Customer Reviews for

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

Average Rating 4.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Going where no Joseph Smith bio has gone before

Certainly one of the most difficult of biographical projects is to undertake a controversial religious figure like Joseph Smith. Until this book, Joseph Smith biographies have either been hagiographies or have treated Smith as a charismatic charlatan. The hagiographie...
Certainly one of the most difficult of biographical projects is to undertake a controversial religious figure like Joseph Smith. Until this book, Joseph Smith biographies have either been hagiographies or have treated Smith as a charismatic charlatan. The hagiographies are of little interest to those seeking a reasonably objective and scholarly account. However, the books treating Smith as a charismatic charlatan fail as well, for they offer no understanding of how Smith succeeded in setting up a religion which not only survived but thrived after he was dead. And it is this which makes Smith worth studying. There are more interesting characters than Smith to study if one¿s interest is just debunking a charlatan. It is how Smith succeeded at what Harold Bloom calls ¿religion-making¿ that sets Smith apart. And it is here where Bushman exceeds any other Smith biography ¿ indeed attempts what no other Smith biography attempts. This is to try to understand Joseph Smith as a creator of a new religious worldview. Of course, all of the controversial matters are covered fairly and as completely as space allows in a one volume work. However, this biography also for the first time gives us a realistic portrait of a very human and flawed man who nonetheless behaved as though he was driven by a holy vision, a vision of a saintly commonwealth both in the heavens and on earth ¿ a vision which engaged thousands of his contemporaries and continues to engage millions today.

posted by Anonymous on October 13, 2005

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

Good--but by no means the best biography of Joseph Smith

While Bushman explores aspects of Joseph Smith's life and teachings that have been ignored 'or denied' by most Latter-day Saint apologists, this book must still be considered apologia as opposed to objective, secular history. For instance the fact that Bushman places Jo...
While Bushman explores aspects of Joseph Smith's life and teachings that have been ignored 'or denied' by most Latter-day Saint apologists, this book must still be considered apologia as opposed to objective, secular history. For instance the fact that Bushman places Joseph's famous 'First Vision' account early in his book shows that he accepts the LDS Church claim that the vision not only took place in 1820, but that it also was the inciting incident of Mormon history. However documentary evidence contemporary to the 1820's--not to mention the writings of Joseph himself, and the publications and claims of the Mormon Church itself in the 1830's--indicate that the 'First Vision' account was the product of the late 1830's when it was originally written and published, and that it is a completely fictional account. For instance, contrary to the 'First Vision' account, there were no religious revivals in Palmyra, NY in 1820 nor is there any record anywhere--in either Mormon sources or in non-Mormon sources from the 1820's and early 1830's--that Joseph even claimed to have hada 'first vision' in 1820. 'The First Vision' story, however, was made central to the Utah-based LDS Church's claims regarding Joseph's prophetic calling and the Church's own claim to divine authority around 1906 'following the Congressional investiagtion of the LDS Church during the famous Reed Smoot hearings.'Prior to 1906, few Mormons were familiar with 'the First Vision' story. It played no role whatsoever in Mormonism's missionary outreach during Joseph Smith's life-time. That Bushman gives the story such credit, and places in within his study of Joseph Smith's youth indicates that his premises are not based on objective historical documentation of the period but on his own persoanlly held faith-based assumptions. Despite all of this, Bushman does offer some fascinating and thought-provoking thoughts regarding Joseph Smith. Still were one to read his book with no knowledge of Mormon history and of the vast documentation contemporary with Mormonism's founding decades, one would come away with assumption regarding Mormon history that simply are not supported by fact. By far the best Joseph Smith biography so far published is 'Joseph Smith: The Making of A Prophet' by Dan Vogel 'Signature Books, 2004'. Though Vogel's book only studies Joseph's life until 1831, it is exhaustive in scope and documentation. Many historians have noted that Mormonism differs from religions of more ancient origin since Joseph Smith brought forth a new religion in the age of the printing press and American journalism, the documentation on all aspects of his life and of Mormonism's evolution is enormous. Though Bushman makes use of much of this documentation in his book, unfortunately he simply ignores that vast majority of it since it clearly undermines the claims of the LDS Church.

