As the 2nd feature of our Mormon Stories Book Club series (organized by the brilliant Heather Olsen Beal), we feature John G. Turner and his new book “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, accompanied by Dialogue Foundation chair elect Morris Thurston.  Please click on the image to the right to purchase your book through Amazon.  A small amount of the proceed go to help support Mormon Stories.


Title: Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet
Author: John G. Turner
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Genre: Biography
Year: 2012
Pages: 352
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 0674049675
Price: $26.00

Support Mormon Stories by purchasing Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet through this link

Book Description from

“Brigham Young was a rough-hewn craftsman from New York whose impoverished and obscure life was electrified by the Mormon faith. He trudged around the United States and England to gain converts for Mormonism, spoke in spiritual tongues, married more than fifty women, and eventually transformed a barren desert into his vision of the Kingdom of God. While previous accounts of his life have been distorted by hagiography or polemical exposé, John Turner provides a fully realized portrait of a colossal figure in American religion, politics, and westward expansion.

After the 1844 murder of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Young gathered those Latter-day Saints who would follow him and led them over the Rocky Mountains. In Utah, he styled himself after the patriarchs, judges, and prophets of ancient Israel. As charismatic as he was autocratic, he was viewed by his followers as an indispensable protector and by his opponents as a theocratic, treasonous heretic.

Under his fiery tutelage, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defended plural marriage, restricted the place of African Americans within the church, fought the U.S. Army in 1857, and obstructed federal efforts to prosecute perpetrators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. At the same time, Young’s tenacity and faith brought tens of thousands of Mormons to the American West, imbued their everyday lives with sacred purpose, and sustained his church against adversity. Turner reveals the complexity of this spiritual prophet, whose commitment made a deep imprint on his church and the American Mountain West.”

Book Club Resources:

  1. Click here to listen to the Mormon Stories Podcast with author John Turner, Morris Thurston, Max Mueller, John Dehlin, and Heather Olson Beal [H1]
  2. Reviews of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet
    1. Harvard University Press webpage:
    2. HuffPo piece re: Brigham Young and polygamy by John G. Turner:
    3. Times and Seasons review:
    4. Association of Mormon Letters review:
    5. Improvement Era review:
  3. Podcasts re: the book:
    1. Harvard University Press podcast:
    2. National Review’s Between the Covers with John J. Miller:
    3. Mormon Expositor:
    4. KCPW podcast:
  4. Other Mormon-themed resources/writings by Turner
    1. New York Times piece re: Mormons and racism by John G. Turner:
    2. Turner’s thoughts on “the Mormon moment”:
    3. Turner’s take on the Hill Cumorah pageant:
    4. Turner’s thoughts on Mormons and the Civil War:
    5. Turner’s review of Book of Mormon Girl

Syllabus for a research course Turner teaches on Mormonism:


  1. Ezra October 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Looking forward to this podcast….any idea when it will go online?

  2. Ron H. October 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Bought it through the link on your site last week! I was looking for a biography on BY and the recommendation on MS was just perfect timing. I’m currently ready and marking it up. It’s a great read for anyone who enjoys Mormon history from multiple angles, not just the correlated history I thought I knew from my youth.

  3. Ezra October 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    I am 60 pages into his book. Loving it!!! I read it on the subway to and from work.

    What are the biggest misconceptions of Brigham Young, both in and out of the Church.

    What was Brigham Young’s biggest accomplishment?

    I don’t remember it in your book, what was Brigham Young’s involvement in Freemasonry?

    In your opinion, was Brigham Young really the best person to take lead of the church during the succession crisis?

    Did Brigham Young ever address not adding to the D&C?

  4. Joe Geisner October 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    It was asked in the question part of John’s announcement if there is evidence that Young led or approved of violence. I think John Turner’s book does an excellent job in answering this question. Though John does not deal with one case that may have the most evidence of Young calling for cold blooded murder, The case of Jesse Thompson Hartley is well documented in this fantastic article.

    John Turner quotes from an amazing assortment of letters to and from Young. Reading these extracts of letters gave me some of the more interesting glimpses into the life of Young. One letter comes from Young’s older brother Joseph, who was the spiritual leader of the family before the families conversion to Mormonism. The letter is in regards to the murderer William Hickman. As early as 1849 Joseph was trying to explain the character of Hickman to his younger brother. Unfortunately Brigham seemed to not have the same moral fiber as his brother. Joseph writes of Hickman: “Inocent Blood it will Be found Driping from the hands of William Hickman,” whom he labeled “a cold Blooded Murderer.” This was Joseph’s reaction after seeing Hickman murder two Indians, one who Hickman let bleed out over a day.

  5. RachelM October 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    I can’t wait to read this.

    And I was really heartened that you used the letters during his missions to Mary Ann Angell. They are my great-great-great-great-grandparents and some of those letters were in my grandmothers trunk until about 10 years ago. I have copies of them… They are pretty interesting.

    I have been waiting for a biography that captures what a complex character he was. Thank you!

    • Joe Geisner October 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm - Reply


      This is a very interesting post. The letters John’s quotes from between Mary and Brigham are great. I find it interesting to hear these stories of letters found in a trunk.

      Is there any way you would be willing to share copies? My email is rbssman gmail com

      • Dawna October 25, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply


        I’m also a descendent of Brigham Young and Mary Ann Angel, and my mom especially would be so thrilled to see copies of these letters! My email is

        • RachelM November 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm - Reply

          Yes- I could send both of you copies. I will try to do that this week.

  6. David October 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    I understand the John Turner lives in No. Virginia, as do I. I’m wondering if he is speaking anywhere nearby where I could meet him.

  7. John Turner October 14, 2012 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Hi David,

    Closest to you would be in Potomac, Md., next month (organized by Greg Prince). Unfortunately, I had two local events last month but nothing else as of now. I’ve heard rumblings of one or two book clubs in the broader-DC area. In any event, hope to meet you at some point.

    • DavidS October 15, 2012 at 1:36 am - Reply

      I think I’m on the invitation list for Greg’s group so if I can come, I’ll see you there.

  8. Jen October 20, 2012 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I was all set to buy this book through your link. But the price for the kindle edition is almost $20! Can’t do it! I refuse to spend more than $10 for an e-book. Enjoyed the podcast though and hope to read it eventually.

  9. David October 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    What a great interview. I definitely plan to buy the book. I kind of hate Brigham Young but this interview made me realize he was a person like most others. I really want to learn more after listening to this podcast.

  10. Samuel Rogers November 3, 2012 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Really enjoyed this, hope to some day get a copy of this book. Thanks.

  11. Lilli December 21, 2012 at 10:14 am - Reply

    Sadly, few can see how evil Brigham Young was and that Joseph Smith was almost surely intent on excommunicating BY and other leaders for polygamy, if Joseph had lived a little longer.

    For according to the teachings of Christ, Joseph Smith and ancient Book of Mormon prophets, Brigham Young was an abusive adulterous imposter, a false prophet, who led many people astray to do the vilest of evils, and he still leads many astray today to believe in those same evils.

    Very few are willing to search out and believe the truth to what he really was.

    Joseph never preached or practiced polygamy, he constantly warned and fought against it. I believe Joseph knew how evil Brigham Young was and he warned the Saints to never fall for polygamy, even if a prophet came preaching it, or to fall for the vile rumors that he himself was living it.

    But sadly it seems, that most people would rather believe perverse hearsay, than the proven and published truth by true prophets of God.

  12. karie wartena March 15, 2018 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    Is this John Turner related to the John Turner than was on the mayflower and died shortly afterwards? am related to the Mayflower one through one of his sons who came later-just curious

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