It is a biographer’s maxim that good lives seldom make good biography. According to this view, a saintly life lacks the human tension, contradiction, and dramatic color for a sustained narrative. If this is an accurate generalization, Roy and David Hoopes’s biography of their maternal grandfather, Rudger Clawson, provides a well-written exception to the rule.
Elder Clawson, of course, was a long-time Latter-day Saint Apostle who was appointed to the Quorum in 1898 and rose by seniority to become President of the Twelve. He died serving in that capacity in 1943. Not given to flourish, Elder Clawson lived a life of devotion and dedication. As the Hoopeses repeatedly remind the reader, he was by temperament and early profession a bookkeeper, given to system, calculation, and precision. The authors suggest their subject was a quintessential Latter-day Saint, a conclusion that is not necessarily flattering to either Elder Clawson or to Latter-day Saints generally. As one who inherited his religion rather than having been emotionally converted to it, Elder Clawson was, argue the authors, loyal, dutiful, and hard working. But in their view he was also narrow, he was literal to a fault, and he often appeared to be without introspection—at least on matters of life and religion. Such a description will bring a mild protest. We Latter-day Saints hope, we fervently pray, our religion involves more than unquestioning, cramped, routine devotion.