Friday, March 25, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #1: Russell M. Nelson, From Heart to Heart: An Autobiography

Editor's note: I am pleased to present another series of posts by Dennis Horne.


Mormon Book Bits


Series Introduction and First Post


Many years ago I conceived the idea of writing/compiling a book about Mormon books. Having dabbled in Mormon book collecting some myself when I could afford it, and having developed a deep interest in the fascinating history of the creation (the writing and publication) of many of these books, I began assembling historical information about various titles with the book idea in mind.

As the years have passed, book publishing has grown more expensive and less influential and practical, causing me to reconsider. With the reach and convenience of the internet, blog posts seem a simpler and more practical method of sharing what I have assembled with interested people. (A few of my earliest Mormon book histories ended up in Bret Eborn’s Guide to Mormon Books, a fine and massive bibliographic-type price guide for many thousands of Mormon-related books.)

I therefore launch this blog series, Mormon Book Bits, geared to those who have interest in Latter-day Saint history, doctrine, writing, and publishing. And especially to those who love Mormon books and know that they sometimes take on a life and create a history of their own, regardless of their actual content.


Some of these Mormon-related book histories will be very brief, but others will be much longer (usually a reflection of how much information I could find on a title). Most of the historical material will consist of quotations written by others with knowledge about a particular book. Some blogs will read like historical articles, others will simply consist of a book title followed by an informative quotation.

As a frequent visitor in many a Utah/Salt Lake City-area used bookstore, especially in past decades, I learned that both truthful and inaccurate stories often float around. I neither blame nor judge anyone for this exchange of information; such is part of what makes the subject fun and interesting. (On the other hand, sometimes the information posted by some Mormon book sellers using online auctions is pure fiction, but that fact applies to other auctioned products sold as well.) Another factor that keeps interest alive is that various General Authorities are a part of many book histories. This is only natural with so many books being written by Church leaders themselves and many others being noticed in some way by them. And of course, for some, anything involving the General Authorities merits attention.

While book publishing (and collecting) is a very temporally (business) oriented pursuit—if publishers, including Church-owned publishers, don’t sell books they go out of business—I have not felt any guilt about collecting them myself since as I read the biographies of the General Authorities I discover that most of them assemble(d) fine large personal libraries. After all, nothing is better than to study from the “best books” and they know it.

I have done my best to use accurate information, but readers should keep in mind that with such an area as this, much sensationalism and ambiguity (and sensitivity) can come into play. I apologize in advance for any misinformation that finds its way into Mormon Book Bits, I can only do my best. I assume I have missed or am unaware of information related to some Mormon books that I will include in this series. I have not tried to be exhaustive or comprehensive. I do think there are many others who love Mormon books as much as I do.

Mormon Book Bits

#1

 Russell M. Nelson, From Heart to Heart: An Autobiography


            One of the most desirable Mormon books today is this autobiography of Russell M. Nelson (not to be confused with his biography, published years later). No one seems to know how many were printed, but the prevailing notion is around 2-300, though that number could be high. In 1989, in reply to a letter from a collector that had read a copy and found it highly enjoyable, Elder Nelson wrote the following: “I am amazed you were able to acquire a copy of From Heart to Heart. This book I prepared for the family. There are a few extra copies about, but it has been out of print for quite some time.”

It should be realized that this book was written before Russell Nelson became Elder (now President) Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1979), and therefore contains no information about his service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Without his call to this position in the Church, the book would likely have remained a wonderful but obscure personal biography of a prominent heart surgeon and mid-level church leader, but would not have attained the status and desirability it now carries, especially for collectors of LDS biography. The lack of apostolic status at the time of publication seems to have been both a positive and a negative. Positive because the book did not have to be censored and therefore contains marvelous information only meant for family and friends. Negative because his unquestionably many edifying apostolic experiences are absent.

            One need only peruse the following sample of highlights to realize the quality of the gems found within its pages:

1) A detailed account of a visit from the Spirit World of his great-grandfather to his grandfather (16-18). Elder Nelson has referred to this sacred story in general conference talks.

2) His pioneer work in the medical field of heart surgery.

