Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder
Joseph Smith Rough Stone Rolling.jpg
AuthorRichard L. Bushman
CountryUnited States
SubjectJoseph Smith
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
289.3/092 B 22
LC ClassBX8695.S6 B875 2005
Followed by2007 Vintage Books paperback 

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder is an award-winning biography of Joseph Smith, founder and prophet of the Latter Day Saint movement, by Richard Bushman. Bushman is both a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University.


The title of the book refers to a self-description by Smith, "I [am] a rough stone. The sound of the hammer and chisel was never heard on me nor never will be. I desire the learning and wisdom of heaven alone."[1] Bushman is the author of many books on early American cultural and religious history, and his own religious and academic background enables him to locate Smith in the cultural context of early nineteenth-century America.

Although the five-hundred eighty-four page biography (with additional extensive notes and documentation) does not avoid controversial aspects of Smith's life and work, such as his practice of polygamy and his youthful treasure-seeking, it treats them cautiously, and as Bushman himself admits, with "greater tolerance for Smith's remarkable stories than most historians would allow."[2]


Jane Lampman, reviewing the book for the Christian Science Monitor, called the book a fascinating, definitive biography, saying it explored the controversy surrounding Smith without attempting to resolve it, and lauded the book as "an honest yet sympathetic in its depiction of developing Mormonism."[3] Novelist Walter Kirn in The New York Times Book Review says that when reading Bushman's biography, "once the reader despairs of ever finding out whether Smith was God's own spokesman or the L. Ron Hubbard of his day, it's possible to enjoy a tale that's as colorful, suspenseful and unlikely as any in American history."[4] Novelist Larry McMurtry wrote that the book makes use of much recent research and is the most complete biography of Joseph Smith published to date, but that in reading Bushman, it is difficult to determine "where biography ends and apologetics begin."[5]

In a long academic review, Jan Shipps called the book "the crowning achievement of the new Mormon history," that is likely to "serve as the standard work on Mormonism's coming in to being" for the foreseeable future.[6] Marvin S. Hill, a retired Brigham Young University professor, wrote in Dialogue that Bushman "comes up markedly short at times and he does not always examine controversial issues carefully" but that "his book suggests that thought about the Prophet has matured among some faithful Latter-day Saints" and that "there is much to praise".[7] In 2011, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a non-Mormon historian of Mormonism, called Rough Stone Rolling "the definitive account ... on Joseph Smith’s life and legacy."[8]

In 2007, Bushman published a brief memoir about the publication of Rough Stone Rolling, which outlined both the genesis of the book and the reaction of audiences and reviewers during his yearlong book tour.[9]


Publication data[edit]

  • Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) ISBN 1-4000-4270-4 (hardcover)
  • Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Vintage Books, 2007) ISBN 978-1-4000-7753-3 (paperback)


  1. ^ Diary, June 11, 1843.
  2. ^ Richard Lyman Bushman, On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary (Salt Lake City: Gregg Kofford Books, 2007), 124.
  3. ^ Jane Lampman, "He founded a church and stirred a young nation," Christian Science Monitor, December 17, 2005
  4. ^ Walter Kirn, New York Times Book Review, January 15, 2006, 14-15.
  5. ^ Larry McMurtry, "Angel in America," New York Review of Books, November 17, 2005, 35-37.
  6. ^ Jan Shipps, "Richard Lyman Bushman, the Story of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, and the New Mormon History Archived 2008-04-30 at the Wayback Machine," Journal of American History, 94 (September 2007)
  7. ^ Hill, Marvin S. (Fall 2006). "By Any Standard, A Remarkable Book". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 39 (3): 155–163.
  8. ^ Underwood, Grant; Stout, Harry S.; Wood, Gordon S.; Kelly, Catherine; Maffly-Kipp, Laurie; Bushman, Richard Lyman (Fall 2011). "A Retrospective on the Scholarship of Richard Bushman" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 44 (3): 1–43.
  9. ^ Richard Lyman Bushman, On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary (Salt Lake City: Gregg Kofford Books, 2007).
  10. ^ "MHA Awards" (PDF). Mormon History Association. 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2008-10-22.
  11. ^ "Previous Winners - Evans Biography Award" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-22.

External links[edit]