JOSEPH SMITH: A Penguin Life

Robert Vincent Remini, Author . Viking/Lipper $19.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-670-03083-5

This accessible biography by Remini, a historian whose three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson won the National Book Award, makes a fine contribution to the field of Mormon studies. Remini has an engaging writing style, as when he suggests that Joseph Smith's future father-in-law "roared his refusal" to his daughter's marrying the young upstart, or that the prophet's friend Sidney Rigdon was a "fire-breathing Mormon." The book is strongest when it contextualizes the Mormon story in the larger fabric of U.S. history in the first half of the 19th century. Not surprisingly, Remini speaks eloquently about the sea changes that characterized the Jacksonian age, and explores how Smith and early Mormonism benefited from—and were also hurt by—the spiritual and economic cataclysms of the era. Remini helps readers understand how specific events in Mormon history were related to larger trends and affairs; for example, he situates the collapse of the Mormon-owned Kirtland Bank in the larger rubric of the financial panic of 1837. Remini states at the outset that this biography does not seek to pass judgment on the authenticity of Smith's prophetic calling, and with only a few exceptions, he successfully holds that neutral stance. There are several scattered and minor errors; there was no subtitle on the first edition of the Book of Mormon, as Remini claims, and Brigham Young is believed to have had 27 wives for "time and all eternity," not 20. But these are very insignificant problems in a book noteworthy for its balanced tone and thorough scholarship. (Oct. 14)

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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