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Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  734 Ratings  ·  165 Reviews
Emma Smith did not document her life in a diary or journal. This book is a biographical reconstruction of Emma Smith's life from documents and evidence other than the few letters and one page of blessings she left behind.
Paperback, 432 pages
Published June 1st 1994 by University of Illinois Press (first published 1984)
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Community Reviews

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Jun 04, 2008 Erin rated it it was amazing
OK. I think that when a book helps a feminist Mormon get closer to terms with a long, internal battle with polygamy it should get a "hurrah" and 5 stars. I loved reading this book. I know it had a lot of controversy when it was first published, but I found it non-biased and was surprised to see it was not anti-mormon at all. Sometimes we think that if something doesn't paint the church in a perfect light we should ignore it. I, however, felt so excited to really learn about Emma herself, as I ha ...more
Oct 22, 2008 Brent rated it really liked it
Mormonism has had a bit of a schizophrenic relationship with Emma Smith. Over 150 years, she's been seen as everything from a "devil" to the epitome of the stereotypical selfless at all times, saintly, angelically feminine Mormon woman (the apparent most-favored status of Mormonism today given some recent Mormon culture movies and books). This book is essentially the definitive work on her history and biography, and can be pointed to as one of, if not the cause of Emma's extremely positive (and ...more
Oct 25, 2011 Char rated it it was ok
because it is the ONLY biography of Emma Smith, who I would LOVE to better understand and sympathize with, and because it IS loaded w/ research, I have to give it credit, but as SIL Kristen pointed out, it's the bibliography, not the writing that made the book. Honestly, I felt like I was listening to two old biddies (sorry authors!) gossiping half the time. Many of the accounts are from long ago memories or from less than reliable sources, which they often admit, but even with their trying to s ...more
May 05, 2010 Hillary rated it did not like it
This book failed me on two accounts first on a historical account and second on a spiritual one. I’ll start with the first. I think it is lacking at best to use references written 40 years after the events took place, it is slanderous and defamatory at worst to do so. For example, the author uses journals written in 1872 and 1886 about events that allegedly happened in 1835, and from apostate members. So just to put it in a sentence or less, roughly 37 years after events took place, people who h ...more
Jun 11, 2008 Nate rated it liked it
Understand--by giving this book 3 stars, I am NOT giving Emma Smith 3 stars. Growing up, there were two people my mother would never let me speak ill of: John Denver and Emma Smith. So that was kind of ingrained from the beginning. And as I've studied more about Mormon history, my respect for the JS's wife has only grown (John Denver has not been so fortunate).

For being the definitive biography of Emma, however, this book is largely unimpressive. The authors clearly have a thing against polygamy
Apr 30, 2008 Lucy rated it liked it
I feel like such a history buff. I read this at a friend's suggestion and I'm glad I did. It's true that history changes depending on who wrote it because this book has a very different feel than the Bushman book on Joseph Smith I read a couple of months ago.

I think Emma Smith must have been a force to be reckoned with. She was a strong, opinionated, independent woman at a time when those characteristics in a female were much more rare. I would truly love to have a chance to talk with her.

Sep 22, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it
I had an excellent RS lesson on Emma Smith the summer I was married. I grew to respect her deeply, and even named my eldest daughter after her. This book opened my eyes even more to Emma's plight. She had such a difficult life, and I honestly can't say that I would have handled things any differently/better than she did.
Feb 14, 2011 Leslie rated it really liked it
This book is to Emma Smith what Rough Stone Rolling was to Joseph Smith, and both should be read in tandem as I learned so much about early church history from each of them. Painstakingly researched, I really got a feel for Emma's side of the story in this one, why she decided to stay put, why she rallied so hard against polygamy, and boy, er, I mean girl, it wasn't pretty most of the time. I have several direct ancestors who knew the Smith's well, two even baptized at the same time as Emma, and ...more
Jul 18, 2010 Wade rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this very interesting but challenging biography, especially the perspective presented of Emma Smith’s family after the death of Joseph in 1844. Emma is often maligned for her decision to stay in Nauvoo rather than go west with the rest of the Mormons in 1846. After reading this book I have a new appreciation for her sticking to her guns, I also have a better perspective on the history of the group that eventually became the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus ...more
Jul 30, 2008 Emily rated it it was amazing
Wow, what an eye-opener. I read this book once, 8 years ago, and just barely re-read it.

