Elder Statesman: A Biography of J. Reuben Clark

Front Cover
Signature Books, 2002 - Biography & Autobiography - 631 pages
J. Reuben Clark was all of these prior to his call to the LDS First Presidency. As a counselor to three church presidents--Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay--he served longer than any other member of this high church council.

Already controversial before he assumed his church duties, his blunt, independent style created even more ripples at LDS headquarters. Still, his impact, intellectually and administratively, was immense. His most important legacy may well be the professionalization of church government; where apostles previously met and decided issues based mostly on their collective years of experience, Clark drew from his secular training to introduce outside research, position papers, and extended discussion, all of which, for better or for worse, added to the administrative bureaucracy.

In this impressive study of the "elder statesman," as reporters labeled Clark, D. Michael Quinn considers what it meant for a Latter-day Saint to attain such national and international stature, although Quinn never loses sight of Reuben's very human qualities either. This fresh, intimate approach presents Clark on his own terms and draws readers into Clark's world in the context of the larger society of his time and place.

From the dust jacket:

Life is never quite what is portrayed in inspirational books about famous people's experiences. One aspect that is rarely told about President Clark's life is his near-embrace of atheism in the 1920s. This period of his intellectual development is interesting and informative and ultimately as inspirational as Clark's conclusion that belief may be irrational but is essential. If nothing else, one admires the future church leader's rigor and honesty in exploring the fringes of faith. One also admires his biographer for the even-handed, frank treatment of the subject. Clark's commitment to a successful career similarly came at a sacrifice in other areas of his life. He chose work over family whenever the option presented itself.

Two issues that stand at the forefront of Clark's headstrong manner are his views on pacifism and race. Both were significant to his overall world view and have much to say about the complexity of the issues and about the fallibility of human judgment.

For most of his life, Clark was a military enthusiast. He served as the assistant Judge Advocate General during World War I and earned the Distinguished Service Medal. But he changed his mind and thereafter became known as fiercely anti-war. When the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Clark accused his nation of barbarism and said that it had forfeited its right ever again to speak with moral authority in the world. That he also distrusted American propaganda and was sympathetic to National Socialism may come as a surprise to some readers.

Similarly, readers may shudder to learn of Clark's views on race. He was partly responsible for the LDS Hospital's segregation of the blood of "whites" and "Negroes," his logic being that since anyone with as little as "one drop" of African blood was ineligible for LDS priesthood ordination, a transfusion from a black donor to a white recipient would render the latter incapable of exercising priesthood authority. Such a racist view--in part a reflection of the time--is tempered by the disclosure that Clark was one of the first among the church leadership to advocate steps toward giving blacks the priesthood.

Other ideological quandaries and soul-searching on Clark's part could be enumerated, but suffice it to say that anyone who picks up this volume will live Reuben's life with him. One may not ultimately understand why Clark said or did what he did in every instance, but there is a palpable sense of a life lived--with all the quirks and ironies that real lives are made of. Elder Statesman speaks to larger issues, but the spotlight remains on the man himself; readers are left to draw their own conclusions about whether Clark was a hero or villain in any given circumstance.

From inside the book


Differences of Administration
George Albert Smith 194551
David O McKay 195161

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About the author (2002)

D. Michael Quinn is a writer and educator who graduated from Yale University. Quinn was a professor as well as the director of the graduate history program at Bringham Young University. Quinn's scholarly knowledge of Mormon and American histories led him to write The Mormon Hierarchy, and Same Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. Quinn has been a grant recipient from such institutions as Yale University, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has also been awarded the George W. Egleston Prize, the Samuel F. Bemis Prize, and the Best Book and Best Article awards from the Mormon History Association.

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