This book was one the easiest to read on the subject of the LDS church history. Bushman is able to give a thorough and well documented history, without the "sanitising filter" so often applied by Mormon historians. He is not afraid to quote non favourable sources and yet is able to put the reader as ease over less talked about issues. I was impressed with both the research presented and the style of writing used. Bushman has obviously spent a lot of time and energy sourcing material for this book and yet presents it like a captivating novel. This was both an enjoyable read and yet at the same time extremely informing. The book starts with the family histories of both Joseph Smith's grandparents, and ends in the year 1831, when the general church membership make the move to Kirtland, Ohio. I assume this was to be the first in a series of books to be written. I look forward to reading "Rough Stone Rolling" by the same author to see how he tackles the post 1831 history. I highly recommend this book to anyone serious about church history - member and non-member alike.
Good book on Joseph Smith's early life
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
Richard L. Bushman is possibly the best historian on the subject of the Mormons. This book is thoroughly documented. Bushman focuses very much on the culture that Joseph Smith grew up in, he duscusses Joseph Smiths parents and grandparents on how they may have influenced him. Bushman is very honest and objective in his approach to the early life Joseph Smith. Bushman does not get caught up in verifying or disproving the claims of Joseph Smith. Bushman just states the facts and interprets when necessary. Richard Bushman is writing a full biography about Joseph Smith which I believe will become the definitive biography of Joseph Smith. Bushman also gives a very fair explanation on the Book of Mormon which is the most important work by Joseph Smith. I would also recomend reading "Joseph Smith: the Making of a Prophet" by Dan Vogel which covers the same period of Smith's life.
Fair and fascinating history of Joseph Smith and the early LDS Church
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
Bushman, a member of the LDS Church, writes this history of Joseph Smith from Smith's early years through 1831, one year after the founding of the Church. The book starts off slow, with a detailed history of the Smith family moving from place to place. The first two chapters have a few too many lists describing each town: "An 1824 gazeteer credited the town with three gristmills, eight sawmills, one fulling mill, an iron works, five distilleries..." (p. 45). But the book picks up halfway through chapter two, when we encounter Joseph Smith's first spiritual manifestation. Bushman deals with the spiritual events perfectly: he describes them in the words of the individuals who experience the events, and then he provides extensive cultural context. For example, he explains that the negative reaction of local clergy to Joseph's first vision may well have been because others claimed similar visions around the same time, often justifying a departure in doctrine from established religion. He explains that while Joseph Smith did have a seerstone, such objects were not uncommon among the mixture of magic and religion that prevailed in the day. The book is wonderfully documented, and many of the footnotes in the back provide additional insights. The book also provides sources for certain stories that I have heard circulating in the LDS Church without knowing where they came from. For example, David Whitmer is our source for the story of Joseph Smith being unable to translate while being annoyed at his wife (p. 104). The chronology of events is occasionally confusing because Bushman discusses everything about the Book of Mormon and then jumps back in time as he treats everything about the organization of the Church, but this is a minor (and probably unavoidable) drawback. This book is an informative and inspiring read, and I'm glad to have it as a reference in my collection. I look forward to reading Bushman's full biography of Joseph Smith, due out in September 2005.
A fair and important book
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 22 years ago
Bushman truly lives up to his reputation as a historian with this book. This work is both fair and engrossing, and it seems a very even way to learn about a man who was important in both helping to define American religious feeling and adding yet another dimension to the dynamic world of the early American republic. Another reviewer on this site declared Bushman's insights as dry, politically correct, and biased. This review demonstrated an amateur approach to history. As an academic historian, Bushman tries and succeeds to weigh all facts and give a needed view of Joseph Smith. Bushman is not the first professional historian to write a serious work for his peers about the history of his own faith, although he may be one of the first Mormon to do so. As any conscientious historian writing from such a perspective, he admits to his reader his biases and how he dealt with them to offer an accurate portrait of Joseph Smith. "Obsessively footnoted," said that reviewer. Spare me. That's what professional historians do. A person glancing at those footnotes would see how Bushman's thorough use of sources has helped him be a judicious historian. Read this book. It's a great read and a very important contribution.
Focused and objective examination of Mormonism's origins
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 26 years ago
Richard L. Bushman's book, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, presents an in-depth look at the Smith family, the start of the Mormon religion, and some of its early doctrines and foundations. Bushman's text addresses interesting ideas: the influence of the New England society and revivalism, Joseph Smith's application of religious skepticism and values inherited from his relatives, causes and explanations for the birth of some anti-Mormon factions, contemporary reflection on Smith's character, early history of the church, and refutation for some arguments against Smith and the church. Bushman's thorough analysis of Joseph Smith and the early church is placed in the context of early 19th century American culture. Bushman, a practicing Mormon, obviously possesses a bias toward Mormonism. Bushman does not attempt to disguise his religious affiliation; yet, I never felt that Bushman gave an apologetic narrative or tried to justify Smith's claims or Mormonism's history. The book seems remarkably objective and well-researched and Bushman does not shy away from controversial topics or derogatory critiques. As he explains in his introduction, he treats Smith's claims as reality, allowing the individual reader to decide whether these experiences are true. This method enabled Bushman to approach Mormon history from a more open perspective than most readers are used to, and we can visualize Smith in a complete portrait. Bushman's work helps me understand Smith as a human being, not as a saint or a charlatan. Bushman's thesis explains Smith and Mormonism as both a product of and reaction against his environment. Bushman is not attempting to validate Mormonism, nor provide a routine recitation of LDS history. Neither is he attacking its assumptions nor its key founders.
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