Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reflections: The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother

Adam C. Zern sounds off on Lucy Mack Smith's The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother:

"I am a Latter-day Saint and have read and written about other 'mormon-centric' books in the past.  The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother seems like a pillar of church history.  It's a highly referenced book, which reveals something about Joseph and especially his family that other books simply aren’t able to do; it was written by his mother after all.  Although I think it's somewhat of a misnomer to call the book The History of Joseph Smith since its focus wanders from Lucy Mack Smith's own life, her husband's, Joseph's brothers and sisters, and occasionally focuses on Joseph's, what it does reveal about Joseph and his family is definitely worth knowing and pondering.  Joseph Smith is now revered (and hated) by millions across the planet and The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother highlights the extraordinary family that surrounded, supported, and loved him during his life.

Lucy Mack Smith is not a historian; therefore, the structure of her book seems a little random at times, even though it flows almost entirely in a chronological pattern.  It has always fascinated me to try and understand why an author would include some details while excluding so many others.  As a Latter-day Saint, I understand how important the Nauvoo temple was and is in our history.  However, Lucy Mack Smith makes no mention of it whatsoever in her history.  Yet, other important events in Latter-day Saint history are featured quite prominently, such as: the discovery and translation of the Book of Mormon, the Missouri persecutions, and, of course, the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.  There wasn't anything in the book that wasn't of particular interest.  I found myself engaged in each episode of Lucy's life or the life of her children. 

What I didn't get from The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother which I expected to get was a new or different perspective of Joseph Smith.  I wanted to see him from a more personal viewpoint, but I was, for the most part, disappointed in that hope.  You get glimpses of who Joseph was, as a boy and man, but nothing that moved me on a more intimate level.  I can't help but think of Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage and how profoundly that book affected my interpretation of who Jesus was and is.  Then again, Jesus the Christ was a book dedicated entirely to understanding one person, whereas The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother isn't really about Joseph Smith but his family.

The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother is an excellent book to understand some of the nuances of Joseph Smith, his family, and the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Joseph Smith will only become a more well-known figure throughout the world as the years roll on and it's not a bad idea to understand his beginnings—especially his sprightly and dynamic mother—and a little more about his life, even if you're not a Latter-day Saint.  As a Latter-day Saint, reading The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother gave me more to believe and appreciate about the Church I belong to and why I care so deeply about it."

Other Topics of Interest:
People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture
The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt
Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography

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