This historical non-fiction book is written by 2 LDS women authors. It is available at Deseret Book. This is the real story of Emma Smith's life - Everything from her courtship with Joseph Smith, to the loss of multiple babies in childbirth, to the very difficult persecutions to her immediate family. Finally, this book talks in detail about the big "P" word that everyone in the church knows about but never wa
Jan 27, 2008 Rex rated it really liked it
Shelves: lds
This is a meticulously researched and thorough look at Emma Hale. The reader leaves with an increased awareness and respect for Emma and the trials she endured. However, I felt like the intended focus on Emma and her needs had an alternative effect of unfairly portraying Joseph Smith. While the mind of Emma was center stage, Joseph's thoughts and many of his benevolent and charitable acts were left out. I look forward to a biography that portrays both individuals together--that is--a book that w ...more
Janet Kincaid
Dec 16, 2007 Janet Kincaid rated it it was amazing
If you never read another book (and I'm not sure there are others) about Emma Hale Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, you'll be none the worse for content. This is, at this moment, the quintessential biography of the First Lady of Mormonism. She gets short shrift in the LDS Church and in its cirricula and it's easy to see why: she spoke up and opposed some of her husband's most controversial doctrines, particularly polygamy. An excellent book! Definitely a must-read.
Tanya W
Mar 13, 2011 Tanya W rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This seems to be an impartial, fair book which helps us learn more about Emma Smith and her feelings about polygamy. It includes history that can make our LDS community uncomfortable, but I think I can read it and reserve judgment. Emma was certainly a strong and admirable woman... it's too bad that Brigham Young did not have more kind feelings toward her... but he was a prophet AND an imperfect, mortal man.
Nov 06, 2015 Anna rated it it was amazing
A year after portraying Emma Hale Smith Bidamon in a film for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I finally read her biography. Yep. Naughty Anna. But hey, I was in grad school AND a working actor. I chose Mormon Enigma as my jumping off point, because I had heard from many friends and academics that it was the best way to learn about that most mysterious and elect lady.

Most importantly, I think Newell and Avery's approach in this work is fabulous. Their research is thorough and t
Nov 13, 2012 Aaron rated it really liked it
I learned quite a bit from this one, and I'm very glad I read it. "Rough Stone Rolling" made Joseph Smith more like a real person for me. This book did that for Emma, and it also made Joseph Smith more real as a husband and father. I enjoyed reading about Joseph and Emma in domestic settings and how Joseph treated Emma and his children. He loved them very much, and Emma returned that love to Joseph.

The primary focus of the last half of the book is polygamy and Emma's reaction to it. Emma suffer
Jun 06, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it
Overall, quite an enjoyable read. It was refreshing to read a biography of Emma rather than one focused on the many men in the church, though even this book does on occasion feel like it's more about Joseph or Brigham or Emma's sons. (Part of this is due I'm sure to the lack of information directly from Emma - very few letters and no journal.) I found the years after Joseph's death to be particularly interesting as I'd never before learned in depth about what happened to Emma during those years. ...more
Apr 25, 2010 Karin rated it it was amazing
I learned things that I did not know about the Prophet Joseph Smith, which does, however not change my conviction that he is the prophet of the restoration. Emma Hale Smith was an extremely charitable soul who took everyoen into her home. Even while she knew about her husband's plural wives, she still allowed them to live in her home. This was, of course, not easy for anyone. She kept going back and forth with the polygamy issue. She believed in it, then she didn't, then believed again. She was ...more
Aug 03, 2011 Amandalynn rated it liked it
Shelves: church, biography
Not really sure how this book left me feeling. I was intrigued to read it because I wanted to know what happened to Emma after the Saints all left Nauvoo. I know that she had remarried but that was it. Not sure that this book satisfied that curiosity, in the prologue they said that they weren't going to spend much time on Joseph that this was to be about Emma and yet the martyrdom doesn't happen until the book is already 3/4 of the way finished. A lot of it is speculation and reading between the ...more
Feb 14, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
My biggest complaint is that Emma is nothing more than a side note for large portions of the book. I felt as if I were reading a book about church history and Emma was just thrown in for effect.

I think there are 3 reasons for this:

1. Until Joseph Smith's murder and the saints departure for the west, Emma's entire life was embroiled in the church. So, in a way, her history IS the history of the church.

