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Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: Finding God in the Unlikeliest of Places

3.05 of 5 stars 3.05  ·  rating details  ·  64 ratings  ·  26 reviews
When award-winning documentary film writer Jane Barnes was working on the PBS Frontline/American Experience special series "The Mormons," she was surprised to find herself passionately drawn to Joseph Smith. The product of an Episcopalian, "WASPy" family, she couldn't remember ever having met a Mormon before her work on the series--much less having dallied with the idea of...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 16th 2012 by Tarcher
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This is a rare find. The book is part memoir and part historical yet they can not be separated. The reason I found this book so wonderful is that the author has no agenda. Far too often in secular publishing, the goal of the book is to discount Joseph Smith and/or Mormonism. On the other side of the equation is the publishing company, Deseret Book which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What I was really wanted to read was an objective view of the LDS church. As object...more
Red Ferry
A fascinating and funny tale of a woman searching for faith, thinking she may have found it in the Mormon church after writing and researching Joseph Smith while working on the fascinating PBS series on the Mormons. As she searches for deeper meaning in her life she takes us along. I really identified with her difficulty in embracing faith, that is a powerful belief that is unquestioning, when all your life is about questioning and wanting proof and being totally unable to relinquish that. Concu...more
Idiosyncratic and unfocused, Barnes’s account is part prattling confessional, part foggy revisionist historiography.
Megan Gery
Mar 27, 2014 Megan Gery rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: LDS members, scholars, and sceptics
I loved this book, largely because Jane (in my head we're already best buds) is so unabashedly open about her feelings and experiences. She has managed to offend Mormons and non-Mormons equally with her candor as she tries to really understand Joseph Smith the person, instead of just Joseph Smith the prophet. Her writing is equal parts charming and eloquent, and I find her genuine search for truth so compelling that I was rooting her on in her quest, ***SPOILER***and I felt a personal loss when...more
In this autobiographical biography of Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet, writer Jane Barnes presents an overview of Smith's life intertwined with her own life experiences of love, loss and death. Barnes became acquainted with Mormonism largely through her work on the PBS documentary, The Mormons. Hearing stories about Joseph Smith, researching the works of Fawn Brodie and Richard Bushman, meeting with the LDS missionaries, all of these things drew out Barnes's deeply felt religious need (261). She...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. The author calls it an "autobiographical biography" of Joseph Smith, but it is more than that, too. She doesn't just tell the story of Joseph and her life, but also the lives of her ancestors and how they interacted with Joseph. Barnes weaves her near conversion story with Joseph's story and even throws in Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, fictional foils for Joseph's early years as up-and-coming prophet. I'm still processing how I feel about this approach to Smith...more
Nov 23, 2012 Vilo rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
I did not expect to like this book, but Ms. Barnes is so honest about herself and about the influence of the prophet Joseph Smith's unlikely life upon her that I liked it a lot. Ms. Barnes is one of the main creative forces behind the PBS production THE MORMONS. She includes it all--rumor and guesswork and fantasy--but just as Joseph Smith's life and personality charmed her, the book charmed me. One thing that I liked is that her descriptions of unlikely encounters with divine providence (having...more
Wendy Terrien
This is a review of the "uncorrected manuscript for limited distribution."

I was very interested in reading this book. Having grown up in Salt Lake City as a non-Mormon, I was curious about what would bring this woman to a place, in her adult life, where she decided to convert to Mormonism.

Sadly, I was disappointed in the read from the very first pages. The author is already fascinated by Joseph Smith and has been since she was a little girl. At least I think that's what she said - I was a bit c...more
Jane Barnes begins the novel about her effort to discover who Joseph Smith was, by describing him as a playful prophet, largely illiterate. At various times in his life, he has told and written many different versions of his meetings with G-d, Christ and the angel Moroni. At some point, he even admits to lying. He began his visions in 1932, and there were 7 incantations, but the 1938 version is the accepted Book of Mormon. He supposedly translated it from what he read inside his hat. Barnes beli...more
Stewart Clarke
Let me begin by stating that I am a faithful Latter-day Saint. I picked up this book and read it through relatively quickly. I had to keep turning e pages. At times I thought this book is five stars, other times, only one. I mistakenly assumed by reading the cover comments that Jane Barnes ended up converting, this was what actually interested me the most. Once I realized this was not the case, I worried that her comments, or "Love" of Joseph Smith would come across as patronizing to those of us...more
Brooke Berry
I find this book interesting. The author tackles the idea of Joseph Smith and the pioneers and has the complete polar opposite reaction that most Americans do. She likes Joseph but doesn't really care for the gospel aspect of it. While I find more commonly people like the gospel, the teachings, the culture and what it teaches people, but just can't get over the whole founding principles and Joseph Smith. While there are a few theories I tend to disagree with, or ideas she presents as fact, she h...more
Ann Woodbury Moore
Barnes is an author and documentary writer, and worked on the PBS series "The Mormons" several years ago. She is utterly fascinated by Joseph Smith to the point of passion and (almost) idolatry, considering him a genius of the highest order--she compares him to Thelonius Monk--and a unique, creative individual. She even, in her late 60's, seriously investigated the Church. Missionaries finally, kindly pointed out to her that we are the church of Jesus Christ, not the church of Joseph Smith. Alth...more
Susan Hatch
I ran across this book at the main library, just sitting here. I had hoped for better. The writing was actually very good. and in some way I guess I see things as she does. I don't need Joseph to be anything than what he was, and I connect to him as he outgrew youth and the world to become an instrument he did.

