Often overlooked in the literature written about American families, the Smiths of Western New York nonetheless have a claim over the Rockefellers and Adamses and all the other subjects of lap-breaking tomes put out by big name biographers. The Smiths played an instrumental part in creating a religion. That’s big.
From studies of the early Latter-day Saints community in southern Illinois to the first-ever biography of the Church’s most famous cultural institution, UIP has helped to curate Mormon history for many long years. That project includes a long association with scholars dedicated to the study of the fascinating family of Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, by Richard L. Bushman
It is as history that Richard L. Bushman analyzes the emergence of Mormonism in the early nineteenth century. Bushman, however, brings to his study a unique set of credentials. He is both a prize-winning historian and a faithful member of the Latter-day Saints church. For Mormons and non-Mormons alike, his book provides a very special perspective on an endlessly fascinating subject.
Building upon previous accounts and incorporating recently discovered contemporary sources, Bushman focuses on the first twenty-five years of Joseph Smith’s life, up to his move to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831. Bushman shows how the rural Yankee culture of New England and New York–especially evangelical revivalism, Christian rationalism, and folk magic–both influenced and hindered the formation of Smith’s new religion. Mormonism, Bushman argues, must be seen not only as the product of this culture, but also as an independent creation based on the revelations of its charismatic leader. In the final analysis, it was Smith’s ability to breathe new life into the ancient sacred stories and to make a sacred story out of his own life which accounted for his own extraordinary influence. By presenting Smith and his revelations as they were viewed by the early Mormons themselves, Bushman leads us to a deeper understanding of their faith.
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, second edition, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery
When Joseph Smith who announced that an angel of the Lord had commanded him to introduce a ‘new order of marriage,’ Emma Hale Smith had to confront the practice of polygamy head on.
As the authors note in their introduction, “Early leaders in Utah castigated Emma from their pulpits for opposing Brigham Young and the practice of polygamy, and for lending support to the Reorganization. As these attitudes filtered down through the years, Emma was virtually written out of official Utah histories. In this biography, we have attempted to reconstruct the full story of this remarkable and much misunderstood woman’s experiences.”
From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet, by Valeen Tippetts Avery
Brilliant and charismatic, David Hyrum Smith was a poet, painter, singer, philosopher, naturalist, and highly effective missionary for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this richly detailed biography, Valeen Tippetts Avery chronicles the life of the last son of Joseph Smith and his first wife, Emma. Avery draws on a large body of correspondence for details of David’s life and on his poetry to reveal his personality and emotional struggles. She tells of his mental deterioration, starting with a probable breakdown early in 1870 and ending with his death in 1904 in the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane in Elgin, where he had been confined for twenty-seven years.