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Brigham Young: American Moses

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  425 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
'Arrington gives readers as good a picture as they are likely to get of the man who assumed leadership of the major part of the Mormon church when Joseph Smith was assassinated in 1844.'-R. Laurence Moore, New York Times Book Review
Paperback, 560 pages
Published April 1st 1986 by University of Illinois Press (first published 1985)
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Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
I have heard it said: “In the Catholic Church they say that the Pope is infallible, but no one believes it. In the Mormon Church they say that the prophet is fallible, but no one believes it.” I was reminded repeatedly of a prophet’s fallibility as I read Brigham Young: American Moses by Leonard J. Arrington. While detractors tend to exploit this fallibility and the faithful tend to excuse it, both will have to admit that Brigham Young was an exceptional and effective leader. After reading this ...more
May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I liked this book mostly because it does NOT deify Brother Brigham. I get pretty tired of books that try to make modern prophets seem like perfect people--they are not, and I'm happy to see a book that shows the weaknesses and the strengths of this remarkable man.

It runs a little long for me--it seems like there are some places where the book might have been condensed a little. But, that's me. I'll bet most people would really love the details presented here. If you're going to read a book about
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I appreciate Arrington's biography of Brigham Young; you can tell he had access to a lot of source material from which he quotes extensively, and it gives a nice chronological history of Brigham from his humble beginnings to his rule of the intermountain West. I think the approach historians use has changed in the thirty years since its publication, because I found it lacking much about women - I expected a lot more Eliza Snow and about his wives - and I wanted more synthesis and less direct quo ...more
Dec 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
From reading biographies of Joseph Smith (No Man Knows My History, Rough Stone Rolling) I learned quite a bit about the doctrine and foundations of the LDS Church. From this biography of Brigham Young, on the other hand, I learned much more about church culture and structure. That stems from the fact that Brigham Young was much more of a pragmatist than a theologian.

I was impressed with Arrington's objectivity in this book, especially considering that he served as the official historian for the
Kevin Black
May 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, balanced, and encyclopedic. No historian is free from bias, but Arrington's approach here seems as close to "just the facts, ma'am" as any human is likely to get, especially when writing about a figure as pivotal and controversial as Brigham Young. If you want a quick read--a novel posing as history--this isn't for you, but despite this book's level of detail and careful footnoting, the text is clear, well-organized and straightforward. Moreover, the author includes frequent savory t ...more
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
As far as biographies go, this one is well met. Although the author is indeed in favor of his subject, he does not go overboard in defending some of Brigham Young's language or statements using direct quotations with errors in spelling and all that demonstrates the crude education to which Brigham Young possessed. The passion, personality, and commitment of Brigham Young to his cause is well established and well presented. There are a few subjects unaddressed that could have made the biography m ...more
Nov 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A fine biography of a towering figure in American history. It's for good reason that Atlantic included the man in its much-publicized list of 100 Most Influential People in American History, and Arrington does an excellent job bringing to light Brigham's achievements and failings, without sensationalizing or apologizing for either.

To be honest, the book gave me far fewer stomach-churning moments than I had expected, and I found myself really liking the controversial Mormon leader on a personal l
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
This is an incredibly-well researched book. It is written from an academic perspective. Unfortunately, by that I mean it seemed it was written from an "objective" perspective from which the author appears to know better than the subject rather than deferring to him as a person, let alone as a prophet of God. It does provide a wealth of information and some helpful perspective and points to a treasure trove of other writings, though the scriptures are mentioned as one of many sources rather than ...more
J Philpot
Apr 23, 2008 marked it as to-read
After the Work and the Glory I have to find this book and learn more about Brigham young
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Solid overview of the life of BY. The book has a good discussion about his decision to move to Utah after the murder of Joseph Smith and his efforts to settle Utah - both key to understanding the LDS Church today. but missing from this book are deeper discussions about how his time as a missionary in England impacted him, any discussion about the influence of his wives, and any serious discussion about his knowledge of the 1857 Mountain Meadow massacre, the initial efforts to sweep the event und ...more
Marty Reeder
After reading Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, I felt that I needed another mind-bending analysis of a different giant in the history of Latter-Day Saint church: Brigham Young. With Bushman’s Joseph Smith, I got to understand the details of Joseph’s life, but more importantly I understood the scope of his transcendent vision; I saw the frailties and human qualities of the prophet, but more importantly I saw his purpose and how he did the best he could in his limited circumst ...more
Tim Button
Aug 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
I'm giving up on Arrington's Brigham Young biography. I am sure it as balanced treatment as a church historian can possibly be expected to write (and he was, in fact, pushed out of that job for excessive honesty) but those are very low expectations indeed.

A sample passage, describing one of Joseph Smith's lower points.

