As the dean of Mormon historians, Leonard J. Arrington holds a unique place among scholars. As one who convinced many other talented historians to write honestly about the Mormon past, he truly deserves his legendary status.
Although a charismatic teacher for many years at several universities, he is likely to be most remembered for his monumental contribution to Mormon scholarship, starting with "Great Basin Kingdom" in 1958 and climaxing, but not concluding, with this engaging memoir that is bound to enthrall anyone interested in Mormon history.Arrington is unparalleled in his insightful approach in more than 20 books.
As in all his books, the writing style of "Adventures of a Church Historian" is both scholarly correct and down-to-earth, tailored to appeal to a wide cross-section of readers.
For any who doubt that a scholar need not be irreligious, Arrington provides spiritual, moving insights into his historical career. For instance, he tells of a "peak experience" that sealed his devotion to LDS history.
One afternoon in 1950, while going over some notes as well as letters and diaries of church leaders, he said, "a feeling of ecstasy came over me - an exhilaration that transported me to a higher level of consciousness."
It was, he said, "a meaningful moment of insight" that helped him to see that his "research efforts were compatible with the divine restoration of the Church." This extraordinary religious experience not only inspired him in his work, it has stayed with him to this day.
In lively detail, Arrington describes the beginning of a new era, when he was appointed in 1972 as the first professionally trained historian to preside over the LDS Church Historian's Office.
When called into the office of N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency to receive the call, he "was astonished but tried not to show it."
Subsequently, Arrington organized a department filled with talented and faithful Mormon scholars, including Davis Bitton and James B. Allen as his assistant historians in a remarkable partnership.
Although they had some disappointments, they also saw exciting changes, including a more open approach to the LDS Church Archives and a healthy realization by many Mormons that honest history need provide no threat to religious faith.
Arrington and his associates worked amiably with general authorities Alvin R. Dyer and Joseph W. Anderson as managing directors of the Historical Department but noticed friction when G. Homer Durham took over in 1977.
Nevertheless, these enthusiastic scholars produced numerous articles and books during the 10 "Camelot" years that permanently enriched the study of Mormon history. While Arrington is anecdotal and candid in relating his experiences, he is never mean-spirited.
This memoir is likely to stand for years to come as a beacon, a model for anyone who may want to write one of his or her own. Like Arrington himself, this book is ingratiating, warm, candid, inspiring - and it is never boring.