The Challenge and Craft of Mormon Biography



Even on this limited stage, the biographer has scope for his virtuosity. For life-writing is the stage of everyday life, where the abstract forces of the social scientist, philosopher, and theologian come to center in the existence of a human being. If a microcosm, biography also celebrates human life. It declares with Shakespeare “What a piece of work is a man” and upholds the life of any individual to be of worth—and worthy of preservation. To the religious-minded, it may even suggest the pattern of mankind’s eternal struggle. For these reasons it retains tremendous appeal. That is why every public library has long rows of shelves of biography and why, at least in part, the Kimball biographies have become an LDS marketing phenomena and Schindler’s Rockwell remains the all-time best seller at the University of Utah Press.

Biography is a limited and cumbersome craft. Its heroes are recreated imperfectly. Its truths speak in a more precise yet modest voice than those of literature. But even within this limited realm, Mormon biography has fallen short. Only recently has it begun to fuse investigation, technique, and openness—the three essentials of biography—and make use of the tools of the social sciences. Yet because of the maturing confidence of LDS culture and because of biography’s continuing appeal, the visionary hope remains of a more substantial and artistic achievement.


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