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Adventures of a Church Historian Hardcover – May 1, 1998
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"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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The task of updating the approach of an organization that is purposely designed to remain immune to short-term change (indeed, to this reviewer, divinely designed to that purpose...) is by definition impossible for any one man who does not have direct and recognized executive authority. Nevertheless, such was the task appointed to Leonard Arrington. By all appearances, he did a wonderful job and his example of dedication and fidelity should serve as a lesson to those who cannot understand the worthiness of a personal sacrifice to a greater goal when efforts are not immediately rewarded, indeed, often opposed--whether rightly or wrongfully so. Though one can sense his bewilderment regarding certain decisions, Dr. Arrington never doubts the ability and right of the decision makers to act as they did and takes pains to demonstrate the validity of opposing views.
Sure, Dr. Arrington encountered more than his fair share of needless difficulty from the very organization to which he devoted his life, but what I chose to take from this work was how in the end, everything worked out--not in the way that Dr. Arrington had originally hoped, but in a way that he came to recognize was appropriate and right.
Full disclosure: I obtained both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from BYU and am well aware of the continuous debates regarding academic freedom. I recognize and appreciate that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leaders have not only an interest but a responsibility for the manner whereby the story of the Church is told. No Church Leader should ever be faulted for the manner in which they strive to protect the faith of members, for they understand quite well that opposing points of view exist--they just don't feel the need to give those views "equal time."
Yet, I remain fascinated by the manner in which even the most intractable policy debates ultimately find resolution, a process that can take years and the efforts of many. Dr. Arrington's book provides necessary and valuable evidence that a complex problem will be resolved at the appropriate time. Retrospective analysis shows the perfect timing of President Kimball's revelation on the Priesthood; likewise, Dr. Arrington's life and work demonstrate that the "problem" of the various approaches to LDS Church History will likewise be shown to be merely a temporary result of an imperfect understanding. Dr. Arrington's life and this book show that the Church and its members have a continually evolving ability to produce valuable and important scholarship. As the members of the Church mature and become increasingly educated their faith in the Church and its history becomes stronger; the world should ask why. Dr. Arrington's life and work provides an excellent example that the truth can withstand (and will reward) all inquiry.
I, however, find somewhere in excess of 30% of the book is "I wrote ____ book, and got these reviews and was helped by [long list of names], and it sold __ copies, and it took __ length of time..."
However, these statistics are in convenient contiguous paragraphs and are easy to skim over.
Although Arrington was a faithful servant of the LDS (and he has been the only non-General Authority appointed to the post) he simply was not interested in writing 'puff pieces' but rather real history to explain the remarkable history of the Saints-and only the brain-dead could fail to appreciate the grandeur of Mormon history (and I write as a non-Mormon).The church president of the time, Joseph Fielding Smith and Apostle Howard Hunter (later president), recognised the need to establish a professional history division but the wisdom of these two leaders in appointing Arrington, with Davis Bitton as his deputy, was quickly attacked by the three other church heavyweights mentioned above.
When the fine work 'The Story of the Latter-day Saints' (1976) was produced by James Allen and Glen Leonard, both of whom were in the history department during the 'Camelot' era,the big three, who disliked what they considered as the absence of inspiration,the humanisation of the prophets and terms like 'communitarian' that accurately described the cooperative economics of the Saints, became trenchant internal critics. Arrington does not whinge about this and he details Elder Packer's concerns with the publication 'Letters of Brigham Young' fairly but the tensions between Apostles Hunter and Packer are evident as were the concerns of Arrington(see p.119).
Essentially by writing about the foibles or humanity of leaders Arrington and Co incurred the ire of Packer who subscribes more to the 'great man version' of history including a positive faith building role rather than a dissection and analysis of leaders as mere men.
Readers can judge for themselves the merits and demerits of this work, and the others mentioned, but I think it is fair to say that Arrington deserved a lot better reward for his work-and that includes recognising his decade as church historian by placing his photo amongst others who have held the post.
For this Australian reviewer I can only say that I really appreciate the works of Arrington, Bitton, Allen,Leonard etc whose works have given me a finer appreciation of a once 'peculiar people,' and church, now very much mainstream and worthy of respect and affection for some of the principled stands they have taken in defence of family values.
I wish I had met Leonard Arrington during his lifetime but I give warning to his former colleagues, messrs Allen and Leonard, that if I ever make it to Utah I intend to look them up and I thank these historians for increasing my knowledge of Mormons and helping to assist me when teaching, on the opening of the American West, to Aussie history students.
This final book of Arrington's is a great read and highly recommended for all those interested in Mormon history and the profession generally. Camelot endures!
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The book is an autobiography of Leonard Arrington who was primarily a historian, but also an economist.Read more