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

2.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  81 Ratings  ·  31 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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Jun 26, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it
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
Jul 22, 2012 Red Ferry rated it really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2012 Mythili rated it it was ok
Idiosyncratic and unfocused, Barnes’s account is part prattling confessional, part foggy revisionist historiography.
Mar 01, 2016 Stephanie rated it really liked it
What this book provided for me was an "outsiders" look into the life of Joseph Smith. I've often wished I could just view him with naked eyes, to meet him for the first time as an adult, like an investigator or historian or curious student...what would I make of him? Jane Barnes had no preconditioning and rather stumbled into JS unexpectedly, and even more unexpectedly became engrossed with him. Her chapter where she weaves a dialogue together between JS, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer was pure genius ...more
Feb 26, 2015 Nancy rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was just a really weird book. It was interesting reading about this documentary maker becoming fascinated with Joseph Smith, having an over-powering spiritual experience, but then not following through to join the church. She focuses a lot on the stranger, more mystical or magical side of Joseph's life--things that anti-Mormons find inexcusable in a prophet, but things which make him even more endearing to her. It's hard to tell if her perspective on Joseph is accurate. There are seemingly ...more
Megan Gery
Mar 27, 2014 Megan Gery rated it really liked it
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
May 07, 2013 BHodges rated it really liked it
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
Oct 03, 2012 Dayna rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, lds, memoir
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 really liked it
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
Sep 03, 2012 Wendy Terrien rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-worth-it
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
Aug 26, 2012 thewanderingjew rated it did not like it
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
Oct 03, 2012 Stewart Clarke rated it it was ok
Shelves: bios-memoirs
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
Jun 19, 2012 Brooke Berry rated it it was ok
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
Oct 30, 2012 Ann Woodbury Moore rated it really liked it
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
Dec 14, 2012 Susan Hatch rated it it was ok
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
Kelsea Dawn Hume
Oct 03, 2012 Kelsea Dawn Hume rated it really liked it
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
Feb 29, 2016 Hope added it
This is a really interesting book, written by a woman who worked on the big PBS documentary "The Mormons." She relates how she feels really akin to Joseph Smith and actually came close to conversion. She couldn't however accept Jesus Christ as a saviour. What really struck me was that she wrote of Smith as if he were a literary character, often comparing his exploits to those of fictional Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I'm not sure if she was attracted to the spiritual or mystical world of Joseph Smi ...more
Sep 05, 2012 Lietta rated it liked it
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
Dec 20, 2013 Colleen Thomas rated it it was ok
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
Aug 11, 2013 Martha Ware rated it it was ok
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
Jan 25, 2013 Julie rated it it was ok
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
Sep 09, 2012 Marcie rated it did not like it
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
Aug 11, 2015 Anelie rated it liked it
The book was quite repetitive as she really only likes a few things about Joseph Smith so repeats them ad nauseum. Joseph Smith may have found God in the unlikeliest of places but she did not find God at all. I don't object to this but she seems to. Overall I did not find this book satisfying as I found her recounting of Joseph Smith's life to be repetitive and narrowly focused while I found her recounting of her own journey to be odd and unaware.
Oct 07, 2013 Nate rated it liked it
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 did not like it
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.
Peter Hakkenberg
Feb 14, 2016 Peter Hakkenberg rated it liked it
An interesting spiritual journey and a personal view of Joseph Smith.
Mar 21, 2013 MaryAnn rated it did not like it
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.
Sep 27, 2012 Gail rated it liked it
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.
Oct 15, 2013 Jeremy rated it did not like it
Was looking for more of a solid history on Joseph Smith. This is not it.
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