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Adventures of a Church Historian Hardcover – May 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


"A follower like me, trying to do a job under conflicting instructions of presures, was like a mouse crossing the floor where elephants are dancing".-- From the book

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (May 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252023811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252023811
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,356,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
That is a question that has many people puzzled in the first part of the twenty-first century. Leonard J. Arrington sought to walk a tightrope between his personal faith and his commitment to the discipline of history throughout his life, and did so with style and grace and verve and served as a model for all to follow. His autobiography, "Adventures of a Church Historian," is a careful, powerful statement of both his personal faith in the God of the Mormon Church that he served his entire life and his commitment to intellectual honesty about the church's past. It is a welcome addition to the literature of Mormonism and an object lesson in the difficulties inherent in being faithful both to God and to scholarship.

This book is first an explanation and defense of the "new Mormon History." Unfortunately, there is no real consensus on what this term means. Arrington believed that it represented a fundamental shift away from the use of history for polemical purposes, in either attacks on or defenses of the Mormon movement, something that had dominated historical writing in earlier generations. He sought to move beyond the assumptions of faith to embrace a larger understanding and in the process a larger faith. In so doing, he believed, historians could do their work fully aware that their faith was personal rather than historical.

This approach has created problems for historians who are seeking to discover the church's past, and Arrington came to fully appreciate it. From almost the beginning of what has been called the "new Mormon history." of which Arrington was one of the founders and intellectual leaders, a debate has been raging in Mormon intellectual (and in some not so intellectual) circles about the nature of Mormon history. Richard L.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on August 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Leonard Arrington was the official historian of the LDS church from 1972 to 1982, and the unofficial father of the "New Mormon History", an intellectual movement devoted to the writing of faithful yet honest versions of the Mormon past. He was a down-to-earth, humorous farm boy who became recognized as one of America's greatest historians. His humble, faithful, fun-loving, yet rigorous and candid spirit are alive in the pages of these memoirs. Arrington writes forthrightly about his deeply personal spiritual experiences and his encounters with those who opposed any "perestroika" in the writing of LDS history. He remained faithful right up to his death in 1999. One of his favorite stories was of the old Mormon Bishop Edwin Wooley, who once got in trouble with Brigham Young. Brigham told Wooley, "Now I suppose you will go off and apostatize." Woolley replied, "I might if this were your church, but it's just as much mine as yours." Arrington and his associates helped kindle the light of my faith when I was a kid, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book is an autobiography of Leonard Arrington who was primarily a historian, but also an economist.  Along with serving as Church Historian during the mid 1970s, Arrington was also highly influential in the creation and perpetuation of several early organizations interested in the scholarly study of Mormonism, including Dialogue and the Mormon History Association.
The book focuses on Arrington's scholarly work and his time spent as Church Historian, but also incorporates brief sketches of his family life and some of the things he did outside of work - though they are mostly Church related.
This book is a fascinating look inside the Mormon Church, specifically its Salt Lake based hierarchy and their policies concerning history and scholarly analysis of Mormonism.  For the most part the book is well-written.  The biggest problem on this front is that the book could have used at least one more editorial pass as there are numerous typos and even one section where Arrington describes an event in almost identical fashion within three paragraphs (p. 87 "After the session where we were sustained, many friends and former associates came up to congratulate us and shake our hands..." repeated on p. 88).
There are only two other critiques I would level at the book.  First, the book jumps around quite a bit, from his academics to his family and back again, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph.  I understand the difficulty in trying to report both dimensions of one's life in a coherent picture, but it made for difficult reading at times.  Second, there are several points when the normally lucid writing turns into a bibliography.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am glad Leonard Arrington shared his life with us in this very informative book. It helped me understand the reality behind many of the rumors that have grown up around books like "The Story of the Latter-day Saints", "The Mormon Experience", and "Brigham Young: American Moses". I am also glad to know about the other wonderful books and articles he and his team put together over the years.
He had a difficult assignment in being directly affiliated with the Church and yet being tasked with producing professional history. For the Church, the hand of God is a reality in all things. But that kind of explanation doesn't hold any water in the halls of academe. This required a special person to be able to walk that very thin line (since it was indeed the Church Leaders who gave him this almost self-contradictory assignment).
It was inevitable that there would be some who would take exception to this or that and at times there was more than exception taken. Arrington put it well on page 144 "... trying to do a job under conflicting instructions or pressures, was like a mouse crossing the floor where elephants are dancing." I love this image and understand exactly what he means.
And there is a glorious chapter giving the background on the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Just terrific insights and enriching information.
I do wish, however, he had taken a few pages showing examples of historical writing that did go beyond fair professionalism and into being against the Church. Clearly this writing does exist and probably did at least as much to undermine the purposes for which his office was originally set up as the complaints of the literalists.
This was a very enjoyable read and the background it provides makes it very worthwhile.
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