"Because most of the wealth of Mormon Kirtland was in real estate ... Smith and his associates felt the necessity of a bank, which could make assets more liquid and supply the cre
Jun 16, 2011 rated it liked it
While Arrington does a good job in the introduction setting up BY's complex and contradictory character, he does not adequately follow that trajectory. Arrington's "great man" approach leads the reader to believe that BY saw knowledgable about all things and made rational judgments based on the best information available. An approach that was much truer to the depiction in the introduction would have been more effective. Arrington didn't honestly address the "human" BY who was most likely subjec ...more
Sandra Strange
This biography is relatively objective and positive look at a complex, contradictory man who changed history more or less singlehandedly. His history and personality are fascinatingly told, with quotations from his own journals and those of his peers in the adventure of saving persecuted Mormons, organizing them and leading them across a continent, and leading them to build settlements all over the Intermountain West. This biography was fun to read, but I'm already positively prejudiced, since s ...more
Sep 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a clear a well written biography of a great leader. In telling the tale of Brigham Young the book also tells the tale of the early rise of Mormonism, quite a tale for those of us who know littled about it. The book presents Brigham as a man not a saint or a hero. It is liberally peppered with quotes from the man's letters and diaries. The book has a scholarly feel to it something I find lacking in many more contemporary biographies. Well worth spending a few weeks reading.
Utah owes itself to the incredible, powerful and dominating personality of Brigham Young. I was impressed throughout the whole book by the inspiration and direction this great man followed in establishing the Latter Day Saint deseret haven and by doing such, allowed the young church to recover from its traumatic and tragic infancy and gain the strength to become the world-wide relgion it is today.
Greg Diehl
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love Arrington's candid approach to his subject matter and this one doesn't disappoint. He captures Brigham's complexity while positioning him to be as accessible as ones own grandfather. I've found that if you want to understand the framework of Mormon doctrine - study Joseph Smith (i.e., Richard Bushman etc.). However, if you want to appreciate the true foundations of Mormon (and Utah) culture - study the life of Brigham Young and this is the best work I've found.
Sep 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
Another good Mormon Studies book by Arrington. I appreciated the way that he presented information about Brigham Young. He stated very clearly that it wasn't possible to completely understand Young and why he acted the way that he did. And I learned a lot about Brigham's early life and first marriage. A very interesting book.
Mike Day
Apr 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled with some aspects of this book. Not much discussion regarding plural marriage. Good points on his views of going to California and searching for gold. Some excellent quotes. IMO there is not a really good book on Brigham Young out there, so this one is one of the best, but we still need to do better.
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A classic, written in typical Arrington candor, pulls no punches but has no agenda for or against - written as a historian as he was a champion of what became known as "New Mormon History" - this book contains wonderful little know anecdotes, historical facts, character insights and helped me understand BY in a way I never have before.
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
I'm not Mormon, and picked this book up on a whim. It makes claims at being objective , but I would argue that objectivity is impossible for any biographer, let alone the historian of his church. I think the best biographies read almost like novels, with characters that are vibrant and personal. This was not that kind of biography. Dry and clinical. Educational, but not terribly entertaining.
Sep 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
I thought this was an even-handed account of Brigham Young's life. He could be a difficult man, but he also was the man who led the Saints to Utah - not an easy feat by any means. I found it fascinating, and having just visited Salt Lake made it that much more interesting.
Mark Stephenson
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Find out the amazing person behind Conan Doyle's unintentionally slanderous, cardboard portrayal in " A Study in Scarlet". My only regret is that the one-volume format made it impossible for the very able Arrington to include much, much more of Brother Brigham's wit, wisdom and impromptu eloquence.
Mike Martin
Jan 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: mormonism
A good biography by the legendary Arrington. He doesn't avoid some of Brigham's contraversial teachings or actions, but there is a bit of an apologetic tone to the book. Still, this is easily the best comprehensive biography of Brigham Young.
Sep 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
It is interesting to see just how poor, uneducated and backwards Brigham was, yet, God was able to do great things with him. A man who, when he first learned about the restored gospel, was functionally illiterate, and had only had 7 days of school was turned into a great leader.
Faith Woodard
May 29, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is good for a general overview of Brigham's life. At times it gets bogged down in irrelevant details. This is why it took me so long to read. It does a good job of holding reverence for a great man, while giving insights into him that leave him human. I recommend this book.
Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, mormon-history
I wish there had been more of a window into Brigham's personal thoughts--I felt like this was very much an outsider's perspective--but otherwise it was fabulous. Very insightful into Brigham's life and the context for it.
May 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
they call him Lion of the Lord but this book depicts him to be a lamb...
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
this is an excellent biography of Brigham Young, Leonard Arrington was the LDS Church Historian for years. Not only are the facts interesting but it is written well.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What I wouldn't give for a 1,200 page treatise on this man, a la McCullough's Truman. This will have to do. And it does so fantastically.
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“The statue of Justice, symbol of the law, as she holds aloft her balance scale, is blindfolded. Justice is blind to race, creed, color – and to personal eccentricity. If there were a comparable state of Clio, the Muse of history, she would have to be presented with the blindfold lying at her feet, because the balance of her scales must be weighed with a conscious awareness of the facts and interpretations she must weigh.” 2 likes
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