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For week ended October 10, 1999 Posted 3 Oct 1999

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Mormonism prominent but irrelevant in new book (Only in America)

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Mormonism prominent but irrelevant in new book (Only in America)
New York Review of Books 7Oct99 A1
By Russell Baker

In a review of Marguerite Young's new final (and unfinished) book "Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs," well-known columnist Russell Baker focuses on Young's treatment of Mormonism, which she finds an example of the utopianism of the 1840s. Baker adds a claim that Mormonism was the era's "only utopian success."

Baker summarizes Young's view of Mormonism, quoting several extended passages from the book, but wonders why Young focuses so much on Mormonism. "The trouble with Marguerite Young's long, entertaining romp through Mormon history is that it has nothing to do with what appears to be her book's theme; that is, that the gentle utopianism of the 1840s spawned the violent confrontation between labor and capital after the Civil War. She simply can't resist stopping everything to tell a good story, regardless of its pertinence."

Unfortunately, Baker notes in the review, the meandering book also lacks the polishing, revising and re-writing necessary for a finished book. Young, who worked slowly on her books, died in 1995 while still working on this book. While it purports to be a biography of Eugene Debs, it misses the major portion of his life and covers Mormonism only as a precursor, background information on the times that Debs lived in.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information