posted by Anonymous on September 18, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2008

    Good--but by no means the best biography of Joseph Smith

    While Bushman explores aspects of Joseph Smith's life and teachings that have been ignored 'or denied' by most Latter-day Saint apologists, this book must still be considered apologia as opposed to objective, secular history. For instance the fact that Bushman places Joseph's famous 'First Vision' account early in his book shows that he accepts the LDS Church claim that the vision not only took place in 1820, but that it also was the inciting incident of Mormon history. However documentary evidence contemporary to the 1820's--not to mention the writings of Joseph himself, and the publications and claims of the Mormon Church itself in the 1830's--indicate that the 'First Vision' account was the product of the late 1830's when it was originally written and published, and that it is a completely fictional account. For instance, contrary to the 'First Vision' account, there were no religious revivals in Palmyra, NY in 1820 nor is there any record anywhere--in either Mormon sources or in non-Mormon sources from the 1820's and early 1830's--that Joseph even claimed to have hada 'first vision' in 1820. 'The First Vision' story, however, was made central to the Utah-based LDS Church's claims regarding Joseph's prophetic calling and the Church's own claim to divine authority around 1906 'following the Congressional investiagtion of the LDS Church during the famous Reed Smoot hearings.'Prior to 1906, few Mormons were familiar with 'the First Vision' story. It played no role whatsoever in Mormonism's missionary outreach during Joseph Smith's life-time. That Bushman gives the story such credit, and places in within his study of Joseph Smith's youth indicates that his premises are not based on objective historical documentation of the period but on his own persoanlly held faith-based assumptions. Despite all of this, Bushman does offer some fascinating and thought-provoking thoughts regarding Joseph Smith. Still were one to read his book with no knowledge of Mormon history and of the vast documentation contemporary with Mormonism's founding decades, one would come away with assumption regarding Mormon history that simply are not supported by fact. By far the best Joseph Smith biography so far published is 'Joseph Smith: The Making of A Prophet' by Dan Vogel 'Signature Books, 2004'. Though Vogel's book only studies Joseph's life until 1831, it is exhaustive in scope and documentation. Many historians have noted that Mormonism differs from religions of more ancient origin since Joseph Smith brought forth a new religion in the age of the printing press and American journalism, the documentation on all aspects of his life and of Mormonism's evolution is enormous. Though Bushman makes use of much of this documentation in his book, unfortunately he simply ignores that vast majority of it since it clearly undermines the claims of the LDS Church.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2005

    Going where no Joseph Smith bio has gone before

    Certainly one of the most difficult of biographical projects is to undertake a controversial religious figure like Joseph Smith. Until this book, Joseph Smith biographies have either been hagiographies or have treated Smith as a charismatic charlatan. The hagiographies are of little interest to those seeking a reasonably objective and scholarly account. However, the books treating Smith as a charismatic charlatan fail as well, for they offer no understanding of how Smith succeeded in setting up a religion which not only survived but thrived after he was dead. And it is this which makes Smith worth studying. There are more interesting characters than Smith to study if one¿s interest is just debunking a charlatan. It is how Smith succeeded at what Harold Bloom calls ¿religion-making¿ that sets Smith apart. And it is here where Bushman exceeds any other Smith biography ¿ indeed attempts what no other Smith biography attempts. This is to try to understand Joseph Smith as a creator of a new religious worldview. Of course, all of the controversial matters are covered fairly and as completely as space allows in a one volume work. However, this biography also for the first time gives us a realistic portrait of a very human and flawed man who nonetheless behaved as though he was driven by a holy vision, a vision of a saintly commonwealth both in the heavens and on earth ¿ a vision which engaged thousands of his contemporaries and continues to engage millions today.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2007

