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Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

4.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,319 Ratings  ·  865 Reviews
Founder of the largest indigenous Christian church in American history, Joseph Smith published the 584-page Book of Mormon when he was twenty-three and went on to organize a church, found cities, and attract thousands of followers before his violent death at age thirty-eight. Richard Bushman, an esteemed cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, moves beyond the popular ...more
ebook, 784 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Vintage (first published 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Lucy
Apr 29, 2008 Lucy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
While reading this book, I think I recommended it to about every person I had a conversation with about it. Now that I'm actually finished reading it, I have mixed emotions. I'm not left with the feeling I wanted to have -- the triumphant "Praise To The Man" feeling. But I do feel grateful. Grateful for Joseph for the questions he asked, for the organization he established and for those early saints and their willingness to believe in what had to be SO hard to believe. Grateful for its continuat ...more
Jamie
May 07, 2015 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read most of this book several years ago (before my goodreads days) but then just finished re-reading a lot of it in conjuction with reading Fawn Brodie's "No Man Knows my History" another biography of Joseph Smith. So . . . my review of this book will mostly be a compare / contrast of the 2 books.

This book is long, tedious, and very academic in its style. While the writing is well done it just does not translate into the most enjoyable read-- Very interesting to read but by no means a page t
...more
Shannon
Jan 06, 2009 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a superb book. However, I wouldn't recommend it indiscriminately; the book can shake your testimony if you're not careful. If you do read it, keep these things in mind:

*Don't stop in the middle; read to the very end. Bushman does a great job of showing Joseph's development not only as a prophet but also as a man . . . and as a new convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

*Although the author is a "believer," he is also a historian. He necessarily take's a historian's pe
...more
Rex
Sep 09, 2007 Rex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lds
This is the best biography I've read of Joseph Smith. Bushman is an LDS historian with any ivy league pedigree. While most writers seem to ignore either his virtues or weaknesses, this book presents the real Joseph Smith in an appropriate context that both Mormons and non-LDS alike can agree upon.

Literature written by most LDS members about Joseph Smith ignores controversial aspects of his life (polygamy, gold hunting, money issues, etc.). The most vicious "anti-Mormon" literature addresses thes
...more
Dallin
Jul 26, 2008 Dallin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The definitive biography on Joseph Smith (so I've heard--I haven't read any other). Bushman goes to great lengths to try and be objective as possible, and while he doesn't always succeed (I doubt that such success is impossible), you can tell you've gotten a fairly clear image of Smith--warts and all--by the end. The book also helps give the LDS church's history a narrative arc, helping me organize the many scrambled events I had heard about. Bushman tended to think that at times, outside influe ...more
Bronson
I just finished this the other night and I'm still trying to figure out if I liked it or not. It is very detailed and academic - you can tell it was written by a professor. There is a ton of information in it but for a fiction reader like myself I had to work hard to get through it.
As far as a biography of Joseph Smith I learned a ton! Some things I am really glad I learned other not so much. I don't know if I would recommend this to my LDS friends, I can see it helping some with their belief in
...more
Brien
Sep 17, 2008 Brien rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, though it's pretty dense. I started it a couple of years ago and let it drop after 100 pages or so. I started over a few months ago, and stuck it through. For some reason, I was much more interested the second-go.

Most Mormons will be familiar with a lot of the history in teh book, but not all of it. In fact, I expect that lots of them will be upset or bothered by some of the things they read in this book about Joseph Smith (written by an active Mormon). For example, demanding that th
...more
Seth Jenson
Oct 14, 2012 Seth Jenson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this book! It's been a while since I read it but I figured I'd still do a post about it anyway. It helped me get to know Joseph Smith, the man, so much better. He was just as imperfect as the rest of us, but what made him unique and special was his courage, his faith, his determination, and his vision. Oh, and another obvious unique thing about him was the fact that he had a calling and a responsibility laid upon his shoulders that few on this earth ever have.

