Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophetby John G. Turner
Brigham Young was a rough-hewn New York craftsman whose impoverished life was electrified by the Mormon faith. Turner provides a fully realized portrait of this spiritual prophet, viewed by followers as a protector and by opponents as a heretic. His pioneering faith made a deep imprint on tens of thousands of lives in the American Mountain West. See more details below
Brigham Young was a rough-hewn New York craftsman whose impoverished life was electrified by the Mormon faith. Turner provides a fully realized portrait of this spiritual prophet, viewed by followers as a protector and by opponents as a heretic. His pioneering faith made a deep imprint on tens of thousands of lives in the American Mountain West.
[A] magnificent new biography...[Turner's] book should establish him as one of the best religious historians of his generation. Turner had unfettered access to Young's papers, and his keen eye for social context makes this book an excellent introduction to the story of Mormonism as well as an essential addition to the history of the American West. It should also do for Brigham Young what Richard Lyman Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling did for the Mormon prophet: make the case not only that Young was one of the most fascinating people of the 19th century but also that his importance in American history can no longer be overlooked. Indeed, some of that history will have to be revised to fit this "pioneer prophet" into its narrative...Turner's prose is so smooth and his interpretations so balanced that I suspect Mormonism's defenders and detractors alike will flock to this book...Turner is not a member of the Mormon church, which makes his achievement all the more remarkable.
Stephen H. Webb
[Turner] provides an admirably balanced account of this complex man, and his little-understood and frequently reviled faith...When finished with this superb biography, readers will find [Brigham Young] less of a curiosity but still fascinating.
Young's life is admirably chronicled in this fine new biography…The character who emerges from Turner's elegantly written and well-researched biography is a man for whom the word 'protean' might almost have been invented. He became one of the foremost colonizers of American history, leading the Mormons on a perilous journey to the Great Basin and laying claim to approximately a sixth of the western United States…Turner shows [Young] to be a shrewd and subtle politician…Turner's story never drags, partly because the tale itself is so fascinating, but also because he writes with clarity and energy.
Brigham Young is a landmark work...There is no aspect of Young's fascinating life that eludes Turner's scrutiny.
A major accomplishment that, more than any past treatment of Young, situates the protean prophet squarely in the context of his turbulent times. Turner is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and brings to Young an emotional objectivity and distance that greatly benefit his profile of the 19th century Mormon leader and colonizer...Turner unflinchingly tackles the full spectrum, warts and all, of Young's multifarious personality and life...For Turner, no topic is off-limits, too controversial, too intimate. He exhibits a healthy skepticism and curiosity that are as bracing as they are salutary...He is balanced, insightful, sympathetic, even occasionally affectionate. Turner's Young is a far cry from the (take your pick) superficial, cartoonish, angelic/devilish caricatures of most popularized portrayals. He is a fully rendered, flesh-and-blood, flawed-but-earnest human being who sincerely believed he had been "called" to govern God's new covenant people as heaven's representative. The biography adds much to both our understanding and appreciation of Young.
Gary James Bergera
Turner offers an unflinching account of Young's life "within the context of mid-19th-century American religion and politics," yet evinces throughout a sympathetic understanding of the way Young and the Mormon pioneers saw themselves: as a chosen people delivered by God from their persecutors and led to a latter-day Zion...Turner's portrait is of a man both great and greatly flawed.
Jason Lee Steorts
A comprehensive biography of Young and his times...It is an exceptional work...We can learn a lot about the development of Mormon theology from Turner's book, far more than can be gleaned from previous biographies of Young...Turner is at his best when he is placing the elements of Young's life within the main contours of broader 19th-century America...Those who want to know more about Mormonism's birth and growth will want to get a copy.
Edward J. Blum
[An] exceptionally well-researched and endlessly interesting biography.
Turner's broad historical perspective clarifies why Young's ecclesiastical successors have still felt the man's influenceeven after abandoning polygamy. An impressively detailed portrait of a controversial giant.
