Sunday, December 05, 2010

Swinton, "To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson" (reviewed by Larry Jackson)


Title:  To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson
Author:  Heidi S. Swinton
Publisher:  Deseret Book
Genre:  Biography
Year Published:  2010
Number of Pages:  598
Binding:  Hardbound, alkaline paper
ISBN 13:  978-1-60641-898-7
Price:  $34.99

Reviewed by Larry Jackson for the Association for Mormon Letters

This is the biography of the sixteenth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Revered by members as a prophet, seer, and revelator, such a biography is at once a miniature history of the Church as seen through the eyes of his experiences.

Thomas Monson was a bishop at age 22, a mission president at age 31, and became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at age 36.  In our day, these are remarkably young ages for any of these major leadership positions.  They represent a lifetime of service in the ministry.

This is a faithful biography.  Yet it includes stories from his youth I never thought would have made it into print.  I had heard many of them in my early years, but even I was surprised to read some of them in this book.  And there were a few more I had never heard before.  Swinton is candid in their telling.  She lays them out factually and without excuse, warts and all.

And that was just the beginning.  Knowing of his personal service to individuals, "To the Rescue" seemed a nice enough title.  But as the author tells story after story after story of his personal ministry in the lives of individuals, including many not of his faith, it becomes a title with layers of deep meaning.

That leads to what I enjoyed most about this book.  I thought I knew Tommy Monson, as he was known in his youth, and on the surface I did. Now, having read this biography, I have come to a new and deeper appreciation for the unheralded level of personal service he has given.  I had heard about it.  I had no idea of the depth and significance of his quiet service to others.  Without emphasis, Swinton has interlaced these stories into the record of his church service, just as Monson has made them an integral and geniune, but quiet, part of his life.

The 32 chapters generally move chronologically, but each addresses most of a period or area of emphasis.  Thus, there is some overlapping of time between chapters, but the author is careful not to repeat events. When time periods overlap, a new area of experience is being revealed.

With his years of church service, the majority of the book tells of his work in those religious responsibilities.  But there is plenty of coverage of his early growing years, his professional life as a printer, and his involvement in other areas of community service.

Apostles are assigned to different areas of the world to supervise the work and growth of the Church.  These assignments are normally rotated every few years.  The second assignment Thomas Monson received was to supervise the European missions, including all of Germany.  This assignment would become one of the longest individual assignments ever given a member of the Twelve.  In his biography, we learn of the growth of the Church and the taking of all of the blessings of the gospel, including a temple, to faithful members in a nation cut off from the world.

We learn how his expertise and training as a printer and publisher served him well as he led the effort to prepare a new edition of Church scripture.

He was present when the revelation on priesthood was received in 1978. He participated as an apostle in the transition of Church leadership six times before he, himself, as the senior apostle, would become President of the Church.  These events are recorded in the book.

Swinton was given access to Elder Monson's daily journals, and to his counselors in the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  These men, with him, are responsible for the leadership of the entire Church.  The book contains personal insights from each of them.

This book includes more than 100 photographs in five sections, a six-page timeline, a notes section, and a thorough Index.

Heidi Swinton has done a masterful job in sharing the life of an ordinary man chosen for an extraordinary work.

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