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David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

4.34  ·  Rating Details  ·  748 Ratings  ·  149 Reviews
Ordained as an apostle in 1906, David O. McKay served as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1951 until his death in 1970. Under his leadership, the church experienced unparalleled growth—nearly tripling in total membership—and becoming a significant presence throughout the world.

The first book to draw upon the David O. McKay Papers at the J.
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published March 9th 2005 by University of Utah Press
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Best LDS non-fiction
35th out of 196 books — 244 voters
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Best Mormon History Books
6th out of 34 books — 31 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jun 15, 2013 Heidi rated it really liked it
Recommended to Heidi by: Emily
At first glance this looks like one of those fluffy Deseret Book prophet biographies, full of the faith-promoting (if slightly exaggerated) experiences of a Man Among Men. Thankfully that wasn't what this book was at all. David O. McKay was the president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a key era, as the Church was emerging from provincialism and becoming a worldwide, respected entity.

I found it completely fascinating. The book is meticulously researched; ev
Jan 10, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it
I am often disappointed in the lack of awareness and knowledge we Mormons have about our own history. Just this month we began our quadrennial Sunday School study of the Doctrine & Covenants and, ostensibly, Church history. But the actual lessons are almost exclusively topical studies of specific verses, most often pulled out of context, from the Doctrine & Covenants, and almost no mention is made of events after 1847 or so. And don't get me started on that little yellow pamphlet Our Her ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Chris rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal portrait into the life and mind of David O. McKay, and--perhaps more tantalizingly--into the sundry machinations of various factions within the Quorum of the Twelve during his leadership. The differing personalities, approaches to Church doctrine and administration, and willingness to employ questionable methods to advance personal ideology or administrative perspectives were all relatively new to me (at least at the presented level of detail). I was heartened by the progressive and e ...more
Christian Larsen
Aug 14, 2014 Christian Larsen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lds-history
With Bushman's biography of Joseph Smith and Turner's biography of Brigham Young, "David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism" rounds out the trinity of great Mormon biographies. Prince has utilized the invaluable Middlemiss papers and with erudition has crafted a biography which gives great insight into not only McKay, but the LDS Church in its "golden era." Of particular interest is the strong personality of Harold B Lee which comes through to great effect and in not always a flattering li ...more
Feb 05, 2013 Petrea rated it it was ok
There are many ways to approach writing history--one's own point of view dictates the choice of quotations,sources etc. Some modern historians like to delve into controversy claiming that they are presenting "truth". but I often find that their "truth" is no more true than another "truth" which might not be so critical. Admittedly I grew up reading "Pollyanna" and other such books. Also it is very tempting to judge people of the past by the currently popular "politically correct" values--thus a ...more
Mar 15, 2008 Sam rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in LDS history
Recommended to Sam by: A random LDS history blog I ran into
I pride myself on being stingy with the 5 star rating. But this book definitely earned it.

It's brilliant! If you're into LDS history this is a must-read. David O. McKay's leadership can easily be regarded as "A New Era" for Mormonism. McKay's two immediate predecessors as church president wore beards and came from polygamous families. McKay brought the church out of obscurity and out of North America. The church tripled in size during McKay's time as prophet but it wasn't without growing pains.
Jul 20, 2015 Seth rated it really liked it
Different than the traditional biography of an LDS Church President, which have been typically published shortly after their ascendance to the office but before their death, this telling of the David O. McKay story focuses on the time period of 1951-1970 when he served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason I enjoyed the book as it detailed the accomplishments and difficulties of his actual term of service. Looking back at those years through a 21st cent ...more
Crystalee Beck
Jul 20, 2015 Crystalee Beck rated it it was amazing
This unparalleled look into the life of a President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave me a new, matured perspective on Church leadership. Written using hundreds of interviews of those who knew him and an exhaustive collection of David. O McKay journals, compiled by his secretary Clare Middlemiss (comprising some 80,000 pages!), this book offers an intimate passage into the thoughts and actions of a worldwide church leader.

