Review: Kimball, "Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, Working Draft" (reviewed by Brent Brizzi)


Title: Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball,
Working Draft
Author: Edward L. Kimball
Publisher: Benchmark Books
Genre: Biography
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 665 including index
Binding: Hardback
Price: $99.95

Reviewed by Brent Brizzi for the Association for Mormon Letters

In 1995, Edward Kimball, son of President Spencer W. Kimball, retired
from teaching so that he could devote his efforts to writing the last
chapter of his father's life, having previously written a biography of
his father (with his brother Andrew E. Kimball) that ended shortly into
his father's life as President of the LDS Church.

It was meant to be a last chapter, summing up the remaining years of his
father's life, but as Edward wrote the "last chapter" it kept getting
longer and longer, until it was no longer recognizable as a final
chapter.  It instead has become a tribute to his father's
administration, and shows President Kimball in a much broader light than
a final chapter could have done.

There was a need to finish the story, so work began anew on a more
complete biography, one chronicling in extensive detail the years his
father spent as President of the Church.  His administration, personal
relationships, physical maladies, correspondence, as well as a number of
ecclesiastical subjects, not the least of these being the revelation in
1978 allowing for all worthy male members of the Church to receive the
priesthood, are all covered in this volume.  Bookcraft first published a
biography on President Kimball in 1977. Simply titled "Spencer W.
Kimball," it sold well, selling over 385,000 copies over the years.  It
worked as a catalyst, showing publishers there was a market for
well-written biographies of Church leaders.  This first book was well
received and served to open up a flood of correspondence from not only
the faithful, but those outside of the LDS Church.  Many of these
recollections were sent to Edward over the years; some of them have been
included in this volume.

Background to the publication process is not needed in most cases. In
this review, however, I find it necessary to include some details, as
part of the story of this publication is the process it went through to
reach the final stage culminating in its publication.  Though this book
details the last years of President Kimball's life, and his
administration of the LDS Church, It is not solely devoted to the
ecclesiastical duties of his father's Presidency, but also includes many
personal details on the last years of his father's life.

The route this book took to being published is a short story in itself.
To sum it up, this publication is the zenith of many years of hard work
between the author and both publishers. In a nutshell, Deseret Book (the
first publisher) didn't want to publish the entire manuscript of
"Lengthen Your Stride" due to length and some differences of opinion
referring to content.  The author, not wanting to lose his "golden
words." didn't want to publish only half the story.

Deseret Book and Edward compromised and the first publication included a
CD-ROM which included many items of interest including the "Working
Draft" (as Edward calls it) of "Lengthen Your Stride."  There was an
immediate interest among those who read the edited version of "Lengthen
Your Stride" to be able to read the complete version without being
tethered to a computer to do so.  Realizing the demand for a "finished"
product that the reader could hold, the owner and publisher of Benchmark
Books, Curt Bench, sought and negotiated with Deseret Book and Edward to
release a limited edition run of the entire "Working Draft" manuscript.
After a period of negotiation, Benchmark Books acquired the rights to
publish a limited run of 500 copies of the completed manuscript. Of this
they published 400 copies, thirty of which are bound in leather.

The CD-ROM is much like this book, but even in this there are more
details added to distinguish it further from its predecessors.  The
inclusion of an expanded table of contents, and a simple index, were
written exclusively for this limited edition.  Also there is a new
Publishers Preface, in part explaining the previous publisher's preface
to the Deseret Book publication.

There are many details that were omitted in the Deseret Book
publication. Here is one example, found early in the book. It concerns a
dream that President Kimball had early on in his administration.

The 2005 Deseret Book publication reads as follows:

"Now there was no one on earth to whom he could turn with his problems.
Yet he did not feel alone.  He dreamed one night that he and President
Lee were looking at real estate together.  The dream left him with a
warm feeling of assurance." [DB9]

The Benchmark Books publication reads as follows:

"But now there was no one on earth to whom he could turn over his
problems.  Yet he did not feel alone.  One night early in his presidency
he dreamed of President Lee:  He was handsome and happy.

