“To the Rescue” by Heidi Swinton

The Biography of Thomas S. Monson

First of all let me state that the subject matter, the life of Thomas S. Monson, current prophet and President of the LDS Church, is indeed incredible and inspiring.  Countless experiences told in this book are a witness to his constant devotion to Jesus Christ and to helping others and also to his amazing people skills.

However, although I recommend the book and a study of its subject, I have some minor gripes with the author/publisher/editor.

First, I think that I have heard at least half of the stories in the book before in President Monson’s General Conference talks over the years.  I guess that is not surprising though.  He once told a reunion of Sixth-Seventh Ward (where he served as a 22 year old bishop) members “Your lives are my sermons.”  Well, President Monson’s own life is also frequently the source for much of his talks.  I guess it is nice to have all those stories collected in one place, though.

The book could have used a bit more editing to enhance the overall flow.  I’ve referred to the book’s “stories” and that is sometimes how it comes across —  a collection of stories, each followed by a “moral to the story” such as “and that’s how Tommy learned that you shouldn’t judge another person because he picks his nose” etc.  (Although I don’t recall that specific sentence being present in the text, maybe you get my drift.)  I felt like the format kind of got a bit old, although the stories are all, as I mentioned, very good and inspirational.

Along with flow, maybe the printer Thomas Monson’s eagle-eye could have been useful in finding some grammatical errors.  I thought the misquote of Winston Churchill on p. 280 “From Stettin to [should be in] the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” was particularly unforgivable as it is such a famous quote.  It offends my sense of geography as well!  Maybe the presence of such errors reflects a rush to get the book out before Christmas and rake in the the profits from the $34.99 price tag.  (Although I shouldn’t complain – I gave the book to someone as a present and then immediately borrowed it for the initial read through… hehe.)

Moving on, another inexplicable point is the lack of a clear description of President Monson’s father’s activity in the Church.  I believe he was a member (although some of Tommy’s uncles were not) but not active very much for the majority of his life.  But the book never says this.  You have to pick up clues, like the fact that Tommy was baptized and ordained in the priesthood by other men (duties traditionally done by the father, if worthy).  I don’t pass judgement or think prying into family affairs is appropriate, but in a definitive biography this seems very important because I am interested in President Monson’s upbringing and how his father’s (in)activity in the Church affected him, if at all.  Sadly the book seems to avoid the issue for some reason.

Besides the portions on President Monson’s early years, the best part of the book deals with his many years of work helping the church in East Germany as it struggled for rights and recognition under the communist government.  The book repeatedly describes how, although suspected of subversion and persecuted, the Church slowly gained the trust of government officials by being gracious and always following the letter of the law.  But then there follow some incredibly cheesy lines in the chapter “The Wall Comes Down” reveling in how the Church somehow brought down the East German government.  The contrast between the two sentiments was a little jarring.

One instance sticks in my mind as an example of Thomas S. Monson’s attitude.  He joined the Naval Reserve during World War II, and stayed active in the following years.  The Korean War was brewing, and if he were to be called up he darn tootin wanted to go as an officer.  He worked hard and eventually was offered an Ensign’s commission.  However, he had just been called into the ward bishopric, and bishopric meeting was held on Monday evenings, at the same time as his Naval Reserve commitment required.  Apparently both were inflexible to changing times, so Tom was forced to choose one or the other.  He went to his friend and former stake president, then Apostle Harold B. Lee.  Elder Lee heard him out, then advised him to turn down the commission and completely resign from the Naval Reserve.  Even though the commission was something he had deeply wanted and seemed like a good idea in the eyes of the world, Tom did as Elder Lee prophetically suggested.  The Lord had different plans in mind than a military career – he was called as bishop a few months later.  Then into a stake presidency, then mission president in Canada, then an Apostle.  Humbly following wherever the Lord called is a hallmark of President Monson’s life.

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