Chad M. Orton, a Church archivist, and William W. Slaughter, a Church photo historian and senior reference specialist, have both published extensively, their past works including Joseph Smith’s America (Orton) and Trail of Hope: The Story of the Mormon Trail (Slaughter). In their new biography, they challenge the slanderous news articles targeted at Brigham Young in his day and seek to illuminate the true character of the man who “often remains hidden in the shadows of the hats” he wore, such as prophet, family patriarch, and colonizer (xiii).
Rather than being organized chronologically, the book is divided into forty chapters that focus on Brigham Young’s traits and accomplishments, painting him as a man of faith, tenacity, vision, and compassion—despite his being “a hard-spoken New Yorker” (150). Chapters like “Brigham as Renaissance Man” highlight his extraordinary talent, while other chapters like “Trust and Loyalty: Two Strengths and a Weakness” reveal his human capacity to falter. Some chapters provide historical context, such as a life chronology, a list of contemporary world and Church leaders, and a list of his wives, his marriage dates, his children, and family birthdates.
The authors do not skim over the libel directed at Brigham Young in a chapter called “America’s Bogeyman,” and at the book’s conclusion, the authors include both positive and negative notices written at his death. The New York Tribune editorialized: “Even his dupes will find out some day that their prophet was really nothing, but a cunning, clever old rascal, . . . and they will wonder how he could have left them without so much as a parting wink, to show that he had enjoyed the joke” (264).
Outside perspectives provide a sharp contrast to the way Brigham Young saw himself: “My whole life is devoted to . . . service and while I regret that my mission is not better understood by the world, the time will come when I will be understood and I leave to futurity the judgment of my labors and their results as they shall become manifest” (267). The authors have contributed well to this end. Both Latter-day Saints and others who are interested in Mormon history will want to read this multifaceted examination of the man the authors describe as “enigmatic,” “vilified,” and “the most misunderstood individual on the lists of the 100 greatest and most influential Americans” (xiii).