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Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

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This thread is for discussion of the book Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman.

 

I am only about half-way through this excellent book. I am loving everything I am learning about Joseph Smith. I’m not really learning anything that I didn’t already know to a certain extent, but it goes into much more detail than what I’ve learned before. I love that it takes this man in his historical and cultural context. It is wonderful.

 

I thought this book needed it's own discussion thread. I've been pretty fascinated by some of the authors commentary on the Book of Mormon and church government, and it has generated some questions and thoughts that i would love to discuss. But i thought i'd just start out with this and see what sort of interest level there is in some discussion.

 

What did you love/hate about this book? Any favorite quotes? Do you think this book is good for testimony building... or not good? What did you think of it all?

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I've read the book, although it was some time ago. I'll have to pull it off the shelf and browse through it again when I get a chance.

I don't remember many specifics other than I enjoyed it a great deal. Don't remember anything I disliked about it. 

I guess what I appreciated the most is that Bushman was able to bring out Joseph's humanity (including his weaknesses) without diminishing his role as a prophet of God. 

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I've read only through a portion of what is available as a sample on kindle, to determine if I wanted to read the whole book. I'm so far not finding anything of too much interest that I haven't already read in "Life of Joseph Smith by his Mother"

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I  just started it. Best 700 pages for $18 and change! Loved this part in the intro:

 

 

Smith is interesting for what he was as well as for what he did. He was the closest America has come to producing a biblical-style-prophet--one who spoke for God with the authority of Moses or Isaiah. He was not an eloquent preacher; he is not known to have preached a single sermon before organizing the church in 1830. But he spoke in God's voice in revelations he compiled and published. A revelation typically began with words like "Hearken O ye people which profess my name, saith the Lord your God." Many thought him presumptuous if not blasphemous, and he made no effort to prove them wrong.

 

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I guess what I appreciated the most is that Bushman was able to bring out Joseph's humanity (including his weaknesses) without diminishing his role as a prophet of God. 

 

Great way to put it. That's exactly how i've been feeling, too.

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I’m really loving just the sheer detail. To get this kind of detail on my own I would have to, as the author has done, delve into the thousands of journal entries and newspaper articles and documents and revelations and etc., etc. I mean I’ve read the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. And while those both have an extremely valuable inside perspective on the subject, they are really only a small piece of the whole. I think this book probably comes the closest to the whole that one can get without a time machine and mind reading powers.

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I’m really loving just the sheer detail. To get this kind of detail on my own I would have to, as the author has done, delve into the thousands of journal entries and newspaper articles and documents and revelations and etc., etc. I mean I’ve read the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. And while those both have an extremely valuable inside perspective on the subject, they are really only a small piece of the whole. I think this book probably comes the closest to the whole that one can get without a time machine and mind reading powers.

When the book first came out ... It did upset a few people. I have always enjoyed the book.

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This book is the next book on my list.  I'll read it when I'm done with the book I'm currently reading.

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I read it a couple of years back and am re-reading now. My initial impression was very favorable...now, not so sure. It lacks something....can't put my finger on it. I think it gives a good description of the early church, but as far as an intimate description of the Prophet...not so much 

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 And I'm currently reading Hubener vs Hitler:  A Biography of Helmuth Hubener

 

I am currently reading (along with Rough Stone Rolling) Killing Lincoln and Killing Patton (both were gifts) and am about to re-read the Bruce R McConkie Story by his son Joseph Fielding McConkie....a very excellent read.

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I am currently reading (along with Rough Stone Rolling) Killing Lincoln and Killing Patton (both were gifts) and am about to re-read the Bruce R McConkie Story by his son Joseph Fielding McConkie....a very excellent read.

Killing Lincoln ... Excellent.

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For those who have read it, would you recommend it to others who wanted to know about Joseph? Or would it depend on the person? What would hold you back from endorsing it?

I think it would depend on the person.

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I read it a couple of years back and am re-reading now. My initial impression was very favorable...now, not so sure. It lacks something....can't put my finger on it. I think it gives a good description of the early church, but as far as an intimate description of the Prophet...not so much 

Probably because the current trend in historical work is to avoid an intimate connection between historian and biographical work (at least when presenting the history). This may make the work more palatable to some, especially those who would have the prophet's name for evil.

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It is perhaps worth remembering that "history" does not refer to past events, but to the record of past events. History is, above all, a "story". In this sense, history can change. It can even be wrong. In general, our understanding of the past is only as good as our histories of it. In this sense, Rough Stone Rolling may be as good a "secular" history of Joseph Smith as we can hope for.

 

But whatever other people may have said about Joseph Smith and whatever the historical records might seem to indicate, these things do not affect to any degree the reality of what happened. And we may be (and very likely are) sealed off from that reality throughout mortality. So in topics such as these, the best and safest course is to gain a testimony and follow the Spirit in all things. Insofar as they are true, histories can be very useful; but since false histories in such a topic can be not merely damaging, but damning, we are much better off not basing our beliefs on various histories, but rather on a confirmation of the Spirit.

 

That said, it's probably a great book. I have two copies waiting to be read, some time in the future when I have loads of time to read for pleasure.

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Not too much to add except to say that some of RSR is material covered earlier in his 'Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism'. I've read the latter through a couple times, but could only get a little ways into the bio. thus far. 

We had to use Bushman's 'From Puritan To Yankee' in our colonial American history course in my second year of university. Taught by this man here back in the early 80s:

 

http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/history/Swanson.cfm

 

Enjoyed that class. 

 

I just wish that someone these days could write like the late Perry Miller. 

Edited by lonetree

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I love Rough Stone Rolling. It made me appreciate Joseph Smith even more. We get to see Joseph the Prophet, husband, egalitarian, father, leader, host (Nauvoo), forgiver - to a fault, and heroic figure. We read about flaws, which give all of us insight that though he was a prophet, he was human.

I was sitting in class one day reading it while my students were working. A coworker saw it and came unglued. "You can't read that! If the bishop finds out he'll be mad!" It was an adult. Knowing he would tattle I happened upon the bishop, by accident in the grocery store. "Hi bishop, I am reading Rough Stone Rolling." He replied, " OK, I know you of all people can handle it."

That took care of that.

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On April 20, 2015 at 6:48 PM, mordorbund said:

For those who have read it, would you recommend it to others who wanted to know about Joseph? Or would it depend on the person? What would hold you back from endorsing it?

In general I would recommend it to anyone.

It's a great bio and a great antidote to anyone who has read Brodie's work.

Other recent bios of modern prophets (e.g. To the Rescue, about Pres. Monson) are basically hagiographies, which I don't much value. I want to know the full truth, the real picture. By seeing the whole man I can really appreciate and relate to a what a truly amazing thing a prophet is, and feel to praise God for giving us these great but imperfect men who accomplish wonders.

If a member or investigator would have their faith shaken by a "warts and all" depiction of a prophet, then I guess I wouldn't recommend RSR to them. A shame, I would think, but maybe better if that individual skips this book. I would hope that someday they would be ready for it.

Edited by tesuji

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