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Book review: A lite, flawed history of American icon Brigham Young

By Mike Whitmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 30 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

"BRIGHAM YOUNG: A Concise Biography of the Mormon Moses," by Ed Breslin, Regnery History, $24.95, 208 pages (nf)

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revere and honor Joseph Smith as the prophet of the restoration. But many inside and outside the church have great affection for and interest in the role Brigham Young played in leading the church and settling the American West. Numerous books and histories have examined Brigham Young when he was the prophet to see how he was able to take the fledgling church and establish a new society in the deserts of the western United States.

Ed Breslin’s new work, "Brigham Young: A Concise Biography of the Mormon Moses," sets out to give readers a terse narrative of the fabled prophet as he grew in knowledge and influence among his people and the world.

Beginning with Young’s birth in Whitingham, Vt., and continuing to his death in the Great Salt Lake Valley, Breslin attempts to cover the major parts of Brigham’s life. But as with other authors, attempts to be “brief and comprehensive” often leaves the reader wondering about context for some of the information. Any biography that tries to cover the life of such a bold figure in history, using only 208 pages, is bound to leave out some necessary information.

The author of this tome does a good job presenting the early years of Brigham’s life and highlighting the influences that shaped the personality that would become a strong and vibrant leader of the Latter-day Saints. Brigham is seen as a faithful husband, inventive worker, rabid learner and eager missionary for the church. All of these are given excellent coverage by Breslin, and the reader begins to find a sense of who this young pioneer and church member will become.

But the constant reminders (beginning early in the work) of the coming of plural marriage and other perceived negative historical issues does disservice to the author’s work and the history of Brigham Young. Without doubt, the things mentioned did occur. But the author’s redundancy in writing about the issues seems to focus on them to the point of distraction. Frankly, it might have helped Breslin’s work if he had referred more to some of the scholarly works on the items in question (i.e. "Massacre at Mountain Meadows" by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr. and Glen M. Leonard and "Brigham Young: American Moses" by Leonard J. Arrington) instead of using the broad-stroke approach he chose. Like any other man, Brigham had his flaws, but the depth of those failings is probably not as deep as this author would like many to believe.

Overall, "Brigham Young: A Concise Biography of the Mormon Moses" has some good information pertaining to Brigham’s life that many will find interesting, but there is a bias that seems to run through the work.

Mike Whitmer lives in West Valley City and blogs at mtwhitmer.blogspot.com. Email: grundelwalken@gmail.com

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