Reading this book, I came to have greater respect f
Perhaps it is unfair that, while reading this acclaimed biography of David O. McKay, I was unconsciously comparing it to the biographies of other great LDS leaders I have read, including Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling), Brigham Young (Pioneer Prophet), and the lesser-known Lowell Bennion (Teacher, Counselor, and Humanitarian) and T. Edgar Lyon (A Teacher In Zion). Reading about their fascinating lives, I felt like I developed a personal bond with and greater respect for each of those men, in ...more
Don B
May 25, 2012 Don B rated it really liked it
An excellent book and a 'must-read' for anyone interested in the historical evolution of the church. Pres McKay bridged the "Utah Church" with the "World Church". Great insights into the growth and transformation of church administration. As the church grew rapidly during his time in the 12 and First Presidency, it is easy to see how and why many of the direct oversight responsibilities of the 12 needed to be delegated to others--and how this would cause some real growing pains. His tenure as Ch ...more
Jun 15, 2012 Sharon rated it really liked it
Deserves a 4.5, perhaps a 5 star recommendation. Very thorough, excellent primary sources, tight narrative within each chapter. An overarching narrative would have been a capstone, but I'm not complaining. I think every serious LDS member should ask him/herself about how the 19th century church became the 20th century church. Pres. McKay's life and service, as church president, was pivotal, dynamic, and engaging to read about. Delightful to read of his friendships with SLC Catholic and Protestan ...more
Sep 12, 2009 Jessie rated it really liked it
Shelves: lds-nonfiction
I liked this book quite a lot more than I thought I would; it is long and has extensive footnotes, but the writing is very readable and most of the chapters were very interesting. The book is organized by themes rather than chronologically, so it was occasionally confusing, but other than that it seemed well-written and carefully researched. I learned a lot more about President McKay and the history of the Church during the mid-twentieth century than I had known before, and many issues and ideas ...more
Jan 19, 2016 Jessica rated it it was amazing
This reminded me a lot of Rough Stone Rolling. I felt like the authors gave an interesting, unbiased portrayal of President McKay. There were a lot of interesting sections. He was involved in a lot of momentous decisions, most especially laying the groundwork for the change in blacks receiving the priesthood. It was interesting for me to read about the disagreement over issues within the twelve apostles and to read about some interesting things from church history (publishing of Mormon Doctrine, ...more
Lynn Diane
Aug 26, 2015 Lynn Diane rated it really liked it
Fascinating read.
The old McKay home was on the same road up in Huntsville UT that my favorite uncle lived on. For that reason alone, I have always been fond of David O. McKay. That plus his white hair plus his gentle manner. (He also went to the University of Utah!)
Jun 10, 2013 Ian rated it it was ok
It would be hard to overstate just how terrible this book was. It was informative, yes. But Prince's background (or lack thereof) really shows: utterly injudicious use of primary sources, an almost total lack of analysis (except when it was least called for--i.e., bending backwards to show how minor bureaucratic decisions WERE "inspired" [a euphemism for describing when the prophet has acted AS a prophet, rather than as a man--so much for appealing to non-members]), and an at times total lack of ...more
Jun 23, 2007 Jeff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Curious Mormons
As a lifelong Mormon who grew up in Utah and whose parents both taught at BYU during the Wilkinson years, I found this book fascinating. Although I was only nine when McKay died, I clearly remember my parents reactions to many of the events mentioned in the book, especially Benson and the John Birchers. (I thought we were the only Democrats in Utah!) This book filled in a lot of holes for me. It also has led to several interesting discussions with my Dad.
Dec 17, 2015 Austin rated it it was amazing
Amazing stories, very well crafted. I loved how deftly the biography of the man was intertwined with the changes in the church generally. Highly recommend to anyone with any interest in Mormonism. I'm only sad that I doubt we'll ever get another biography like it since we'll never have someone like McKay's secretary, Clare Middlemiss, to create such an extensive record.
May 11, 2009 James rated it liked it
This book should be renamed "Disagreements between general authorities." It is well researched, and sheds light on many questions about church culture (why are almost all Mormons republican) as well as many more things. A surprising view of how the bretheren discuss ideas. I think they overemphasize conflict, so it's missing some of the larger context.
Jakob Hansen
May 11, 2014 Jakob Hansen rated it really liked it
This book is essential to understanding the growth of the LDS church in the 20th century. I found it fascinating; it's not the best-written biography I've ever read, but it's perfectly serviceable, and contains a lot of interesting anecdotes.
John Hamilton
May 24, 2016 John Hamilton rated it really liked it
A beautifully written, researched and organized book. It is packed with interesting insights into much of what was going on behind the scenes in the Church leadership of the mid twentieth century. Although in a few places it falls into the most common trap for historians—the subtle arrogance of 20/20 hindsight—it does a masterful job of giving you mostly just the facts with a minimal amount of moralizing. Just keep in mind that this work gives only glimpses into the lives and personalities of th ...more
Sep 22, 2012 Tagg rated it really liked it
Shelves: religious
Fascinating to read such a frank account of the affairs of the man who led the Church for so many years.
May 01, 2014 Kerstin rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be a fascinating history of the David O. McKay tenure as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a shockingly candid and welcome view of the inner workings of the leadership of a church that is, more often than not, very private and secretive of the behind the scenes workings, especially of the highest levels of its leadership. I was surprised to see that, just like prophets of old, these men have wonderful qualities and strengths, as well as wea ...more
Steven Peck
Sep 14, 2008 Steven Peck rated it it was amazing
He believed in evolution was the main point I took. Wonderful man.
Jul 18, 2015 Callie rated it liked it
I read the first 130 or so pages straight through, and then I sort of skipped around and read the chapters that interested me. I don't do well with biographies and histories, but with that caveat, I did like the kind of scope and detail this one provided. Some of my favorite chapters were 'Politics and the Church' and 'Confrontation with Communism' and the one about Blacks and the Priesthood. Fascinating to find out what went on between DoM and his counselors and twelve as they tried to make sen ...more
Oct 21, 2011 Aaron rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting book that shows the GA's aren't as united as they usually appear, although it seems that the divisions were more public several decades ago than they are today. The LDS Church is led by Jesus Christ, but He leads it through fallible, imperfect men and women, which will naturally lead to disputes. I'm currently reading Elder McConkie's Doctrinal New Testament Commentary series, and I recently read the section on the revelation to the ancient church regarding the preachi ...more
Jun 09, 2013 Andrew rated it it was amazing
The last decade has been an exciting and really remarkable era within LDS scholarship. Volumes of primary-sourced material has been made available, scholars are writing nuanced and insightful analysis, and--perhaps most importantly--church leadership is actively participating in the process. While the so-called "New Mormon History" movement emerged far earlier with the scholarship of Juanita Brooks and Leonard Arrington, it received far less institutional support or mainstream interest. From my ...more
Alan Marchant
Note. Subsequent events raise serious questions regarding my original review below. Greg Prince, a wealthy beltway bandit and director of Dialogue, recently dropped all pretense of evenhanded judgement regarding Mormon personalities with his unhinged letter to the Huffington Post criticizing Mitt Romney for a lack of humanity. This brings into question a long list of personally critical observations that tie this book together.

