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While many “experts” continue to view Joseph Smith as a controversial figure, renowned scholar (and Latter-day Saint) Richard Bushman locates Joseph in his historical and cultural context, fleshing out the many nuances of nineteenth-century American life that produced such a fertile ground for emerging religions. While this book stands in the intersection of faith and scholarship, it does not avoid the problematic aspects of Smith's life and work, such as his practice of polygamy, his early attempts at treasure-seeking, and his later political aspirations. In the end, Smith emerges as a genuine American phenomenon, a man driven by inspiration but not unaffected by his cultural context.
About the Author
Richard J. Bushman a general editor of The Joseph Smith Papers along with Ronald K. Esplin and Dean C. Jessee, is Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. He has been appointed Howard W. Hunter visiting professor at Claremont Graduate University for 2008–2009. He received his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University. He taught at Brigham Young University, Boston University, and the University of Delaware before joining the Columbia faculty. His published works include From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690–1765 (1967), King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985), and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992). He has served as president of the Mormon History Association and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.
A disservice to the Smith Family
by Customer - reviewed on July 14, 2006
Bushman obviously spent much time in researching for this book however he was seduced by the anti-authors whom he copiously quotes and footnotes. He was obviously trying to have his book accepted by the academic world and wrote for that audience. He took the comments from neighbors and the trends of the time and attributed them to Joseph and his family. He states the Smith's had a 'psychologically crippled child' and he states Father Smith was useless and the family had rejected him, which nothing could be further from the truth. Father Smith was a Spiritual giant as recorded by contemporaries, etc. Regarding the charge of an affair in Kirtland, he states there is no evidence or written record of the person being named but then spends pages quoting anti-authors as to who the lady was and that it did happen. He spends many pages in his book citing and 'proving' the negative aspects and ascribing such to Joseph and his family but then comes back in a few short sentences saying...'but he was a Prophet.' He took the very comments Joseph says were being falsely circulated about his family and sets out to say they are true because it then makes the Smith family 'fit' in and be like their neighbors. The point is they were not and that is why the Lord could use them and why they were persecuted. This book does a real injustice to the Smith family and to Joseph. I cannot recommend this book.
I strongly recommend this book.
by Tim - reviewed on January 13, 2008
This book has been controversial because of its varied acceptance in the LDS community. Perhaps I expected more because of all of the hype. While I didn't read this book in hopes that all controversial issues would be the focus, I did read it hoping that they would be addressed at least more sufficiently than they were. Where detail may be lacking in significant events in Joseph's life, he does an excellent job in filling in gaps between these events. He provides a more clear window into the life and humanity of Joseph Smith, and shows Joseph growing into his prophetic roll, as a 'rough stone rolling.' His research is reflected strongly in his book, and where Bushman is well researched, his biography is profoundly articulate. The perspectives he brings to the table are unique on many subjects, and almost turns historian-apologist in some places. I couldn't imagine some of the points that he makes to be more clear, precise, and profound than they are. Where Bushman is on, he is dead on. When he strikes gold, it is the pirates treasure trove. Overall, despite my complaints, I recommend this book. While I have my own complaints, I believe that any study on Joseph Smith would be incomplete without having read this book.
One of the best!
by Customer - reviewed on December 19, 2005
Excellent! This and Lucy Mack Smith's history on Joseph Smith should be read by all Joseph Smith enthusiasts.
