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This monument of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, is pointing toward America.

Clark B. Hinckley earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and an MBA from Harvard University before eventually becoming a senior vice president at Zions Bank.

The son of late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley can now add "published author" to that resume.

Clark Hinckley became especially interested in the life of Christopher Columbus while serving as mission president of the Spain Barcelona Mission. He continued to study Columbus and the explorer's writings after returning home in 2012. Although he'd never tackled a writing project like this before, his passion and research have produced a new book about the famous discoverer, titled, "Christopher Columbus: A Man Among the Gentiles" (Deseret Book, $25.99).

"I became obsessed with Columbus. He’s such a fascinating character and surprisingly not well understood today. For as famous as he is, most people don’t really know very much about him," Hinckley said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. "It was intriguing to dig into his history. ... It’s fascinating material, and it's all deeply religious for the most part.

"I took the approach to say, what does this man look like if you simply believe what he said? If you read his writings and take them at face value, and you assume that he meant what he said, what kind of man emerges out of that? That was a very fascinating journey."

During the past 500 years, massive amounts of material have been written about Columbus. Sorting through a portion of it was Hinckley's first challenge. Part of the process involved identifying the most valuable and reliable sources, Hinckley said.

Hinckley acknowledged that in recent decades Columbus has been portrayed as a greedy gold-seeker, a man guilty of genocide and a destroyer of the environment. But when boiling down to the facts, Hinckley said, a much different picture emerges.

"It became popular to view Columbus as the scapegoat, as a man you could blame every evil of the modern world on. That became the politically correct way to look at him. It’s like blaming Einstein for Hiroshima and Chernobyl," Hinckley said. "Columbus opened up the new world ... but we shouldn’t blame him for everything that other people did wrong."

The key to understanding Columbus is found in the Book of Mormon, Hinckley said. He cites 1 Nephi 13:12, in which the prophet Nephi describes a man among the Gentiles who is wrought upon by the Holy Ghost and inspired to go forth upon the many waters.

Similarly, Columbus, a deeply religious man, recorded that he felt the hand of the Lord open his mind to the fact that it was possible to sail to new lands.

"This was the fire that burned within me," Columbus wrote. "Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit ... urging me to press forward?"

"Essentially what Columbus said over and over again is that God had chosen him to do what he did, and that he played a key role in the divine plan of history. He was very convinced of that," Hinckley said. "What the Book of Mormon does is validate that perspective."

The LDS perspective is what sets Hinckley's book apart from past Columbus works. What Hinckley wanted to do was go a step further and show Columbus through Latter-day Saint resources, particularly the Book of Mormon and other commentary by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was intrigued to realize that among all the prophecies of the Restoration in the Book of Mormon, only two individuals are specifically recognized: Joseph Smith and Columbus.

"Why is that? Why not George Washington? Why is it that Nephi, in all that he is talking about, singles out Columbus?" Hinckley said. "The conclusion I came to in doing this research is the Restoration begins with Columbus and his voyage. It changes the world almost overnight. ... Columbus and Joseph Smith are the bookends of the Restoration. I think that’s why Nephi singles him out."

In addition to Nephi's prophecy and the life story of Columbus, Hinckley included an appendix with information about the temple ordinances performed for Columbus and the crew of his first voyage. A painting of Columbus by the late William J. Parkinson appears in the opening pages of the book. Parkinson writes that he painted the portrait of Columbus after the explorer appeared to him one night.

Hinckley said he came away from the project with a renewed conviction and understanding that God fulfills his promises and prophecies. He has a new profound respect for Columbus, who fulfilled his life's calling in the face of extraordinary opposition.

Hinckley also hopes readers come away with an enhanced appreciation for Columbus.

"There is a lot of erroneous information (out there), but I hope readers will gain a new appreciation for this man who was called of God to do something," Hinckley said. "He was an imperfect man with weaknesses, but he did the thing that God had foreordained him to do, and for that he deserves our respect."

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone