Life is never quite what is portrayed in inspirational books about famous people's experiences. One aspect that is rarely told about President Clark's life is his near-embrace of atheism in the 1920s. This period of his intellectual development is interesting and informative and ultimately as inspirational as Clark's conclusion that belief may be irrational but is essential. If nothing else, one admires the future church leader's rigor and honesty in exploring the fringes of faith. One also admires his biographer for the even-handed, frank treatment of the subject. Clark's commitment to a successful career similarly came at a sacrifice in other areas of his life. He chose work over family whenever the option presented itself.
Two issues that stand at the forefront of Clark's headstrong manner are his views on pacifism and race. Both were significant to his overall world view and have much to say about the complexity of the issues and about the fallibility of human judgment.
For most of his life, Clark was a military enthusiast. He served as the assistant Judge Advocate General during World War I and earned the Distinguished Service Medal. But he changed his mind and thereafter became known as fiercely anti-war. When the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Clark accused his nation of barbarism and said that it had forfeited its right ever again to speak with moral authority in the world. That he also distrusted American propaganda and was sympathetic to National Socialism may come as a surprise to some readers.
Similarly, readers may shudder to learn of Clark's views on race. He was partly responsible for the LDS Hospital's segreation of the blood of "whites" and "Negroes," his logic being that since anyone with as little as "one drop" of African blood was ineligible for LDS priesthood ordination, a transfusion from a black donor to a white recipient would render the latter incapable of exercising priesthood authority. Such a racist view—in part a reflection of the time—is tempered by the disclosure that Clark was one of the first among the church leadership to advocate steps toward giving blacks the priesthood.
Other ideological quandaries and soul-searching on Clark's part could be enumerated, but suffice it to say that anyone who picks up this volume will live Reuben's life with him. One may not ultimately understand why Clark said or did what he did in every instance, but there is a palpable sense of a life lived—with all the quirks and ironies that real lives are made of. Elder Statesman speaks to larger issues, but the spotlight remains on the man himself; readers are left to draw their own conclusions about whether Clark was a hero or villain in any given circumstance.