A thorough exploration of the life of Joseph Smith.
by Garth - reviewed on March 13, 2006
I appreciated the thoroughness of Dr. Bushman's research and his willingness to explore all aspects of Joseph Smith and his relationships with his family and associates. That being said, I must also say that I had one overarching concern while I read this book. Namely, I thought that many of Dr.Bushman's attributions, interpretations, and assumptions, in large measure, did not adequately portray or convey Joseph's prophetic mantle, ministry, and mission. But let me reiterate that I definitely respect the level of scholarship it took to produce a book of this caliber.
by cameron - reviewed on December 24, 2006
I see the book as a manifestation of what historians do. They do not make judgement calls. Is Joseph a prophet? Is what he what did right or wrong? Is it all true? Not the historians problem. Bushman just gives what happened and tries to portray Joseph through the manuscripts. I think most critics of this book are viewing Joseph as he exists beyond the manuscripts, personal Holy Ghost given testimony. History is about telling us Jospeh as a man, Church, theology, spiritual experience are telling us Joseph as a Prophet.
by Customer - reviewed on July 24, 2006
I have felt for years that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, but I had a lot of questions about his life. I did not feel like I knew who Joseph Smith was or why his critics attacked him. I often could not help wondering in the back of my mind if there might be some merit to their claims. Bushman has presented the facts clearly. His research is impecable and as objective as a believer can be. He answered my questions about aspects of Joseph Smith's life that today would seem strange, or controversial. I now feel like I understand much better Joseph's talents, gifts, personality, and family. I am amazed at the work that the Lord was able to do through him despite the chaos of the times and circumstances. I know now much more surely than before that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the doctrines revealed through him truly were of God. The truths of the gospel that I love so much were revealed through a man who sought to do the Lord's will in all things.
A Gospel Classic
by Nick - reviewed on March 20, 2007
It will not be very long before this book is in the homes, minds, and bookshelves of the majority of Saints who are interested in learning about Church History. Rarely does a book come along that not only is true to the Historical aspect of biographies (where they just tell things like it is, and that's it), but also appeals to the spiritual, inspirational side as well. Bushman shows Joseph in his true colors as an imperfect person like ourselves, the only difference is he had a Prophetic calling. It feels like you grow up with young Joseph as he tries to figure out his place in the plan of the Father while still trying to grow up in the first place. My favorite chapters in the book are the ones about the Book of Mormon, Moses, Enoch and Joseph, and then the one about polygamy. No one has ever written with such clarity on such 'controversial' aspects of Joseph's life like Brother Bushman does. Out of the many hundreds of religion-related, books I have read, I would rank this as my second favorite--The infinite Atonment being first.
A wolf in sheep's clothing.
by Martin - reviewed on September 07, 2007
If you have any desire to read this, it would be better to read The Myth Makers by Hugh Nibley first. For Nibley is by far a superior and more recognized scholar, not only in LDS circles, but also one of the most respected scholar/author's in the world. He touches on similar subjects with clarity and both deep scholastic knowledge and his references are taken from his own research from original sources, not relying on the work of others as this book often does.
This book brought me back to the Church
by Theodore - reviewed on September 17, 2008
I came across this book while I was estranged from the Church due to my own moral failings. I didn't see the simpleness and the complexity of the Gospel and its messenger until I had read this book. When I was first converted to the gospel, it was because of the testimony of Joseph Smith, and through the diligence of academic thought Bushman utilizes (I am a trained historian myself), I became convinced again of the Lord's divine restoration. This is a profound and complicated work sure to cause controversy with some of it's assumptions and conclusions, but I would exect nothing less written about a man whose experiences have changed the face of modern Christianity.
by Customer - reviewed on July 02, 2009
The author is a Harvard Ph.D historian and a believing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This book presents a detailed historical analysis of Joseph Smith. The book does not seek to increase or destroy the reader's testimony. It just seeks to tell the historical story of Joseph Smith as it happened. The author leaves nothing out - any events or details about Joseph Smith, whether controversial or not, are explained, and the reader is left to make his/her own assumptions. A must read for any believing Latter-Day Saint, but a fair warning: this is not a "black and white" testimony that some teary-eyed ward member gives on Fast Sunday. If your testimony is based all on the heart and nothing from the mind and nothing from rational thought, you might have a hard time with this book. However, given the historical facts, one must deal with this information about Joseph Smith sooner or later. Personally, I embrace all the truth about the Prophet Joseph Smith, and this book did increase my admiration of him, and my testimony. It might not do that for you.
