On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diaryby Richard Lyman Bushman
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After living with Joseph Smith for seven years, biographer Richard Lyman Bushman went "on the road" for a year. After delivering the final proofs of his landmark study, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling to Knopf in July 2005, Bushman crisscrossed the country from coast to coast, delivering numerous addresses on Joseph Smith at scholarly conferences, academic symposia, and firesides. This candid memoir concludes eleven months later with an article written for Common-Place in August 2006.
Bushman confesses to hope and humility, an unexpected numbness when he expected moments of triumph, and genuine apprehension as he awaited reviews. He frets at the polarization that dismissed the book as either too hard on Joseph Smith or too easy. He yields to a very human compulsion to check sales figures on amazon.com, but partway through the process steps back with the recognition, "The book seems to be cutting its own path now, just as [I] hoped." His favorite review was "not . . . filled with praise, but it seemed to understand what I was up to."
For readers coming to grips with the ongoing puzzle of the Prophet and the troublesome dimensions of their own faith, Richard Bushman, a temple sealer and stake patriarch but also a prize-winning scholar, openly but not insistently presents himself as a believer. "I believe enough to take Joseph Smith seriously," he says. He draws comfort both from what he calls his "mantra" ("Today I will be a follower of Jesus Christ") and also from ongoing engagement with the intellectual challenges of explaining Joseph Smith. "I personally think it is never good to let problems like this swim vaguely around in your head," he encourages one disturbed reader. "Take the top three and write them down. . . . Be sure you get all the facts right. . . . Ask yourself, Why does this seem contrary to what a prophet would do? . . . At the same time, . . . be fair. . . . Don't let your feelings swamp you." Bushman sets the example of how to do it.
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Meet the Author
Richard Lyman Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, at Columbia University, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University. He has also taught at Brigham Young University, Boston University, and the University of Delaware. He is the author of numerous books for which he has received several awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Evans Biography Award, and the 2006 Best Book by the Mormon History Association. He and his wife, Claudia, live in New York City.
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