Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Man of God, Son of Thunder by guest blogger Steven Head

Yet another chapter from "Steve, You're Reading my Mind." Last weekend, I watched the first two episodes of "Big Love" the curious, sometimes funny, but always intriguing HBO series about a polygamist family. but, I guess with the Warren Jeffs trial just ending, this subject is on many minds.

Thanks Steve!

In the spring of 1978 I accepted a job with the Utah State Historical Society under the CETA program. Comprehensive Employment & Training Act. That was back when politicians thought doing what is best for the people was more important than party and special interests. But I digress. One of the items in their collection was a large, 4' by 8' or bigger, portrait of Mormon wild man Orrin Porter Rockwell. As I recall he has guns out and wind is whipping his long coat. Impressive.

Up until that point my only knowledge of Porter Rockwell was as a restaurant in Salt Lake. They also had a private club named DB Cooper. The cult of personality was alive even back then but the person had to have more talent than a big behind or a pretty face. The portrait made me curious about Rockwell, enough to discover there was a biography of the man.

With retirement I've been trying to cross a few things off my bucket list and one of them is reading the Harold Schindler bio of OPR, with the secondary title of Man of God, Son of Thunder. What I discovered was a combination biography and early history of the Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons, starting with Joseph Smith in New York State. Orrin hung out with Joe and was part of the Mormon push, and push back, in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.

The biography starts in 1831 and Smith's short time in Ohio and ends in Sept. of 1877 with the death of Rockwell, about a month after Brigham Young passed. The span between shows Rockwell's part in the settlements of Missouri and Illinois where Smith was killed. His role as scout and facilitator of the mass movement of Mormons across the plains and to the Great Salt Lake valley. And the part he played as a guerrilla warfare leader against US troops sent to Utah. Not to mention scout and guide for parties going on to California, and as a scout for the same Army he battled against as they took on hostile Indians.

Rockwell was an entrepreneur, especially when it came to saloons, cattle, and freight hauling. He was also a crack shot only too willing to enter into competitive wagers. OPR was an enforcer for the Mormon church which had a good deal of dissent among the membership. Schindler tiptoes around the issue of polygamy, introducing the different wives and children but stopping short of describing the living arrangements. And he makes no attempt to hide Rockwell's fondness for alcohol.

It is difficult to know exactly the kind of man OPR was in real life as Schindler has relied on newspaper accounts, the many diaries of Mormon pioneers, and historic publications. He is described as cordial and ruthless, illiterate and a teaser, devout and an alcoholic. There is no doubt he lived a colorful life, brushing shoulders with prominent figures in the development of the American West. And the person you did not want to see if you were in conflict with Mormon authorities.

Mormon history and personalities may not interest you but I suspect there are people and public figures that inspire your curiosity. You can probably wait and see if Ken Burns will do a PBS documentary on them. Or you can read a book or two. It is a good use of time.

I thought you might like these predictions about the....looks like some big names are back including Stephen Kind, Joan Didion, Susan Orlean, Alice Hofman...

25 most anticipated books for fall

Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
Mothers, daughters, friends, wives and lovers—from the late ’70s to the present day—fill the pages of Elissa Schappell’s wise and witty linked short story collection.

What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
The author of the highly acclaimed Matterhorn uses his personal experiences as illustrations of the psychological, philosophical and spiritual dilemmas that combat soldiers face—in the field and upon returning home.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This remarkable coming-of-age story, set at a New England college during an extraordinary baseball season, marks Harbach as a writer to watch.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This imaginative debut, set in a magical circus, follows two rival magicians who select champions to represent them in a deadly competition.

Life Itself by Roger Ebert
The popular film critic tells the story of his life. Readers of his popular blog–and his reviews—know that Ebert is a wonderful writer; expect this to be great.

The Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
Millard, author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, is back with a compelling narrative about the assassination of President James A. Garfield.
Reamde by Neal Stephenson

In his most accessible novel yet, Neal Stephenson delivers a fast-paced tech thriller that takes place around the world. In a review of Stephenson’s The System of the World, one BookPage reviewer wrote that the author “practices alchemy of the literary variety, turning words into gold.”

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina
Mina follows up Still Midnight with another mystery starring Detective Inspector Alex Morrow—who is called to investigate after a millionaire banker commits suicide.

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
The author of Will in the World (a brilliant biography of Shakespeare) turns his attention to the great cultural “swerve” known as the Renaissance.

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean (This will be first on my list!)
One of our best narrative nonfiction writers returns with the story of one of the most remarkable dogs of all time: Rin Tin Tin.

Boomerang by Michael Lewis
The author of many popular nonfiction books including The Blind Side, Liar’s Poker and Next: The Future Just Happened investigates the U.S. financial crisis, and how it effects markets abroad—and vise versa.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
There’s no magic here; Hoffman takes readers to the year 70 CE to dramatize a historical event: the storming of the fortress of Masada where 900 Jews took a stand against the Romans. She tells the story from the perspectives of three very different women. May be the novel fans of The Red Tent have been waiting for?

When She Woke by Hilary Jordan
This novel from the author of Mudbound is sure to be big; it’s a re-telling of The Scarlet Letter set in the not-too-distant future.

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
A pilot who has to make an emergency landing on water (think Sully) survives the crash. 39 of the 47 other people on board do not. Haunted by the past, he moves with his wife and two daughters to a rambling Victorian house in Vermont, where the haunting becomes literal. Look for shades of The Shining.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Nearly 10 years after publishing Middlesex, Eugenides will publish The Marriage Plot—the story of a love triangle that takes place after the three main characters graduate from college in 1982.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead
In the wake of the plague, Mark Spitz is working to clear Manhattan of the infected ones—though the only zombies left in the area are not the dangerous kind but the “malfunctioning” sort who are basically catatonic and mourning their former lives. Then it all starts to go wrong.

Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin
Set during the notorious Nanjing massacre, Nanjing Requiem fictionalizes the experiences of a real-life American missionary, Minnie Vautrin, who stays in China during the 1937 Japanese invasion in the hopes that she can help the community she has lived in for more than a decade.
IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s 1Q84 (a play on Orwell’s 1984) was first published in three volumes in Japan. Critics have called this story a “magnum opus,” and readers have made it a bestseller in Japan. Now Americans can see what all the fuss is about. Added convenience: Knopf will release the trilogy as one single volume (it’ll be 928 pages!).

Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz
Tony Horowitz—author of Blue Latitudes (and husband of Geraldine Brooks)—shares the story of abolitionist John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Didion’s haunting memoir of her husband’s death and illness, The Year of Magical Thinking, was a surprise bestseller. Now she chronicles the life of her daughter Quintana Roo, and ponders aging and death once again.

The Next Always by Nora Roberts
Perennial bestseller Nora Roberts launches the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy with The Next Always. This series is especially intriguing because it is inspired by the real Inn BoonsBoro, which Roberts bought and restored in 2007.

11/23/1963 by Stephen King
After a high school teacher discovers a portal to 1958 in a diner’s back room, he sets out on a mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose) will inspire plenty of paranoia with his latest work of historical fiction, which investigates conspiracies throughout history.

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
Though Catherine’s eventful life would be a gripping read no matter what, we have high hopes for Massie’s version: His 1981 book, Peter the Great, won the Pulitzer and is pretty much the best bio ever.

Mrs. Nixon by Ann Beattie
Beattie was a literary phenom from the start, hailed as the voice of her generation by no less than the New Yorker, which published many of her stories in the 1980s. Now she tells the story of Pat Nixon, the wife of our most infamous president.

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