Sunday, October 21, 2007

Book Review: Rouhg Stone Rollnig

I finally made it through Richrad Bushman's Biography of J Smith (I am intentionally misspelling or abbreviating names/words because I don't want a bunch of anti posts on my blog). It took me a while, but I really enjoyed it. I thought Bushman did a nice job of managing all the information out there about J Smith. Its a cultural biography, so Bushman spends some time giving some historical background to J Smith's story. Bushman's historical biography approach was a mixed blessing. Sometimes, I thought Bushman's historical background was mere apologism (I'm not sure that's a word, but you know what I mean), which I didn't especially like (i.e., talking about how many males of J Smith's time had hot tempers to explain away some of J Smith's less-than-model outbursts at people questioning his methodologies). But sometimes, I thought Bushman used the historical background to make some really interesting observations. For example, when discussing the BOM, Bushman talked about how much patriotism and pride in the United States' form of government there was at the time the BOM was being translated, especially in the northeastern states, where many residents, including J Smith, had ancestors who had fought in the Revolutionary War. Then Bushman pointed out how the governmental structures that the BOM singles out as ideal are monarchies and systems of judges, which were models following the Old Testament, and which were a far cry from the secular, republican democracy established in the United States. If the BOM were a product of J Smith's cultural heritage, instead of translation, one would expect to find, Bushman argues, more favorable discussion of democracies.

The other point I wanted to make was that, while I really enjoyed this book, it was not always easy to read. I say this as a credit to Bushman. I don't refer to the fact that it was long and dense, but rather, that Bushman does not shy away from some of the things about J Smith that are more difficult to swallow, particularly the stuff about polygmy. This book is ultimately faith-promoting, but to say it wasn't also faith-challenging at times would be, at least for me, untrue. Bushman faces these challenges head on, and ends on a very positive and uplifting note. I'm glad I read the book, and I feel that I have a fuller testimony of J Smith, the BOM, and the church for having read it. It was especially cool to be able to read a large chunk of it while I was back in Missouri and Nauvoo at the church history sites with family this past summer.


Park City Bairds said...

I haven't read it yet but intend to after reading your review. I can't help but admire the very real and human traits of J Smith. I think that if there was ever a man meant to bring back the truth it was him. He obviously wasn't perfect but he had the strength of personality to make it happen. Good review I Davis!

Jonny Baird

Darth Spencer said...

Big I-

Goode idhea ov knot speling werdz wright.

I started but lost motivation. I really did like what I read. I'll have to start it up again.

Katie said...

Spencer, LOL. Excellent review Ian. I'm proud of you for finishing it. I will add it to my "to read" list for sure.