3) A section (Part B) covering his experiences with many prominent Church leaders—among them David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and especially Spencer W. Kimball.

4) The most detailed account existing of the heart surgery performed by Dr. Nelson on President Kimball when it was revealed to Nelson that Kimball would someday become the President of the Church (162-65).

5) His service as the General President of the Sunday School.

6) A priesthood administration given to President Kimball by Dr. Nelson by means of which the Prophet sustained a quick miraculous recovery.

7) Mention of a dream had by President Hugh B. Brown in which he was visited and conversed with Harold B. Lee (who had died a year earlier), the night before the dedication of the Washington DC Temple (188).

8) The miraculous blessing and healing of a dying person (294-95), as well as mention of other miraculous priesthood administrations.

9) Other information that I personally will not mention, that only those who take the time to read it might find and be edified and uplifted by.

Before publication, Elder Nelson wrote that he: “Met for one hour with President Spencer W. Kimball reviewing the contents of this book. He studied it carefully and approved my publishing the chapters referring to my privilege of being his servant and surgeon. He was so happy to see his request honored that the book be written” (389). President Kimball also wrote the foreword, in which he said: “This book, the engaging record of the life and experiences of Russell Marion Nelson, is a fulfillment of a great dream…. This work will bring joy and peace and happiness to its readers.” Also, “It pleases me very much to note that he has done a superb work in assembling the information to bring this book into existence. Seldom are so many pages put together to create a life history so rich and full of experiences as this record…. It seems to me that it has been done beautifully and without flaw.” There is no question that the writing style and tone of the book promote faith.

In the Preface Elder Nelson referred to the frightening experience that jolted him into writing the book: “The final nudge came as I was a passenger in a small airplane plummeting earthward with one of its two engines exploded. I realized then that although both the spiritual and material needs for my family had been provided, I had not left for them a reasonable recapitulation of my life that they could review. The safe emergency landing of that disabled aircraft provided me with the chance I needed.” On January 28, 2009, mention of the scarcity and collectibility of this book was made by a Deseret News columnist, raving about its legendary mystique among book lovers. 

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for doing this, Dennis. A few reactions: First, doing a blog on the history of collectable books is a novel idea and is a terrific contribution to the collectible Mormon book world. I like books that have a story. Second, this post sounds more like a review than a history. Reviews are neither history nor novel. And this book has quite a history. Which brings up a third point. What makes this book unique and command such a price isn't the spiritual experiences. Lots of autobiographies have such stories. What makes Nelson's book unique is that he rather carefully describes the invitation to receive a second annointing (though in less detail than Joseph Bentley's very scarce and collectable autobiography, for example.) That and the limited printing are what makes it a pricey and scarce collectable, IMHO. That said, I'm glad you're doing this and hope you'll share more of the stories about books you've accumulated.

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    1. Keith, thanks for the comments. The Mormon Book Bits will often be a mixture of history, review, and some collecting thoughts, but mostly history. I am aware of the reason you give for the books value, but chose not to mention it because of the sensitivity involved. I am however glad that the book did not have to go through Correlation and remains so candid and delightful and faith-promoting. I hope you enjoy future Mormon Book Bits as they are posted.

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  2. Thanks for a great book nerd idea and review. This is much needed in the collectible Mormon book/ephemera world. Time to Tackle "Mormon Doctrine".

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    1. Mormon Doctrine is being tackled and a Mormon Book Bit will appear on it down the road; that is a fascinating story and one that has been told partially slanted by some--think Prince & Wright.

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  3. Your estimate on publishing numbers is too low. I happen to know of a lucky collector who bought a copy, and tucked inside was a copy of the invoice from the printer listing the number of copies made. I won't divulge it, but you would be surprised.

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  4. As I remember, that number is only my own best guess made years ago, so I am happy to be corrected. I have also had a collector tell me that the book was placed in some temples around the time Dr. Nelson became Elder Nelson. I had never heard that before, but of course, long ago the temples were known for having very nice libraries.

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  5. I have been wanting to read this book forever! Where were you able to find a copy of it? (I'd love to buy it, but I don't really have $800 to drop. Haha!)

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