Sunday, September 6, 2015

Book Review: Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet - John G. Turner

This is a thouroughly researched, heavily footnoted, and balanced look at Brigham Young, second prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It's also a little dull.

But I managed to slog through it. It suffers from what many history books suffer from. Interesting history told in a factual but dry way.

BY was no angel. He was a misogynist, bigot, control freak, hypocrite and had a mouth on him like a sailor. Hardly the image that current Mormons like to present.

He married woman after woman without thought for their well being. Made himself not just prophet but also political leader of Utah, and although Turner doesn't out right say it, there is some question about whether he was behind many murders that were committed, including surprisingly Joseph Smiths.

One of the more interesting stories is the one with wife number 19, Ann Eliza Young, who was brave enough to divorce him, sue him for alimony (which he refused to give) and then went on tour telling the truth about polygamy. She eventually wrote a book about her experiences none of which made Young happy. Hey, if you're going to be cruel to your wife, force her into poverty then can you blame her if she makes money going on tour to tell the truth to an audience who is eager to hear the inside story of polygamy?  Especially when she lives in a time where there aren't that many options for women.

Young also came up with the United Order. He encouraged members to give everything to the church and in return they would receive back according to their need. However, he wasn't willing to do the same. It would have meant giving up mansions and businesses which made him wealthy.

I always suspected this about BY even when I was a devout member. He would make his daughters make everything they used but he would send to the other side of the country for goods he wanted.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre happened on his watch. His rhetoric of blood atonement caused a stir and his laws created suspicion of all who were not members led to one of the worst blood baths in the history of the U.S. It is unknown if he gave the go-ahead to the perpetrators, among them his adopted son John D. Lee (the only one to be executed over it), but according to Lee he approved of the action after the fact and years later when the law was seeking justice he did what he could to cover it up.

Turner did not set out to assassinate the character of a good man. Instead he set out to present an honest portrayal of one of the most influential men of American history. The fact that Young does not end up looking good, is not the fault of Turner.

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