My appreciation for Joseph
...more
Kelly
May 22, 2008 Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dan timpson, jason sabin, tony perkins
Recommended to Kelly by: Suegra
This book is very enlightening if you're wanting to get into a good discussion about the Prophet Joseph Smith's background and character. There is a lot of context around some of the early doctrines of the church and a pretty a good attempt is made to cross-reference worldy explanations for how the doctrine could have come to be. That being said, all of the worldly explanations tend to get shot down in a pretty methodical way. This book is not for the faint of heart. You'll learn positives and n ...more
Gary Preston
Sep 15, 2008 Gary Preston is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I am reading it currently so it is hard to give it a complete review. It is a biography. It is not to be thought of as a spiritual book. It is well written and for the most part well researched. I like the idea of getting better acquainted with the culture of the era and the book does that well enough. I am getting a better understanding of how the restoration took place and the challenges it faced. It is nice to see the 'little by little' part. Nothing happened quickly as it seems to be portray ...more
Kris
Mar 01, 2015 Kris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I read this book and Fawn Brodie's "No Man Knows My History" back to back, and I found this one FAR more disturbing than the Brodie book. Both books certainly have an angle, as most biographies do, and this one comes from the practicing, believing Mormon side. But the facts were more jarring to me the way they were presented here. The almost dismissive speaking about polyandry and wives who were 14 and 15 years old was disconcerting. I do appreciate that Bushman did not shy away from the ha ...more
Tyler
Feb 15, 2014 Tyler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Richard Bushman is one of the most interesting people in Mormonism today. He's very different from a Hugh Nibley, who was more of an apologist, but I think Bushman's beginning to fill a similar role in the minds of many: a man who is clearly intelligent and respected inside and outside of the Mormon circle, who knows about all the skeletons in the church's closet, and still chooses to believe—although his faith may be quite different from that of a typical member. For more background on Bushman, ...more
Joy
Feb 25, 2009 Joy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-books
Comprehensive thorough biography of Joseph Smith and touches upon the basic tenets of Mormonism. I appreciated how the book put doctrine J.Smith taught into a context I hadn't thought of before. I also liked the way the author laid out the life story of J.Smith. Fascinating book-doesn't gloss over the controversial parts of J.Smith's life, but is somewhat sympathetic. In my opinion, it's impossible to be completely objective when talking about J.Smith.
April
Dec 28, 2015 April rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lds-religion
Perhaps the best work on Joseph Smith for the intellectually curious, cautious Christian, and member with unanswered questions (though timing and preparation would be important for those desiring a testimony of Joseph's calling). It's greatest selling point is that it was written for scholarly educational purposes with zero intent to influence the reader to choose to accept or reject Joseph Smith on the basis of his claimed status as a prophet of God. Scattered throughout the book are many page ...more
J C
Jul 30, 2012 J C rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious
Bushman's 740 page biography comes from a pro-LDS standpoint which will be attractive to LDS readers who want to understand controversial aspects of Smith's character without avoiding the hard parts of history. Like any good historian, Bushman concedes the influences of his own bias in the preface: "Everything about Smith matters to people who have built their lives on his teachings. To protect their own deepest commitments, believers want to shield their prophet's reputation. . . . A believing ...more
Wesley
Feb 14, 2015 Wesley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Required reading for anyone with sneaky little doubts about anything they've heard or read elsewhere about Joseph Smith. Or for anyone with doubts about anything regarding the LDS church. Maybe you've stumbled upon one of the church's official essays about the Book of Abraham, or blacks and the priesthood, or about its polygamous history, and your eyes have been open to some disturbing truths you weren't previously aware of. Don't doubt your doubts - they are there for a reason. If you study the ...more
Michelle Williams
Feb 06, 2009 Michelle Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves:
I was intrigued by the title of this book and I have found it to be very appropriate. This book, written by a practicing Mormon, is a great account of the prophet's life. He gives plenty of background information which helps the reader to understand the influences of both the period and his unique family situation that may have played a roll in his decisions.

It is a long book and it's written by a historian so you can get a little bogged down with it. I've been working on it for just over a yea
...more
Jake
In terms of research, this book is fantastic. But in terms of objectivity, the author comes up short. This biography is unmistakably written from the biased perspective of a believer. So here is my recommendation:

Pair this book with No Man Knows My History by Fawn M. Brodie. She is clearly biased from the opposite end of the spectrum. They are both compelling historical works. I've heard respected scholars affirm that. So reading them back to back might offset their respective author's biases
...more
Amy
Jan 24, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amy by: Heidi Parker
This book was a hard read for me at times, but I felt that I learned a lot about Joseph Smith's early life, family life, and revelations that I didn't know before. Bushman really tries to write from an objective standpoint and gained my trust that what he was writing was accurate. He also did a great job simplifying and explaining some tougher points of Joseph Smith's revelations.

Reading and learning about Joseph's revelations were among my favorite parts of the book. Rough Stone Rolling is not
...more
BHodges
Jan 09, 2016 BHodges rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-library
Best biographical treatment of the Mormon prophet available in print. I first read it back in 2008 so it was fun to revisit after seven years.
Lyndsey Thackston
This is likely to be an odd review. I often look at events in Joseph's life and think "What the hell was he thinking?" This book but his life and culture in a context that frequently answered that question for me in a way that helped me have empathy for him. I left with a stronger belief that there is beauty in fallibility and impressed with what Joseph was able to accomplish despite great personal and situational limitations.

The amount of work and research in this book were remarkable, the shea
...more
Emily Jameson
Oct 23, 2015 Emily Jameson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is not for everyone. For me, as a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it was a must read. I really felt the need for a comprehensive picture of Joseph Smith's life from a credible source. Richard L Bushman delivered just that.

