Simply, one of the greatest books I have ever read! As an a active LDS convert for the past 25 years, I have read hundreds of LDS commentaries and histories. Having been confronted with anti material right before my baptism, I began and have continued to read voraciously books of those for or against the Church. There are reasonable, faithful answers out there for the questions members and non-members have.
Dr. Bushman (who is an active member of the church) writes (in my opinion) an objective work on the life of the Prophet Joseph. Prophets are fully human but divinely called of God. If one thinks Dr. Bushman is providing fuel for the enemy, he wrote, "The problem with the fuel-for-enemies objection is that the fuel is already there. I don't provide it. We have to deal with it or it will be used against us."
He also said, "I worry about the young Latter-day Saints who learn only about the saintly Joseph and are shocked to discover his failings. The problem is that they may lose faith in the entire teaching system that brought them along. If their teachers covered up Joseph Smith's flaws, what else are they hiding?"'
Again, this book increased my testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the prophetic call of the Lord's prophet who was to usher in the dispensation of the fulness of times, the Prophet Joseph Smith.
This book reminds me of a newspaper describing someone saving a child from drowning thus... a man interrupted a quiet pool party at a deluxe outdoor restaurant, First he yelled then he ran over to the pool fuuly, knocked over the waiters tray and food on to the lap of the owners wife, knocked her purse into the pool then jumped in fully clothed and took a small child out of the water. In other words a very innavurate history of the life of Joseph Smith. That which does edify is darkness. This book is clever dark and altogether unedifying.
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.
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.
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.
If you would like a book that uses much speculation, and broad suppositions to try to show how human, weak, and fallible Joseph Smith and his family were, then this is the book for you. On the other hand, if you would like your faith and knowledge of Joseph Smith and his divine roll and heritage to increase, I would read "The History of Joseph Smith", by Lucy Mack Smith, or "History of the Church" by Joseph Smith, or http://www.josephsmithforum.org/research/faqs/. I would agree with President Packer, who spoke of the dangers of trying to prove that the prophets are only men. Richard Bushman would definitely fit into that category.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Excellent! This and Lucy Mack Smith's history on Joseph Smith should be read by all Joseph Smith enthusiasts.