powerful senior apostles. In 1980 the History Division was disassembled and moved to Brigham Young University. That led to a shift in the professionalization of the Church History Division and Archives and in Arrington's career but not to a loss of his broad influence. This biography is the first to draw upon the remarkable Arrington diaries (over 20,000 pages); it is supplemented by the author's interviews of more than 100 people who knew or worked with Arrington. The book is of additional significance given continuing battles between the LDS Church and scholars, which frequently gains national attention because of excommunications of prominent intellectuals.  Winner of the Evans Biography Award and the John Whitmer Historical Association's Brim Biography Book Award. … (more)

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A Good Festivus Gift

Little did I realize 25 years ago when I was reading his gentle histories The Mormon Experience: A HISTORY OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS and Brigham Young: American Moses how upset Leonard Arrington was with the leaders of the Church, as here revealed by his personal diaries. In 1982, he commissioned Lavina Fielding Anderson to compile his memoirs, which Anderson entitled _Doves and Serpents_. Of this private compilation, Arrington said: "It's a pretty intimate history, and MUST NOT BECOME PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE because it essentially gives the story of THE GOOD GUYS and THE BAD GUYS. The General Authorities, in that work are the Bad Guy." (Emphasis in original.) Arrington apparently toned things down for his published autobiography Adventures of a Church Historian, but after his death his children apparently decided that there should be a public airing of grievances after all, so we have this book.

On the back cover, Anderson assures us that Arrington was quite possibly the best human being of his generation. I would have expected to come away more edified from reading the biography of someone in the 99.9999999th percentile of humanity, but maybe I didn't come to the book with a mind open enough to permit me to recognize his saintliness.

One chapter that I was pleasantly surprised by was the one on the Priesthood Revelation of 1978. Prince captures the jubilation of that moment as I remember it, without going on to condemn us all for accepting the previous policy in the first place. ( )
  cpg | Oct 15, 2017 |
What a wonderful irony that I finished this book on Pioneer Day.

Prince's first book on David O. McKay is one of the best works of Mormon history in the last 20 years, and this is a worthy follow-up. With unprecedented access to Arrington's papers, combined with interviews of many people who knew him, Prince reconstructs not only the life of the first professional historian to serve as LDS Church historian, but also a rich picture of church bureaucracy in the 1970s and 1980s.

It's a discouraging picture in some respects. Some church leaders that Latter-Day Saints admire and respect come off as arrogant, defensive, and anti-intellectual. But that's not the whole story. I found Arrington's optimism and faith affirmative, and it's remarkable how much progress the Church has made since the 1970s in transparency and in honest grappling with its own history.

The book is very well written, compulsively readable. Highly recommend. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
Leonard Arrington was a remarkable American historian. I knew just a bit about him when I discovered Greg Prince's detailed biography of Arrington. I appreciated learning about how Leonard developed from a farm boy to a historian while maintaining a strong belief in religion and the LDS church. Prince has also provided some insight into how the LDS church works, some positive and some negative. Certainly, Arrington experienced trying times during while he was LDS historian, however, it is clear that he was a mentor to many of the current generation of Mormon historians. Prince's biography inspires me to read Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom, Arrington and Bitton's The Mormon Experience, as well as George Santayana's Reason in Religion, Lowell Benion's What about Religion?. Thanks to Greg Prince for an excellent biography of Leonard Arrington and more importantly for giving me much more to learn. ( )
  brewbooks | Sep 25, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gregory A. Princeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Madsen, Susan ArringtonPhotossecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Whitaker, WilliamCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to all who believe "that truth has got to be preserved"--even inconvenient truth.
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Following the death of Joseph Smith Jr. in 1844, the church that he founded split into several factions.
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