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JOSEPH SMITH by Robert V. Remini


by Robert V. Remini

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2002
ISBN: 0-670-03083-X
Publisher: Viking

Brief but edifying account of the life of the troubled prophet who founded the Mormon Church.

Remini (John Quincy Adams, 2002, etc.) is not a Mormon, wisely situating his life of Joseph Smith largely outside the realm of theology. He concentrates instead on the cultural and social milieu of the Jacksonian era, a time he knows as well as any historian working today. Remini locates Smith’s remarkable achievements as a religious leader given to visions and, apparently, angelic visitations in the climate of millenarian and communitarian experimentation that reigned in the American countryside during the time of the so-called Second Great Awakening, an evangelical storm whose “explosive force swept with such scalding ferocity through western New York”—where Smith lived for most of his short life—“that the region came to be known as the ‘Burned-Over District.’ ” Smith’s particular view mixed elements of Christianity with a hopeful addendum to the tale of the Passion, in which the resurrected Christ abandoned the Holy Land and spent the next 200 years preaching to the Nephites, a lost tribe of Israel that had relocated to America. This view was not popular with many of Smith’s neighbors, and he and his early followers endured persecution, armed attacks, and death threats as they slowly traveled westward to the banks of the Mississippi; Smith would eventually be assassinated, leaving it to his lieutenant, Brigham Young, to carry on his work. Remini explores just what it was about Smith’s ideas that inspired such hatred among the nonbelievers—the identification of Mormonism with abolitionism and the early church’s efforts to convert American Indians had something to do with it—and just what it was about those ideas that enabled his religion to grow from a handful of followers in the 1830s to many millions today.

Typically capable and lucid: Remini’s analysis is sure to excite controversy among those who view Smith in a different light.