Dan's Reviews > History of Joseph Smith by His Mother: Revised and Enhanced

History of Joseph Smith by His Mother by Lucy Mack Smith
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's review
Jul 21, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, religious, memoir
Read in July, 2008

Mother Smith's memoirs have been essential reading for LDS members for over a century. In this edition the editors have utilized an original manuscript neglected by previous editors to bring her narration more into line with her own dictation. Lucy Mack Smith's voice clearly comes through, and the work is well annotated with chapter notes.

If you want to learn about the religious atmosphere in early to mid nineteenth century America, then you should put down the textbook. Lay aside the secondary scholarship by professional historian and enthusiast alike and, instead, pick up this primary document written by a woman living in the midst of the fray. Her principle aim is neither hagiographical, nor a "warts and all" approach of Joseph Smith, Jr. In fact, although Joseph features prominently in the book, it isn't fully about him. Rather, Mother Smith's aim seems to be, first and foremost, to relate the trials that the world heaped upon her family as a result of their desire to obey God's commands. Her disdain for the dishonest and treacherous is plainly manifest.

In her effort to show how the world had treated her family poorly, hidden nuggets of truth can be discerned. For instance, between pp.88 and 133, Mother Smith relates how she and her husband were swindled out of their property several times. Her words make it clear that she wishes to place the blame on unscrupulous businessmen, eager to take advantage of her poor family. No doubt there is a large element of truth in this. However, to be fair, through the eyes of a historian, it seems equally probable that, combined with others' unethical practices, Joseph Smith Sr. was more than a tad naive in matters of business, and had to learn by hard life-experience the necessity of written, signed and notarized contracts.

The target audience of this edition is, undoubtedly, the membership of the LDS church, to be used as a devotional supplement to scripture. The editors (Scot and Maurine Proctor) are a husband and wife team that also teach institute, part time. In spite of this targeting, their introduction offers an insightful analysis of the history of Mother Smith's narrative that is relatively free of bias. It is accessible for both members and non-members of the LDS church, and great insight and historical value will be gleaned by all. For me, however, the highlight of this work was not simply reading Lucy’s own words, but the chapter notes. These notes are well researched, precisely cited, and help flesh out the story that Lucy Mack Smith relates. By mining both the notes and the bibliography, I have a far more complete understanding of the Smith family and this seminal period in American history than I did before.
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Nikki I've been meaning to read this one. Thanks for your insights.

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