A guest post from J Stuart, of Juvenile Instructor (The BCC Farm Team)
Summer Book Club: Read Rough Stone Rolling with Historians of Mormonism
As a Mormon and historian of American religion, I’ve had a lot of people ask me what book they should read to begin their study of Mormon history. Unequivocally, my answer is Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Weighing in at 561 pages, it is longer than the Book of Mormon—which is perhaps why so few have read Bushman’s tome from cover to cover. The book itself can be physically and intellectually intimidating to historians and non-historians alike. Many Mormons and non-Mormons have read and digested the book in order to see Joseph Smith’s place in the history of antebellum America, American religious history, or just to learn more about Mormonism’s founder.
I argue that it’s much more important for Mormons to read Rough Stone Rolling than it is for historians of American religion (although they should also read it!). Many people have purchased the book, or seen the book in their parent’s homes, or at their local libraries, or see it on their “You May Also Be Interested In” lists on Amazon, based on their purchase history. But, for whatever reason, they have not yet begun Bushman’s behemoth—most likely because of its size and the difficulty of reading through the first (thick) couple of chapters.
I suspect that many BCC readers, like me, have received distraught phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook conversations with friends or family members that have urgent questions about Joseph Smith’s life or teachings. When others raise questions arise about Joseph Smith, I inevitably ask whether they have read Rough Stone Rolling. The answer is almost always a sheepish “no,” although many people tell me that they have a copy sitting on their shelf. Some have even said that they were nervous to read church history without someone telling them what can be trusted. After talking through the issues for any sort of historical context or relevant information about Joseph Smith, I’ll ask them to read relevant portions of Rough Stone Rolling for us to discuss later.
Every church leader, teacher, and mentor in the church should read the book, if only to answer others’ questions. If you have not yet had questions about Joseph Smith’s teachings that can’t necessarily be readily found in a Sunday School manual, you will. I guarantee it (or I’ll happily return the money you paid to read this blog post).
To help those looking for a reason, whatever the reason, to read or re-read Rough Stone Rolling, we at the Juvenile Instructor are hosting a summer book club. Starting May 10th, we will read a few chapters a week, provide readable analysis, and answer questions in the comments. So if you’ve wanted to read or re-read the definitive biography of Joseph Smith, but didn’t have a reading partner or historians to provide helpful contexts and relevant information, THIS is your chance.