The Presidents of the Church: Insight Into Their Lives and Teachings

presidents of the church

Okay.

I picked up this book because I’m Mormon, and I want to know more about Mormon history, and most especially the prophets/presidents. They tend to be pretty influential, right? Right. So this is a good start.

Here’s the problem. Truman G. Madsen is a very well-known, celebrated Mormon scholar and author. He’s one of those “big fish in a small pond,” and everybody loves him, and apparently, everybody wants to publish his books. Regardless of whether they’re a good idea.

I can’t judge his other works based on this, because this is a “highlights reel” of the lives of the church presidents. Heaven knows, he could have written much more about all of these men (and probably did, in other books.) But here’s where things go wrong. Madsen is like, “Okay, I have about 20 pages to spend on each person’s bio. I need to cut out everything you already know.”

And Truman G. Madsen assumes you already know all the stuff he already knows. So he keeps saying things like, “We all know the story about the cow in the woodshed… but have you heard the story of…” Yeah, I’ve never heard of that cow or that woodshed, buddy. Also adding to this problem: since Madsen assumes you already know all the basics, he goes out of his way to find the most obscure or personal stories out there, adding his own commentary like “There were no bathtubs in this camp.” What?

This book has gotten very positive reviews. I’m assuming that’s either because everyone else who gets through it already knows the basics (I’m not exactly Madsen’s target audience here), or because they really like the sticky-sweet these-men-can-do-no-wrong bias. I believe these men are inspired. I’m not looking to tear them down. But please don’t tell me the worst thing they ever did in their lives was raise their voice to their mother, once, never to do so again because they were so crushed by the look on her angel face. Gag. I can’t handle it. These are human beings. I want to relate to them at least a tiny bit.

I can’t recommend this book to anyone, because I can’t for the life of me figure out who Madsen’s target audience was. To be honest, I feel like the publishing company just told him they wanted something lighter than his usual stuff, so they could sell more copies. If you pick up Truman Madsen, pick up something heavy, where he’s allowed to go into detail. Maybe if he had more than 20 pages, he could write a really good biography. ♦

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