During the administration of President David O. McKay (1951–70), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was transformed in many ways, not the least of which was its becoming a worldwide church. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism is a candid, insightful, and highly important topical study of those years. For some Church members, the book may be uncomfortably candid, for in addition to discussing President McKay’s remarkable strengths and accomplishments, the authors do not hesitate to deal with controversial issues or to discuss his and other Church leaders” vulnerabilities. Neither do they shy away from the disagreements that sometimes arose among Church leaders. Throughout, however, Prince and Wright show deep reverence for President McKay and make very positive assessments of his leadership.
The strength of this book comes, in part, from its sources. As the authors point out, “There has never been a prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about whom so much information is available.” Most significant was the multivolume set of diaries kept by Clare Middlemiss, President McKay’s private secretary for thirty-five years, who painstakingly compiled first-person dictations, extracts from minutes of meetings, letters, newspaper clippings, various memoranda, photocopies of Elder Alvin R. Dyer’s daily record from 1967 on, and other significant materials. Middlemiss gave them to Robert Wright before her death, with the expectation that they would lead to significant publications about President McKay. The authors also drew from the 215 scrapbook volumes compiled by Middlemiss, which are housed in the Church Archives, and profited from many other rich primary sources. In addition, the authors conducted over two hundred important interviews and scoured all the significant secondary studies dealing with the McKay administration.