A definitive biography of Mormonism's greatest activist and apostle.
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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Five: Prophets and Pretenders
On 25 January 1846, Young adopted eight couples, including loyal followers Albert Rockwood, John D. Lee, and George Grant. As with Young’s own children, they were sealed to Miriam Works, with Mary Ann again serving as a ritual proxy. “[T]he Spirit of allmighty god attended the administration & filled our hearts to overflowing,” Young described the emotions of the day, “& many wept for joy that were adopted into my Family.” “Brigham kissed all his children,” recorded Thomas Bullock. George Laub, who alongside his wife was sealed to John D. Lee, recorded that Lee promised “to doo unto them as he would unto his own children,” and adopted children covenanted “to do all the good for his upbuilding and happyness.” Nearly two weeks later, several additional sons and daughters joined Young’s family as adopted children. In a departure from the customary practice of having adopted children sealed to a man’s first wife, Augusta Adams Young stood next to her husband as the adoptive mother, perhaps as a sign of Young’s favor following their resealing.
Amid the feverish pace of ritual activity, many church members—perhaps even including Brigham Young—probably did not understand the implications of the sealings and adoptions at the temple altar. It was a liminal time for Latter-day Saint family relations, as Smith’s plural marriage revelation and the temple rituals disregarded both Protestant convention and civil marriages. The sealings reshaped Mormon families and connected them in new ways. In one case, Young ritually adopted Robert and Hannah Pierce, parents of his plural wives Margaret and Mary Pierce. His parents-in-law became his spiritual children. In some instances, a sense of impermanence and flexibility remained, as parties continued to refashion their family connections. James and Mary Woodward—she was the passenger in Young’s omnibus carriage the night it foundered on a Nauvoo bridge—were both sealed to Brigham Young as his adopted children in early February. Two days after Mary became Young’s adopted daughter, she married her spiritual father. Sometime after she moved to Nauvoo with her husband, Mary had complained in a letter to Young that James “abused” her and asked Young for her “release from worse than death.” Hearing whispers of Nauvoo polygamy, she hoped Young would make her his wife. Perhaps aware of Mary’s desire, James may have requested the ritual adoption as a way of avoiding losing his wife. During the press of temple work, ,Young had little time to reflect on the future consequences of the ceremonies. He and his increasingly unwieldy family would have to wait to work out exactly how the temple sealings would shape their earthly futures.
As the washings, anointings, and sealings proceeded, Young and top church leaders decided to leave Nauvoo sooner than planned, having received false advice from Governor Ford that the federal government would intervene to arrest church leaders on the counterfeiting charges and prevent the Mormons from crossing the Rocky Mountains. Simultaneously, Young heard rumors that Ford intended to declare martial law under “mob militia” led by General Hardin, who, Young surmised, “will no doubt renew those writs that had been isued for the 12 & others & thereby commence harrassing us again.” Ford did not plan to arrest Young or other church leaders, but he did want to hasten the departure of the Mormons and, with them, his biggest political headache. Young, though, feared arrest for understandable reasons. Given ongoing mob activity in Hancock County, he expected the mob to kill him if he was arrested. By February 2, Young grew desperate in his anxiety to abandon the City of Joseph. “It is my opinion,” he told a clerk, “that if we are here 10 days that our way will be Hedged up ..we want to be 500 miles from here before they are aware of our move.”
Meet the Author
John G. Turner is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Great book, honest in it's evaluation of a very controversial figure without bias for either the Mormon or Gentile points of view. Great read.
The facts were well researched but the entire dialogue had a very negatively slant. Any statement can be worded with a positive or negative attitude and it was apparent that even the good done by Brigham Young left you with a nasty taste in your mouth. It did not come across as unbiased or neutral. Very disappointed.
I would love to see this as an ebook. The reviews from both Mormon, exMormon, and never Mormon scholars of this book all give it fantastic reviews.