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Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  4,650 Ratings  ·  919 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
Paperback, 740 pages
Published March 13th 2007 by Vintage (first published 2005)
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Dec 17, 2007 Lucy rated it really liked it
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
Jun 16, 2010 Jamie rated it really liked it
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
Sep 19, 2008 Shannon rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 09, 2007 Rex rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 26, 2008 Dallin rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 14, 2008 Bronson rated it liked it
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
Aug 22, 2008 Brien rated it really liked it
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
Nov 17, 2011 Shauni rated it really liked it
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
Seth Jenson
Dec 26, 2008 Seth Jenson rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 29, 2008 Kelly rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jun 20, 2017 Julia rated it it was amazing
Longest good reads review ever coming up...
A very good and honest look at the life of Joseph Smith. The author refers to it as a cultural biography in that it gives a clearer picture to Joseph Smith's actions, teachings, etc. by highlighting the culture of Americans in the early 1800s.

I had marked it as a book that I wanted to read based on the lds topics articles that can be found on that discuss some of the churches more controversial teachings (some that were lived historically and s
May 12, 2009 Tyler rated it really liked it
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
Jan 17, 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
Feb 25, 2009 Joy rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 12, 2013 AKbooks rated it it was ok
In order to get an objective view of this book before deciding to read it, I read only 3-star reviews; this is how I usually choose books. Thus, I encountered a wave of reviews that called it a great, informative book that LDS and non-LDS alike can appreciate, an account that fairly explores all the unfavorable aspects of J.S. that are never presented to the average LDS member. Several wrote that it "challenges" faith.

If it does that, it's in spite of Bushman's best efforts. I discovered just a
Apr 02, 2009 Wesley rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 30, 2012 J C rated it really liked it
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
Andon Carling
Aug 18, 2013 Andon Carling rated it it was amazing
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
Michelle Williams
Feb 06, 2009 Michelle Williams rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 15, 2009 Jake rated it liked it
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
Cameron Archibald
Jul 01, 2016 Cameron Archibald rated it really liked it
The middle third is a little long and slow but the first and last third were amazing. Didn't find the treatment of Joseph Smith troubling from my reading experience. I found it faith promoting. Loved this book and love Joseph Smith on a new level. So proud to be a member of the church.
May 23, 2015 BHodges rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 03, 2017 Nelson rated it it was amazing
the definitive biography of Joseph Smith. some parts were riveting.

on balance, it strengthened my testimony because it strained the likelihood Smith could've produced what he produced.

don't read this if you're some inflexible mullah who thinks the prophet can do no wrong.
Aug 12, 2010 Dennis rated it really liked it
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
Jul 25, 2009 Bridget rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2005, 2009, 2017
Second full reading. The first time I read this book in full, twelve years ago, I would have described it in a word with "unflinching."

This time, I found more flinching. I still think Bushman's treatment of Joseph Smith's story is absolutely masterful, but I also think he looked the other way a few times. Sometimes it was to advance the narrative (lest the book bloat to more than its 600+ pages), but sometimes it was at uncomfortable moments when I really would have liked to know more. There is
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
Emily Jameson
Oct 07, 2015 Emily Jameson rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 09, 2007 Bethany rated it it was amazing
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
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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
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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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