the best of Mormon history

David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormo
Apr 22, 2009 Hawkgrrrl rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 06, 2013 Megan rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Petrea
Recommended to Megan by: Judy Dushku
Shelves: bookgroup
I went into the reading of this book with apprehension. I knew that this book was not "condoned" by the church as an offical biography. Nor was it published by Deseret Book. The information that was used to write David O McKay's biography primarily came from David O McKay's secretary, a woman who served by his side for many years. She never married and she never had children, so she spent every evening after returning home from work, taking notes on everything that had happened that day--who Pre ...more
Aug 07, 2010 Joseph rated it it was amazing
I loved this book for the candid, unvarnished look into the lives and decision-making of David O. McKay and other leaders at the time in the LDS church. This book reminds me a lot of "Joseph Smith:Rough Stone Rolling" for its candor. We need histories like this. I found it very helpful in understanding the version of the church that existed while my Dad was growing up, going on a mission, and starting his family.

I was fascinated by the portrayals of Bruce R. McConkie as essentially rogue when i
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“And so, he gently chided Apostle John A. Widtsoe, whose wife advocated such a rigid interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as to proscribe chocolate because of the stimulants it contained, saying, “John, do you want to take all the joy out of life?”85 But he didn’t stop there. At a reception McKay attended, the hostess served rum cake. “All the guests hesitated, watching to see what McKay would do. He smacked his lips and began to eat.” When one guest expostulated, “‘But President McKay, don’t you know that is rum cake?’ McKay smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating” 1 likes
“In late 1905 a crisis occurred within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that soon impacted the remainder of McKay’s life. Two members of the quorum, Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor, were obliged to resign because of their refusal to disavow the further practice of plural marriage. By the time of the April general conference of 1906, Apostle Marriner W. Merrill had died, resulting in three vacancies within the quorum. James E. Talmage, who later was sustained to the same quorum, wrote, “These were filled on nomination and vote by the following: Orson F. Whitney, George F. Richards (a son of the late Apostle Franklin D. Richards) and David O. McKay (a former student of mine). They are good men, and I verily believe selected by inspiration.” 1 likes
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