I have posted a couple of discussions of chapters from David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (chapter 10 on the LDS missionary program and chapter 12 on Communism). This final post will give an overview of some of the remaining chapters and an overall assessment of this excellent biography.
There are 16 chapters in the book, each covering a different historical or institutional topic from the McKay era (he was President of the Church from 1951 to 1970; here's a short biography of McKay). Chapter 7, "Correlation and Church Administration," is a historical treatment of Correlation, now an acknowledged force in LDS church governance. The problem that emerged while McKay was President was the feeling by LDS leaders that LDS auxiliaries had become too independent. The solution was to bring the auxiliaries under the direct supervision of the Twelve, by way of various priesthood or correlation committees composed of groups of apostles. Harold B. Lee was a moving force in making this change happen, but McKay fully supported it. Paul H. Dunn played a role as well: his 1960 doctoral dissertation, a careful comparison between what LDS leaders declared should be taught and what was actually taught in LDS programs, was a real eye-opener for Harold B. Lee and others. Ironically, Dunn is quoted in the final page of the chapter as explaining how Correlation has now gone well beyond the original plan of McKay and Lee to become an independent force of its own.
Chapter 3, "Free Agency and Tolerance," might have been titled "Maverick Leaders and Academic Dissenters." Most of the chapter recounts the challenges posed by five episodes: (1) Joseph Fielding Smith's publication of Man, His Origin and Destiny, which adopted a harshly anti-evolutionary line out of harmony with earlier moderate LDS positions; (2) Bruce R. McConkie's publication of Mormon Doctrine, which placed a long-lasting conservative, even fundamentalist, stamp on LDS doctrine despite the fact that the book was not read in advance or approved by senior LDS leaders and was deemed by them (privately, after publication) to be riddled with doctrinal misstatements and errors; (3) Juanita Brooks' publication of The Mountain Meadows Massacre; (4) Sterling McMurrin's curious friendship with McKay; and (5) Fawn McKay Brodie's publication of No Man Knows My History. This was one of the most interesting chapters of the book for me. I found McKay's hands-off approach to the determined actions of Smith and McConkie to be troubling. Had he acted more forcefully, we'd have a different church today.
Several other chapters deserve comment: on blacks and the priesthood; on temple building; on the Church and politics. I guess you'll just have to read them for yourself.
Overall, the strength of the book is its access to and use of previously unpublished material compiled over the years by McKay's private secretary (journals, and scrapbooks full of newspaper and media articles) and from hundreds of interviews the authors conducted with various individuals, including LDS leaders, family members, and individuals who were involved with the many events covered in the topical chapters. The weakness of the book is that there is little discussion of links or correlation between the carefully recounted LDS developments and what else was going on in the United States or the world generally, whether developments in other denominations (say with missionary work) or in secular society (say with anti-Communism). Someday a cultural historian in the Bushman mold will take Rise of Modern Mormonism as a point of departure and tell that broader story.
As a final comment, note that the book was published by the University of Utah Press, which has not been a real player in Mormon Studies in recent years. I have heard Prince state that the unexpectedly warm reception his book has received has led the U of U Press to be interested in other books on 20th-century Mormon history. So keep an eye on their Mormon Studies section.