"PARLEY P. PRATT: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism," by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, Oxford University Press, $34.95, 512 pages (nf)
Shortly before his martyrdom, Parley P. Pratt finished a draft of his autobiography, which was later edited and published in 1874. For more than a century, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have sifted its pages to witness the adventures, trials and testimony of the memorable apostle.
Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow have added to Pratt’s story and the early history of the LDS Church with their new biography, “Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” Givens is a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and the author of numerous books, including “The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction.” Grow is the author of “Liberty to the Downtrodden: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer,” and director of publications for the LDS Church History Department. Both scholars are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In producing another account of “a subject who is a capable autobiographer,” Givens and Grow have not set out to replace Pratt’s original work. Their account is intended to complement Pratt’s autobiography, which focuses somewhat narrowly on “how he became the apostle he was in midlife.”
In particular, Givens and Grow seek to “restore Pratt’s family life,” place “him within his intellectual and theological worlds, both within Mormonism and beyond,” and address “controversial events” largely minimized in Pratt’s own account.
In a work intended for a general audience, the authors pursue their objectives in 14 chapters that progress chronologically, beginning with a brief account of Pratt’s ancestry and concluding with the aftermath of his martyrdom in 1857. An introduction and epilogue are included, along with two appendices that detail Pratt’s publications and family members.
A concise index provides easy reference to individuals and key subjects discussed in the book, and a valuable 75-page “Notes” section provides readers with a comprehensive breakdown of the book’s many sources.
The book contains mature subject matter, including discussions about sexual dimensions of polygamy, accounts of persecutory violence toward the early church (including a disturbing and graphic account of the rape of at least one Mormon woman), and the extremely violent nature of Pratt’s own death. Although the material is appropriately set within the context of overall themes and events, the book is not recommended for readers under the age of 18.
Givens and Grow largely achieve their objectives in this meticulously researched biography. Readers are likely to come away from the book sobered by Pratt’s human weaknesses, humbled by his many sacrifices and inspired by his lifelong faith.
Kurt Manwaring is pursuing a graduate degree in public administration at the University of Utah. He is a consultant with Manwaring Consulting, LLC and maintains a personal blog at www.kurtsperspective.blogspot.com.