Leonard J. Arrington
A Historian's Life
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: The Arthur H. Clark Company
260 Pages | 6 x 9 | 10 b&w illus.
One of the foremost American historians of his generation, Leonard J. Arrington (1913-1999) revolutionized the writing of Mormon history. Through the publication of his groundbreaking Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, as well as numerous other publications, he established the dominant interpretation of the Mormon experience. Yet until now, there has been little analysis of his contribution to western history.
Focusing on Arrington’s intellectual career, Gary Topping examines the facets of Arrington’s life that influenced his historical ideas: how his Idaho farm background shaped his values and interests, and how his nontraditional upbringing differed from that of other young Mormons. Topping also offers a critical evaluation and major new interpretation of Arrington’s works that will likely spark controversy in the scholarly community.
Topping re-examines Arrington’s role in founding and promoting what is known as the New Mormon History. Arrington has been criticized for relying on the assistance of numerous staff members in the church’s History Division, but Topping shows this collaborative approach to have been in keeping with the cooperative spirit of Mormonism. Yet, as Topping relates, Arrington’s efforts to make archival material more accessible to the public were undermined by the more conservative wing of the church hierarchy, which released him from his position as Church Historian in 1982.
Both an engaging biography and a sharp appraisal of Arrington’s methods and interpretive work, Topping’s book expands on Arrington’s own autobiography by offering the first thorough analysis of his contributions.