Intimate biography of Mormon leader Henry B. Eyring includes personal artwork, journal entries

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 7:40 a.m. MDT

There are other ways to determine a book's popularity in a market, however.

Walk into the Wal-Mart in Orem, Utah, last week, and you would have found the Eyring biography on racks near one entrance, essentially a point-of-purchase position.

"That tells you something," Erickson allowed.

So does the book's long-running place — it has been out since November — on Deseret Book's own best-seller list.

"It's been on our best-seller list since it was released, and that's unusual," Erickson said.

It already has had multiple printings. In journalism parlance, a news story that will last a long time has "legs."

This biography has legs.

Personal stories

The personal nature of the book is ironic in a sense. "President Eyring was not wild about" the idea, Dew said. "He would have been happy never having a biography written of him. He eventually gave kind of a reluctant consent."

Dew said the use of so many journal entries makes the book feel fresh and authentic.

For Watts, the book's editor, "This is not someone looking at him, this is Hal telling his story. It's personable because you're hearing this from him, and he was candid in his journal."

He told his journal in 1983 his tongue had been clumsy as he made a presentation while the commissioner of church education to the Quorum of the Twelve.

"Unlike some other times in my life where I've been blessed in performance, my ability seemed constrained today," he wrote. "Hours later, I began to see the blessing: By speaking less well, I listened more, learned more, knew that I was in the presence of prophets, and had one of the great experiences of my life. I'd forgotten that it's hard to get your ego fed and learn at the same time."

Such stories resonated with Deseret Book's Jana Erickson.

"He made me want to be better because I saw him striving to be better," she said. "He made me feel like it's all right that you're dealing with things, because he had weaknesses and had to learn things. I love the feeling of seeing someone trying to do his best."

In 1971, President Eyring typed, "I sense willfulness whenever I seem to be decisive. I only hope I can learn to be submissive and decisive as we try to do the Lord's will for the Church Educational System and Ricks College."

The journal entries, in that typewriter face, are powerful for those who have watched and listened to President Eyring speak, because the voice is plainly recognizable as he describes mistakes and choices made in his career and as a church leader and the lessons learned.

One lasting lesson involved a procedural mistake President Eyring made soon after he became a member of the church's First Presidency in 2008. He reluctantly confessed the mistake to church President Thomas S. Monson, whom he knew brought a printer's eye for detail to proper procedure.

"Oh, Hal," President Monson said with a chortle, "I've done worse than that myself. It won't be any problem at all."

President Monson then described how to fix the mistake, but President Eyring continued to fear that President Monson would now doubt his judgment and not trust him to carry his full load as a counselor in the First Presidency.

He had learned to listen carefully to President Monson's stories because they often served as parables. Later that day, he heard President Monson deliver a story he felt sure was intended for him. Its lesson was that people make mistakes, but being honest and truthful about them is everything.

The authors write that President Monson frequently remarked that he has never seen three more different personalities in a First Presidency than the one at work today, with President Monson, President Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. "He apparently meant that as a compliment," the authors wrote, "and Hal made every effort to qualify for it."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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