Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

by Richard L. Bushman


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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 L. Bushman

Richard L. 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.

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Average rating:

(based upon 20 reviews)

Rough read
By , Submitted on 2017-02-07

One could argue this is a well researched, honest portrayal, written by a scholar of impeccable integrity, that also qualifies as an anti-Mormon book - or at least anti your father's Mormon church. This is not the history of your father's Mormon church as there are many aspects your father would have scoffed at. It is a history that is bound to change you if you are a church member. Whatever those changes, they will in a large measure define who you are.
My biggest frustration was in not having explanations from Joseph on some of the most important aspects of his history.
I found new meaning in the book's title. This is an uncomfortable read. And as the gospel rolls forth as a stone cut from the mountain without hands, there will be some rough aspects to deal with.

Don't heed the naysayers
By , Submitted on 2016-08-09

Do NOT base your purchase on the words of those who rate this book at a one or two star rating. This book is gold. A reader has failed to capture the arguments of Dr. Bushman if they think he's trying to present Joseph in a negative light. These people are stuck in the false paradigm that Joseph and his family had to have been perfect, although the church clearly doesn't make any similar statements. He was imperfect, and that's fine. His imperfections don't detract from his holy prophethood.

This book actually argues in Joseph's behalf despite his imperfections. Controversial topics from his life are explained through a cultural lense, proving that Joseph was as much a product of his culture as Moses would have been a polytheistic product of Egypt, and had to change his ways and beliefs when he received the truth.

If you are willing to read carefully and faithfully, this is the best book on Joseph Smith available to you. It provides more information about Joseph's life and work than Lucy Mack Smith's history--which barely provides the framework to Joseph's prophethood and work. It provides broader perspective of Joseph as a man than George Cannon's biography--which is considered by many as the best resource on the details of Joseph's labors. And it gives enough chronological understanding to enable a serious reader to put the Joseph Smith Papers into their proper contexts.

My only warning is the following: I don't view this book as a median for obtaining a testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet. That "median" is the scriptural canon--particularly the Book of Mormon. I imagine this book is only faith-promoting to those who have studied the scriptures (particularly the Old Testament) and are capable of grasping the concept and truth that God qualifies those who He calls--as our current leaders have taught so wonderfully--and that He works in mysterious ways to bring forth His kingdom.

A portrait of a human being who was called to be a prophet, not a god serving time on Earth...
By , Submitted on 2016-06-14

Very intriguing and well written. Dr. Bushman's portrait of Joseph Smith gave this prophet of the restoration some much needed dimension. Far less than the relative demigod he is often portrayed as in church materials, Joseph was a man, as imperfect as every other man, and every other prophet ever called. He had some wholly human faults that didn't help the church at times, but he was also an extremely giving and compassionate man that tried to do what he felt he should. Results were not always positive, and for much of his life, debt was an ever present noose about his (and the church's) neck.

I found Bushman's account to be extraordinarily even handed, full of criticism, extrapolation, and understanding. I greatly appreciated the contextual details he gave to the period, and was shocked and amazed by some things, such as how citizens' Constitutional rights could be so severely trod upon in favor of states' rights, and how early on the party system became corrupted in the U.S.

All LDS church members should read this book to better understand the restoration and the origins of our faith, and the man who started it all.

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