Solid, scholarly study on Joseph's life
by Ryan - reviewed on September 02, 2010
This is likely the best historical and balanced study on Joseph Smith's life in print. Richard Bushman as a historian strives for greater historical objectivity than is available from many other works about the Prophet, yet maintains his position as a faithful member with an active testimony (Bushman is a current patriarch and former Stake President). It does not shirk from providing a comprehensive view of the Prophet, including many facets that made Joseph human. This is not the "Primary" version of Joseph's history -- those having no interest in the human side of Joseph or those unable to tolerate some of puzzling aspects of early Church history (including plural marriage) may be better served by other books that take a more selective approach. However, those genuinely interested in a full rendering of the man and Prophet can find no better volume.
Succesfully walks the academic line without tarring and feathering Joseph Smith
by Chris - reviewed on April 28, 2010
Although some have used Bushman's biography as a scapegoat to leave the church, any damage done by this book is simply due to unrealistic expectations of Joesph Smith. Bushman presents an honest and fair portrait of the Prophet, admitting his bias as a church member, and explores not only Smith's life through letters, journals, and the accounts of others, but discusses key doctrines of the restoration as outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants. I find the academic approach refreshing and I don't feel Bushman reveals anything about Smith's life for shock value (as many others do), nor does he sympathize with anti-mormon views; rather, he builds credibility by including multiple perspectives, both positive and negative. Ultimately, Bushman prevails because he presents multiple views of the prophet, demands for an in depth look at Smith's life, and lets the reader decide for themselves.
A hard read, but a MUST read.
by spence - reviewed on November 18, 2010
As a missionary serving in the south I was confronted with anti-mormon literature constantly from people of other faiths. Although I did not let it get to me in the beginning I began to have a desire to really have a better historical knowledge of the PROPHET Joseph Smith. I have read many books about the prophet, each finding some new aspect or insight into his life but I must say this book presents a historical perspective unlike any other book about the prophet. Bushman does quote many other authors, even Anti-Mormons in the perspective times, but it allows for the reader to be taken back into a completely different time and understanding of America and its culture as well as an understanding of Joseph's pressures as an untutored boy rising to greatness. A sometimes hard read but I recommend the book because it answered questions for me that could only be answered the way Bushman does. Joseph Smith was indeed a rough stone rolling and was sculpted from an obscure boy to become a mighty prophet of God.
by John - reviewed on March 21, 2011
It's was an amazing journey reading this book. I got to know the real Joseph Smith, the flawed man. We've all received accounts of Joseph Smith throughout our lives. These accounts were subject to the interpretations and failings of those who gave us those accounts. Because of this, we usually get a very romantic account of Joseph’s life, making us believe that he was super human somehow. I know I based my testimony on many of those stories. This book will give you the real Joseph Smith and allow you to contrast that knowledge with what you were taught as a child. It will affect your testimony, and you will have to rebuild it based upon the new knowledge you will receive. Then, your testimony will be built upon the real Joseph Smith, and not on the highly romanticized versions you heard as a child. Don’t be afraid of truth! It will allow you to get even closer to our faith and its principles.
Deserves 10 Stars
by Customer - reviewed on April 30, 2011
I'm so happy Deseret Book carries this book. I've read this book twice, and it's really helped me understand and appreciate Joseph Smith: the human being who was also a prophet. Thanks Richard Bushman! I hope the lesson manuals at church start to reflect this sort of history. I think it would help a lot of people who are silently dealing with hard questions.
A Great History!
by David - reviewed on February 23, 2013
I have read through this book twice and every time I opened the book I learned something new that expanded my testimony and opened me up to new areas of study. This is a history book. I would not recommend this to everyone. If you want a testimony of the Prophetic call of Joseph Smith, there are many other books that will instill that testimony. Once you have a testimony of that truth, this book will strengthen your understanding of how he came to be the great man that he was. 5 Stars for sure.
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