There were a couple of moments that were inaccurate and I would liked to have said they were misprints but in a writer of this caliber they should not have been there.

The author is just tr...more
Kelsea Dawn Hume
I won this book through First Reads.

Jane Barnes is shockingly honest in this semi-autobiographical tale of the Mormon prophet. Through history and personal vignettes she argues for Mormonism as a unique and defining aspect of American heritage.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Barnes writes a compelling historical narrative, highlighting some of the most interesting aspects of Joseph Smith's personality. On the other hand, some of the personal vignettes included are simple...more
Not entirely sure how I feel after reading this book. Appreciate her sense of walking among Mormons during the filming of the production of PBS Frontline/American Experience special series “The Mormons" which caused her to take a look at Joseph Smith. She wrote from an artistic point of view with regard to young Joseph, passionate, charming, charismatic and following to what she deems his self-implosion. Certainly is one way to look at his later years when the charm of youth has worn off, and th...more
Colleen Thomas
I was really excited to read this memoir by one of the principal writers behind the PBS series about the Mormons. Jane Barnes chronicles her experience with getting to know -- and "fall in love" with -- founder Joseph Smith through her research and numerous experiences with scholars, leaders and rank-and-file members of the church. She discovers a common ancestry with some early Mormong converts, and she even flirts with joining the church for a while, including having missionaries teaching her...more
Martha Ware
Um. This one was weird. But I appreciate Jane's openness to our religion. I liked reading about her playful perspective on Joseph Smith, who she compares to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I skimmed a lot because it included a lot of his history, which I am well acquainted with. But I had to stop and scratch my head about some parts of his history which I'm sure she took creative liberties on, for example, a story about Joseph sacrificing a sheep to impress a girl? Where'd she get that? It's not cited...more
Julie S
The author starts out writing about her search for religious inspiration in her own life but then she can't decide if she wants to write a bio of Joseph Smith or a memoir of her own life. She loosely ties in her own general lack of religion but desire for maybeeee having something in her life. Ultimately it's her maybes that overtake the book and bring it down. One example, she has a relationship with a woman but never really confronts her bisexuality, almost seems to deny it which is a bit awkw...more
I myself love Joseph Smith, so the title intrigued me. I guess I expected a story of someone finding their way into the heart and soul of Mormonism. While the author seemed to be searching for something, she really didn't seem to want to find it. I skipped through the book, hoping to find some great insight. I finally skipped to the last chapters, thinking I might go back if it ended well. Sadly, I found the author as confused at the end as she was throughout her journey. She enjoyed the mystici...more
I liked how Barnes interwove her own conversion narratives with Joseph Smith's biography, but this book could have used a heavier edit. I have a hard time with the self-indulgent genre of memoirs in general, but she does turn an elegant phrase. I know the genre doesn't demand the highest historical standards but here and there she takes sources at complete face value and it would have been a richer narrative if she had contextualized or questioned her sources. Still, she has an eloquent, intelli...more
Nov 25, 2013 Lisa rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one
Very bizarre. I couldn't even finish this "book". Too bad, it sounded quite interesting. It was awful.....the author must have been taking too many meds when she wrote this down. Odd,imaginary scenes between Huck Finn and Joseph Smith throughout; her repeated protestations that she "believes" in the Prophet but "doesn't get" Jesus Christ just leave you wondering what on earth this woman trying to say. I'm guessing homework from her therapist.
Very odd book. Challenging to follow and left me with a "huh?" At the end. I truly do not understand how this book gets as many favorable reviews as it did.
This book was interesting, but sometimes weird. I wavered on the rating as I read; my actual overall rating would be 3 1/2 stars.
Aug 05, 2012 Elizabeth marked it as to-read
due out Aug 16.Sister in law's book getting "brilliant funny" early review in Kirkus Review.
Was looking for more of a solid history on Joseph Smith. This is not it.
Sharman Wilson
Quirky, wonderful writing. Very interesting take on Joseph Smith.
Karen marked it as to-read
Oct 18, 2014
Tristan Darcy
Tristan Darcy marked it as to-read
Jul 18, 2014
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