We seemed to be together for a long period of time as we moved around in
what seem to be Thatcher, Arizona, looking at real estate….  We did not
seem to be hurried.  It was very pleasant to be with him.  It seemed we
did not use our voices but seemed to understand each other.

Eventually he gradually faded out of the picture and left me with a very
pleasing, happy mood.  Whether it was a dream or a vision, I do not know
but it was a most happy experience and I was grateful for it." [BB21]

Included in this volume are not just the details of Spencer's
administration, but also the physical frailties of which he endured.

Here are just a few of the ailments he faced:  a heart condition, throat
cancer, degenerative arthritis, glaucoma, cataracts, and even some
instances of hallucination following surgery to reduce the pressure on
his brain due to subdural hematomas.[BB588-89].  All are recounted here
in some detail.  There were many other ailments to which President
Kimball also endured, too many to specify in a review.

Through it all, I was struck time and again with his resilience, always
struggling to continue on.  This is not to say that he didn't let the
challenges of his health get to him.  Over the years he would be heard
to say on occasion that he didn't know why he was still here, his body
was broken, and his voice mostly gone.  Many times as he encountered one
health problem after another it would seem as though the end were near,
only to find him on the mend, and continuing his work, sometimes
traveling within a very short period of time after a major physical
ailment.  Sometimes he would miss most of General Conference, only to
reappear for several sessions at one of the following conferences.

No book would be complete about President Kimball if it did not discuss
at some length the revelation received on June 1, 1978.  This book has
extensive details as to how the revelation came to take place, the
Apostles reactions, those who were present, how to go about releasing a
statement (some thought it best to wait until General Conference in
October of that year). The reaction of Elder McConkie was to release the
revelation immediately, "so as to not be forced by Satan into saying
they had to do it"[BB355-56].  In LDS Church history there are several
defining events but not many equal the importance of the revelation
received by President Kimball in relation to the Priesthood being
extended to all worthy males, regardless of race or color.

Curt Bench, in his preface to the Special Limited Edition, had this to
say:  "We express gratitude to Edward Kimball and to Deseret Book for
their permission to publish this special limited edition of one of the
finest biographies ever written of a prominent LDS Church leader."

I concur with the sentiments expressed above.  This truly is a seminal
work on the life and legacy of President Spencer W. Kimball.  Every once
in a while a book comes along that rewrites the rules for publication.
This volume, for an LDS publication, does just that.  It is a complete
unedited version, containing all that the author wants to say, no holds
barred, a quintessential biography.  Rarely does an author come along
with the kind of insight and access that Edward Kimball had to his
father and the foresight to know that there was much more to be written.

The shortcomings of this book Edward assures us are not due to his
editing out of events, but sometimes the lack of complete access to all
the sources. He states:  "Despite my personal access to President
Kimball, I was never an insider in Church affairs.  After my father
became President, my interaction with him rarely related to Church
administration or doctrine.  He never discussed confidential matters
with me, or any other family member for that matter" BB-Preface10.  On
that subject he also had this to say: "I had access to correspondence
files in my parents' home office, but not to the correspondence kept at
my father's Church office".

In spite of these omissions, the book is a lengthy, detailed,
well-written accounting of the years that President Kimball was
President of the Church.  The author spent many years collecting
documents and correspondence, and kept a detailed journal of his own,
recounting events in President Kimball's later years.  It is a testament
to the author's tenacious love for the story, and for his father.
Edward wanted to preserve his father's legacy; he has done just that
with this publication.  It is a great biography of a great man.
Unfortunately, the book is out of print, with no 2nd printing expected.
If you can find a copy of this publication it is well worth owning.  If
you are unable to find a hardback copy, don't let the eye strain stop
you from reading it on the computer.