I first came across David Mason's writing in the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog, to which he contributed. Mason is a Latter-day Saint, the son of a BYU physics professor, and an associate professor of theatre at Rhodes College in Tennessee. His blog posts were atypical, to say the least, but insightful and well written. I emailed him about one of his posts, and we began an intermittent but friendly correspondence. A couple of years ago, Mason emailed me to say he was in Utah doing research for a short biography Routledge had commissioned him to write about Brigham Young, and he wondered if he could take me to lunch. I was curious. Why would a respected academic publisher ask a theatre professor to write a biography of a religious leader? I was not alone. "For reasons I'm sure I don't understand," Mason wrote me, "Routledge gave me a contract to write a Brigham Young biography, so I'm in Utah until mid-July to pretend I'm a historian."1 Someone at Routledge had apparently seen his blog posts, as I had, and liked his writing style.
Now that the book is in print, the question is, did Mason just pretend to be a historian? I would argue no. Keep in mind, this is not a full-blown biography on the order of, say, Leonard Arrington's Brigham Young: American Moses, Eugene England's Brother Brigham, or John Turner's more recent Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. Routledge's stated purpose with its Historical Americans series is to create a collection of "short, vibrant biographies that illuminate the lives of Americans who have had an impact on the world. Each book includes a short overview of the person's life and puts that person into historical context through essential primary documents, written both by the subjects and about them" (ii). The list of these biographies to date is eclectic: Woody Guthrie, Frederick Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Truman, John Winthrop, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Benjamin Franklin, Mary Lincoln, and, of course, Brigham Young.