This book is quite dense and heavy on history, culture, and theology. It is definitely scholarly. I enjoyed digging through all the events and opinions surrounding Joseph Smith. I came away with a better sense of my church history a
...more
Shauni
Oct 04, 2013 Shauni rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having grown up in the LDS church, I was raised with a very sanitized view of Joseph Smith's life. That view was shredded to pieces by Fawn Brodie's book No Man Knows My History. Richard Bushman's book is a good middle ground between the church's mostly whitewashed version of Joseph Smith's life and Brodie's somewhat bitter and disillusioned view. As a devout Latter-day Saint, Bushman clearly displays a great deal of of respect, admiration, and gratitude for Joseph Smith. At the same time, he do ...more
Dennis
Feb 20, 2015 Dennis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling is a fact-filled report of the Mormon prophet's life beginning with the details of his ancestors who settled in New England and continuing through to the final moments of his June 1844 murder while in jail at Carthage, Illinois. What emerges is an honest, straightforward narrative describing the many facets of this compelling man's personality, his character and ambitions. Notwithstanding the countless things that have been said about him, ranging from impassion ...more
Andon Carling
This is the most accurate portrait of Joseph Smith and early Mormon history with which I am aware.

Bushman is a believer, so he takes Joseph Smith at his word (i.e., if Smith said he received a revelation, Bushman writes that he received a revelation). Some may find this non-scholarly, but if Smith actually believed what he was saying -- and by reading his history, there is no doubt he did -- then Bushman's approach makes perfect sense. The reader gets inside Joseph Smith's head, sees how the re
...more
Bethany
Sep 14, 2007 Bethany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ldsreligion
What a wonderful way to get to know the prophet, Joseph Smith... in his own time and place. Starting with brief biographies of his parents and their families and ending with his death, this book is comprehensive yet reader-friendly. To begin to understand a person fully, you have to understand where they came from. This book really helped me to get to know Joseph in his own time period and place; within his own familial and cultural background. I appreciated the openness and direct manner the au ...more
Karen
May 11, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-m-a-mormon
Very enlightening book. I was forewarned that parts of this book might be difficult to read, because of lot of the history of Joseph Smith has been sanitized. I was okay reading about the man with his imperfections and faults. My difficulty was in reading the clinically distant standard of writing. I knew the author was a Latter-day Saint, but he writes as an unbiased scholar, never divulging his prejudices and slant. If you can approach this book as a history of Joseph Smith, based on the recor ...more
Amy
Jan 31, 2009 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the subtitle of this book is A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder which i found so appropriate. it's a comprehensive biography of joseph smith presented so well in the context of the religious, social, economic and political moods of america in the early to mid 1800s. rightfully, bushman portrays joseph as a significant and influential figure in american history. he also relates the development of the early mormon church from its inception to its perseverance following joseph's martyrdom. ...more
Jessica
Dec 24, 2015 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-story, religious
This book took me awhile to get through but not because I didn't love it. It was a really thick book with lots of interesting information. Reading this book made me realize how little I knew about Joseph Smith, as a man and as a prophet. I felt like the author gave a great presentation of facts and was clear when it was a supposition as opposed to confirmed fact. I loved how this book personified Joseph Smith and made him into a real person for me, with faults and trials just like the rest of us ...more
Rae
Apr 19, 2008 Rae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religiosity
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it to be quite fair and objective. Bushman shows the Prophet as human but also as a man of God. I have no problems with that when the author attempts to show all sides with great respect.

For non-Mormons who want to know more about Joseph Smith, this book would be excellent (and so much better than Fawn Brodie's bio of him). For members who want to appreciate Joseph more, this book is recommended.

The book is quite long and the text is small and fills each
...more
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Richard Lyman Bushman published widely in early American social and cultural history before completing his biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Among his books were From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. He teaches courses on Mormonism in its broad social and cultural context and on the histo ...more
More about Richard L. Bushman...

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“Not long after this attempt, the issue arose again. A conference on November 8 instructed Joseph Smith to review the commandments and 'correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the holy Spirit.' Correcting 'errors' in language supposedly spoken by God again raised the question of authenticity. If from God, how could the language be corrected? Correction implied Joseph's human mind had introduced errors; if so, were the revelations really his productions?

The editing process uncovered Joseph's anomalous assumptions about the nature of revealed words. He never considered the wording infallible. God's language stood in an indefinite relationship to the human language coming through the Prophet. The revealed preface to the Book of Commandments specified that the language of the revelations was Joseph Smith's: 'These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.' They were couched in language suitable to Joseph's time. The idioms, the grammar, even the tone had to be combrehensible to 1830s Americans. Recognizing the pliability of the revealed words, Joseph freely edited the revelations 'by the Holy Spirit,' making emendations with each new edition. He thought of his revelations as imprinted on his mind, not graven in stone. With each edition, he patched pieces together and altered the wording to clarify meaning. The words were both his and God's.”
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