Joseph Smith, America’s preeminent visionary and prophet, rose from a modest background to found the largest indigenous Christian church in American history. Without the benefit of wealth, education, or social position, he published the 584-page Book of Mormon when he was twenty-three; organized a church when he was twenty-four; and founded cities, built temples, and attracted thousands of followers before his violent death at age thirty-eight. Rather than perishing with him, Mormonism migrated to the Rocky Mountains, flourished there, and now claims millions of followers worldwide.
In Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman, an esteemed American cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, tells how Smith formed a new religion from the ground up. Moving beyond the popular stereotype of Smith as a colorful fraud, the book explores the inner workings of his personality–his personal piety, his temper, his affection for family and friends, and his incredible determination. It describes how he received revelations and why his followers believed them.
Smith was a builder of cities. He sought to form egalitarian, just, and open communities under God and laid out a plan for ideal cities, which he hoped would fill the world. Adopted as the model for hundreds of Mormon settlements in the West, Smith’s urban vision may have left a more lasting imprint on the landscape than that of any other American.
He was controversial from his earliest years. His followers honored him as a man who spoke for God and restored biblical religion. His enemies maligned him as a dangerous religious fanatic, an American Mohammad, and drove the Mormons from every place in which they settled. Smith’s ultimate assassination by an armed mob raises the question of whether American democracy can tolerate visionaries.
The book gives more attention to Joseph Smith’s innovative religious thought than any previous biography. As Bushman writes, “His followers derived their energy and purpose from the religious world he brought into being.” Some of the teachings were controversial, such as property redistribution and plural marriage, but Smith’s revelations also delved into cosmology and the history of God. They spoke of the origins of the human personality and the purpose of life. While thoroughly Christian, Smith radically reconceived the relationship between humans and God. The book evaluates the Mormon prophet’s bold contributions to Christian theology and situates him culturally in the modern world.
Published on the two hundredth anniversary of Smith’s birth, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling is an in-depth portrayal of the mysterious figure behind one of the world’s fastest growing faiths.
About the Author
Richard Lyman Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, at Columbia University, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University. He has also taught at Brigham Young University, Boston University, and the University of Delaware. His From Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690—1765 won the Bancroft Prize in 1967. His other books include Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984), winner of the Evans Biography Award; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts (1985); and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992). A practicing Mormon, he lives in New York City with his wife, Claudia.
Praise for Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling…
“Once again, Richard Bushman, one of our finest historians, delivers a superior performance. The book is
prodigiously researched, carefully argued, and elegantly written. In its pages Joseph Smith emerges as
neither hero nor charlatan, but as a strangely gifted yet thoroughly believable product of his time and place.”
—Grant Wacker, author of Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture
“Hands down, this is the most balanced and informed study of American's larger-than-life Prophet and Seer,
Joseph Smith. It is also an important history of the founding era of Mormonism's founding era. Rough Stone
Rolling is for insiders and outsiders alike, a landmark in Mormon writing and a contribution to American religious
studies. It has grace, style, and intelligence-and quiet piety and frank honesty, too.”
—Ronald W. Walker, author of Mormon History
“Clearly the definitive biography for generations to come. Most balanced, thorough, and insightful treatment
to date--truly a masterful work. Wonderfully grounded in its interpretations. Wise in its judgments, penetrating
in its analysis, and rich in historical and cultural detail without ever losing sight of its subject. Bushman does
full justice to this most complex and influential of all American religious innovators.”
—Terryl Givens, author of The Latter-Day Saint Experience in America
"This biography recasts the study of Joseph Smith for the next generation. Bushman, a distinguished historian
and faithful believer, legitimizes Smith as a modern prophet and seeks the measure of this enigmatic man.
The volume challenges readers to reconcile Smith's remarkable religious accomplishments with his often
seemingly self-serving personal actions."
—Stephen Stein, author of The Shaker Experience in America
"At last a Joseph Smith to which Mormons and non-Mormons alike can relate. Meticulously researched,
beautifully written, and gripping in its narrative detail, this is Richard Bushman at his vintage best. There
is no question that this biography is the best book ever written about Mormonism's founding father, and
America's greatest home-grown prophet."
—Harry Stout, author of The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism
“Richard Bushman’s profound scholarly knowledge of American society and culture shapes and suffuses this
magisterial product of his life-long quest to interpret the early Mormon movement for skeptics and believers alike.
His definitive biography of the Mormon prophet supersedes all previous studies–hagiographic and critical–of this
—John F. Wilson, author of Religion and the American Nation
“In tracing this fateful shift from seer to czar and oracle to general, Bushman earns a place for his biography on the very short shelf reserved for books on Mormonism with appeal to initiates and outsiders, too.”
—Walter Kirn, The New York Times Book Review
“A fascinating, definitive biography . . . An intriguing exploration of a remarkable development in American religious history.”
—Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor
“Readers of this sensitive and comprehensive account will find a new and deeper understanding of Smith, the religion he founded, and the popular culture of the United States during the 39 years of his short but eventful life.”
—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
“An astonishing achievement that is meticulously researched, wonderfully grounded and rich in cultural context.”
—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen
“A stunning accomplishment.”
—Carl Rollyson, The New York Sun
“An exceptionally well-researched book”
“The must-have Mormon history of our generation.”
—By Common Consent