2. There is a general lack of sources for most females in history. I remember watching a docume
Mar 21, 2009 Nancy rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-group, biography
Looking at the reviews here, I am in the infinitesimal minority. I did NOT like this book. It was written by feminists who belong to the group that believe the only way to make one person 'good' is to make the people in their life 'bad.' The treatment of Joseph Smith in this book is nothing short of shameful. If it had been balanced, if it had treated him as a flawed human being, I would have been okay with that. But they simply portrayed him as a cruel, small-minded, selfish man in all instance ...more
Mar 27, 2016 Ryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mormonism
Fantastic "warts and all" book about Emma Smith, first wife of Joseph Smith. Very well researched and did not in the least feel biased one way or the other.

I enjoyed learning how compassionate she was to everyone, no matter the circumstance. Also interesting to learn how she dealt with polygamy, and the pain/sorrow it caused her to learn about it through various sources other than her husband.

Overall highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about early church history and/or a fasc
Jun 12, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it
Mormon history is such a fascinating topic for me, layered as it is with theological ponderance, 19th-century American exceptionalism, and frantic post hoc attempts to control the narrative for modern purposes. Mormon history scholars deserve tremendous praise for even attempting to navigate the ample but dubious reams of documentation available from a modern religion that prized record keeping.

These authors are especially worthy of adulation for they have attempted to bring to life Emma Smith,
Aug 31, 2015 Kellie rated it really liked it
Always wanted to know more of Emma Smith. I always wondered why she never headed west with the rest of her group. This book is well written and easy to read. Your heart breaks for Emma as you read of the trials that she had endured. Your heart breaks for her children who lose a father at an early age.

Emma worked her fingers to the bone and tirelessly. She also lived in her own world that was maybe a little easier to digest. I think it was a survival mechanism to keep moving. Emma was a rock. Alt
Feb 08, 2014 Trevor rated it it was amazing
Early in Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma the biographers claim that LDS converts typically viewed Emma’s husband, Joseph, in one of two ways. The first thought of him primarily as a man and secondarily as a prophet, the second group saw him as a prophet first and a man second. Ironically, the authors say that those in the first group generally remained strong believers in both Joseph Smith and the LDS church he founded, those in the second group overwhelmingly became disillusioned and fell away. My su ...more
May 04, 2016 Joy rated it really liked it
I found this book absolutely enthralling. My heart has always gone out to Emma and I loved learning so much more about her than I knew previously, especially in her later years. What a remarkable woman!
May 09, 2013 Sharon rated it liked it
This is the second (possibly third?) time I've read this and I'm going to put a note to myself in the front cover this time so that I don't read it again. I know three stars means "I liked it" and I don't like it, but not because it is a bad book, just because the subject matter is too fraught for me. It's like eating fried chicken---it tastes good while I'm eating it, but I don't like how it makes me feel.
Jan 13, 2015 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Absolutely fascinating history.

*Shaking my head in disbelief* page 175 "Emma urged the women to follow the teachings of Joseph Smith as he taught them 'from the stand,' implying that his private teachings should be disregarded...When Emma had the women take a public oath with their hands raised in support of virtue, she caused enough consternation in the men's councils to stop the Relief Society meetings. The women would not have their own organization again for more than a decade. ...John Taylo
Mar 06, 2008 Barry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mormon
Bar none, the best biography on the often overlooked Emma Hale Smith, who suffered greatly through the losses of several children, the early practice of polygamy without her consent or knowledge, and the eventual murder of Joseph.
Feb 18, 2015 Saraelizabeth rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It answered a lot of questions I've had about Emma and it introduced some new questions for sure. It actually made me feel more settled about the history of polygamy in the LDS church, oddly enough. It definitely isn't the pretty, glorious picture that we usually see in videos about the history of the church. And honestly, with all the research the authors did, some of the "facts" could still be debatable. But, it was just well-written and enjoyable to read. I finished it feel ...more
Rebecca Young
Mar 21, 2014 Rebecca Young rated it really liked it
Very well researched and fairly written. I have a great respect for Emma and for her perseverance through countess trails. This was quite scholarly and highly detailed at times, but I learned many things about the Nauvoo period...some interesting, some inspiring, and some, quite frankly, disturbing. Completely new to me was the formation of the Reorganized church (it did not happen for quite a while and Joseph III was not the instigator...when the leaders came to him saying that he was supposed ...more
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