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David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,040 ratings  ·  204 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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Jan 10, 2013 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
Dec 27, 2012 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 Heritage.

Christian Larsen
Jan 05, 2012 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 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
May 29, 2011 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
Michael Hutchings
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Greg Prince has whittled like a master craftsman one of the three legs of the stool on which all every thinking LDS member should sit. When taken with Rough Stone Rolling and Wrestling the Angel, any years spent stranded on a deserted isle in the sea would be time well and joyously spent.
Peter Fuller
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is SO GOOD. Exhaustively-researched and always fair (both in its criticism and defense of various important figures of Mormonism).

For Mormons: makes you grateful for these leaders while FORCING you to acknowledge that they’re men that make mistakes. Which is a healthier outlook than the “Yeah of course the prophets and apostles aren’t perfect *wink*” that’s kind of the status quo (at least was for me earlier in life)

For non-Mormons: such an interesting read about a VERY interesting re
Conor Hilton
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An essential read for anyone interested in Mormonism and probably for any member of the Church (though the amount of and sort of preparation that individuals would need would vary widely). The book is organized topically, rather than chronologically (though chronologically through each chapter), which I think largely lends the book a strong sense of McKay's involvement in a variety of subjects and makes it useful as a reference (you can read any given chapter and have it function fairly well ind ...more
Abe Smith
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biographies
As impressive as the accounts provided in this book might be, I found myself disappointed and even disgusted for much of the book because of what I found to be the author's intent in writing the book. Prince claims to be an active member of the LDS church, and yet he leaves the reader to believe that McKay was nothing more than a benevolent man who was a poor administrator that was influenced and conflicted by others he had to deal with who were motivated by personal agendas (i.e. First Presiden ...more
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
First impression was 5 stars but upon further reflection, I decided knock it down to 4 primarily for this reason: through out the book McKay is seen as the President of the Church. This is true. But it is incomplete.

The book is complied extensively from records kept by McKays secretary, other journals from various leaders and a host of interviews, sadly most from second or third hand accounts, ie, so-and-so’s son remembering his father saying thus-and-such. This is not necessarily bad, but the
Feb 15, 2008 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.
Jeffrey Howard
The only other book that has shaped my views and stances regarding Mormon Studies this much has been "Rough Stone Rolling" by Bushman. Rise of Modern Mormonism shows an honest and generous inside look at the lives of David O. McKay and other church leaders in the mid-20th century. While being fair and kind, Prince shows all the human and fallible sides of church leadership. That includes all the power-struggles, biases, prejudices and stubborn wills of these revered men.

Reading it has significa
Robert Lloyd
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully written and documented biography

Though he was before my time, this interesting biography looks at how immensely influential President McKay was to the LDS church. The author did the reader a great service by organizing the biography topically rather than in a linear chronological fashion, and I felt quickly got to the meat of the importance of McKay's presidency. Also, though the book is heavily annotated it's very reader friendly to the layman. I suggest this book to anyone inter
Nov 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Unlike most biographies written about LDS prophets and apostles, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism is a fairly balanced work. Written largely from journal entries, books, sermons, newspaper articles, and other materials compiled by Clare Middlemiss, President McKay’s personal secretary, the authors do a fantastic job objectively looking at the life and presidency of the prophet.
Jimmy Rex
Apr 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This was one of the best books about the LDS church I've ever read. The insight into the first presidency and quorum of the 12 was something that will forever help me understand the inner workings of the church.
Jul 16, 2015 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
Mar 26, 2012 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
Daniel Walton
Aug 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Informative yet disappointingly biased. Authors couldn’t help themselves but insert quite blatantly their personal feelings on events. Related to this, I get the impression that much of the conflict described among church leaders is inflated or dramatized. This, however is speculation based simply on the observation that by all appearances the period in question was one of unprecedented growth and improvement (by many objective measures), which seems incompatible with the quite maudlin scenes pa ...more
Jun 15, 2012 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
Crystalee Beck
May 06, 2015 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
Don B
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, religion
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
Sep 12, 2009 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
Jun 10, 2013 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
Jan 05, 2016 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
Jun 07, 2007 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.
May 11, 2009 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. ...more
Jul 02, 2014 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. ...more
Jakob Hansen
Apr 24, 2013 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. ...more
Lynn Diane
Aug 14, 2015 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!)
Sep 22, 2012 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.
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“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
“McKay made no secret of his passion for free agency, speaking frequently on the subject in public settings.” 0 likes
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