Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow
Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism
Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism, by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, is an outstanding Mormon biography, not just within biographies published in 2011, but also among Mormon biographies in general. Undaunted by the task of tackling the life of a man whose autobiography has become a classic in Mormon literature, these two co-authors have moved well beyond the autobiography — in their research, in providing the intellectual context of Pratt’s works and the historical context of his life, and in understanding the importance of Pratt’s achievements in the making of early Mormonism. Givens and Grow are persuasive in arguing that “By 1853, [Pratt] had already become, after Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the most influential figure in shaping early Mormon history, culture, and theology” (3-4). The range and depth of their research and analysis in support of their thesis is impressive. Putting Pratt’s works within the context of “Baconism, millennialism and antebellum America’s oratorical culture” (104), Givens and Grow cogently paint Pratt as not only a popularizer of Mormon theology but also as a shaper of it. Detailing Pratt’s leadership in missionary work, they convincingly show how crucial proselytizing on the periphery was to the Church’s center. Recounting Pratt’s exploration and colonizing efforts, they also establish his importance in the Church’s move west.
Deeply learned as the biography is, it is also written with grace. Although Pratt’s achievements were varied, the biography is chronological. It is a tribute to their style that the threads of these various achievements run smoothly throughout the narrative. Their careful editing has resulted in a blending of their two contributions into one voice. Moreover, potentially difficult theological concepts are explained clearly, while Pratt’s life, full of riveting episodes, is vividly portrayed.
In short, Givens and Grow have beautifully blended an intellectually stimulating analysis of Parley P. Pratt’s writings with an absorbing narrative of the adventurous life of this significant leader in Mormon history.