    A reviewer

    Dr. Bushman has given us a view of Joseph Smith which shows how a young, untutored boy rises to become a major figure in American history. It is filled with how one rises above a poor education and poverty to begin a prophetic calling. Joseph Smith himself said that his name would be known for good and evil throughout the world and his world wide reputation for good will be enhanced by this book for those who will read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2005

    Rough Stone Rolling

    Certainly the most comprehensive and honest history yet compiled about Joseph Smith, this book allows the reader to examine Smith in the light of both etic and emic history. Bushman is not an unbiased storyteller however, as he fails to examine some pivotal details of Joseph Smith's life, ostensibly to allow that he, as well as other beleivers, have a plausible stance in continuing as beleivers, historical warts notwithstanding. Bushman has written in the past about the controversy surrounding the first vision dates of 1920 v 1923, for example, and yet chooses to create a historically linear tale of Smith's accounts of his visions by ignoring this issue. This disappointed me because I purchased the book to specifically to find out how a learned historian would treat this quandary. Furthermore, Bushman's Book of Mormon discussion was somewhat obscure when treating the claimed geography and anthropology of the Book of Mormon, another reason that I purchased the book. Issues like these are central to Joseph Smith's claims, and cannot be given short shrift in a scholarly examination of Smith's life. This book is certainly the best work on Joseph Smith yet, but I for one was disappointed in that it may have been a little too carefully crafted, and is a book clearly designed to appeal to a specific market rather than to settle thorny historical issues once and for all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2005

    Wonderful Biography

    I have read most of the biographies of Joseph Smith, including those of Fawn Brodie, Donna Hill, Robert Remini, and various apologetics. Rough Stone Rolling stands far above these in its objectivity, depth of analysis, and comprehensiveness. Regardless of his or her religious views or affiliations, the reader will feel the subject, and the various issues and arguments on both sides, have been treated and weighed thoroughly and fairly. The prose style is clear and engaging and may be the work's greatest attribute. This is a towering work that will last for decades.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2014

    Excellent book, well-written, balanced and handily compares the

    Excellent book, well-written, balanced and handily compares the events of Joseph Smith's life to local culture. That said DO NOT BUY THE NOOK BOOK. The index and notes are NOT linked. The note references in the "back" of the Nook book are therefore unusable. Stick to the printed work! I complained to Barnes & Noble customer service (apparently in India) and was told it was a technical issue. I complained to Tech Support and was told it was a publisher's issue. The book cannot be returned, so don't waste your money. Book = 5 stars, Nook Book = 1 star.

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  • Posted October 30, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    In Depth Work..

    Dr. Bushman has provided one of the most thorough and in depth studies of the life of Joseph Smith. Knowing the author was LDS did bring some questions as to how balanced it would be. But Bushman has written an excellent and balanced account of JS. Having read other writings that were intended to be a biography of JS, Bushman's is far superior in its breadth and coverage. This is a volume that any who are seeking an in depth and thorough look at Joseph Smith ought to have.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2008

    A Balanced Look

    RSR presents one of the most balanced looks in to the life of Joseph Smith. As a religious studies student, I enjoyed seeing arguments for and against Joseph. Bushman offers a fairly thorough look at how Joseph went from a boy to a martyr. This work is by far superior to many so called 'biographies' on the life of Joseph Smith.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2007

    A reviewer

    Bushman is not only exquisitely insightful in his biography on the The Prophet Joseph Smith, but very accurate and clear, by a historical means, about the founding of America's religion that thousands quickly embraced and scores just as quick opposed. To me the reading was a roller coaster ride than gradually climbed towards the heavens. It clearly humanizes an unpolished boy and illustrates, without LDS propaganda 'Bushman is LDS!', how he rose through the ranks of opposition to be revered and honored as America's Prophet. I found the book exhilerating and very thought provoking. I recommend this book to anyone who truly and honestly wants to thoroughly educate themselves on a very contraversioul who to some is thought of as the resotorer of God's true Church and others who see him as blatently preposterous. Read this book and decide for yourself.

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