Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Rough Stone Rolling

I posted this book review on another site last year but I just wanted post it here too.

My Review of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Lyman Bushman

Most of the church histories that I have read fall into one of two categories. Those written by anti-Mormons with an ax to grind that focus in on the salacious details and freely use any source at all to get those details. Or those written and published with the official sanction of the Church that so whitewash the blemishes of the history that they are reduced to simply faith promoting narratives. Bushman’s book does not fall into either category.

Being an active member and also a professional historian he was able to create the most realistic Joseph that I have ever read about. His membership allowed him unprecedented access to the Church archives. The narrative is full of very faith promoting stories that have been absent the officially sanctioned works because the stories happened during the mist of controversies that have been swept under the rug. These stories were also absent in the anti-Mormon books because they did not fit their agenda.

Bushman does not dance around any of the controversial issues that surround Joseph. He analyzes every one of them. Frequently he goes into great detail and has impeccable sourcing. He addresses even the most baseless claims of the anti-Mormon books and tries to establish how they may have come to their conclusion. His incredibly fair and even handed approach to all of the claims lend the reader to believe him when he says things like, So-and-so claimed that Joseph did X, Y, and Z but I have not been able to find any source for this claim.

My only serious criticism is that the book seems to assume that you already have read several other books on Joseph. This did not bother me too much because I have. He frequently references claims made by other biographers and if you haven’t read those biographies you might be a little lost at some points. He also assumes you know the basic timeline of Joseph’s life and jumps around along the timeline to make many of his points. Sometimes this is a little annoying and hard to follow. I imagine it could be very frustrating for somebody who is not more familiar with the timeline.

Personally, I still have many struggles attempting to understand the issues surrounding Joseph Smith, especially the last few years of his life. I find the whitewashed histories published by the church to be so utterly without substance that I have to force myself to continue. The Anti-Mormon histories are so bitter and one-sided that they just aggravate me. This book is exactly what I needed, a fair relatively unbiased biography that examines the incredible life of Joseph Smith without feeling the need to remove all of his warts.

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