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Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  573 ratings  ·  142 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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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
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
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
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.

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
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
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...more
Jan 27, 2008 Rex rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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.
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
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
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...more
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
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...more
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
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
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.
Tanya W
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.
Oh, this book could have been whittled down a great deal. And I was annoyed at how often evidence was not footnoted, and how often the authors added their own opinion and assumptions based on scanty evidence. Overall, I think the book tried its best to paint the portrait of a woman whom so little is written about. And I think Emily Partridge said it best in the last paragraph of the book:

"After these many years I can truly say; poor Emma, she could not stand polygamy but she was a good woman and...more
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.
Rebecca Young
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
I think this book should be required reading for all LDS women. A church history story from the point of Emma who suffered more than anyone else for the sake of the church. Very well done.
The last 100 pages got pretty boring, but it was great to learn more about such an important person in LDS history. Be forewarned that it focuses a LOT on polygamy.
I absolutely loved this book. Read it on our way to and from Nauvoo in 2007. I have always loved learning of Emma and this is the ultimate story of her life!
Meet Emma like you've never met her before.

This book gave me so much more compassion for Emma Smith than I would have imagined. It's worth the time.
Joe Spencer
The only real biography of Emma, but definitely a product of the New Mormon History, and with an eminently American feminist appeal.
Gabriel Oak
A very good biography of Emma Hale Smith. Some of the research is dated now that the book is two decades old, esp. details about the evolution and practice of the plural marriage from the Kirtland to the Nauvoo years. I also thought that the book allowed Emma's sons to dominate the story too much after the main branch of the church had left for Utah in 1846. Nevertheless, this is indispensable reading for anyone who has been exposed to stories about Emma's alleged lack of faith or dubious dealin...more
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...more
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
From my perspective this is an excellent historical work without an agenda. There is a lot of Mormon history that is not cut and dry. In the case of Emma who did not keep an personal journal, it took considerable research on the part of the authors to tie this history together. An interesting side note is that though the authors wrote an unbiased history (I really think they did it!), the LDS church leadership banned them from speaking at meetings. Having spoken briefly with the brother of one o...more
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