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Early Mormonism and the Magic World View Paperback – December 15, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

D. Michael Quinn was born in 1944 in Pasadena, California. He studied English and philosophy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah—interrupted by a two-year LDS proselytizing mission to England (1963-65)—and graduated in 1968. Then followed three years of military service in Germany as a counter-intelligence agent.

When he returned from Europe in 1971, Quinn began a master's program in history at the University of Utah and half-time employment at the LDS Church Historian's Office. He received his M.A. in 1973, then moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to continue his studies in history at Yale University. While a graduate student Quinn published in Brigham Young University Studies, the Journal of Mormon History, New York History, the Pacific Historical Review, and Utah Historical Quarterly. When he received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1976, his dissertation on the Mormon hierarchy as an elite power structure won the Frederick W. Beinecke and George W. Egleston awards.

That same year Quinn began twelve years of employment as a member of BYU's history faculty. He received post-doctoral training in quantitative history at the Newbery Library in Chicago in 1982, and the next year served as associate director of BYU's Vienna study-abroad program. In 1984 he received full professorship; two years later he became director of the graduate program in history. In 1986 Quinn received his most cherished award: Outstanding Teacher by vote of BYU's graduating history majors.

While at BYU Quinn served on the board of editors for three scholarly journals and on the program committee for the Western History Association. He gave formal papers at annual meetings of the American Historical Association (AHA), the Mormon History Association (MHA), the Organization of American Historians, Sunstone Theological Symposium, Western History Association, the World Conference on Records, and by invitation to a conference jointly sponsored by the Fondation de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and the Laboratoire de Recherche sur L'Imaginaire Americain (University of Paris). He received best article awards from the Dialogue Foundation, the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA), and MHA. His last article as a BYU faculty member appeared in New Views of Mormon History: A Collection of Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington (University of Utah Press, 1987).

His first book, J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years (Brigham Young University Press, 1983), received the best book award from MHA. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Signature Books, 1987) received best book awards from MHA and JWHA, as well as the Grace Arrington Award for Historical Excellence. However, due to disputes with BYU administrators over academic freedom, Quinn resigned his tenured position at BYU in 1988. Since then he has worked as an independent scholar.

After resigning from BYU he received long-term fellowships from the Huntington Library in southern California (twice), the National Endowment for the Humanities (twice), and Indiana University-Purdue University, as well as a major honorarium from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has edited The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past (Signature Books, 1992) and published essays in Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past (Norton, 1992), Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History (Signature Books, 1992), Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism (Signature Books, 1992), Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education (University of Chicago Press, 1993), the New Encyclopedia of the American West (Yale University Press, 1998), and American National Biography (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

In May 1994 he received the T. Edgar Lyon Award for Excellence from MHA. He has subsequently completed four books: The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994); Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example (University of Illinois Press, 1996), which received the 1997 AHA award for best book by an independent scholar; The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Signature Books, 1997); and the revised Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Signature Books, 1998), which is twice the size of the original edition. He has begun preliminary work on a social history of late-twentieth-century sexuality.

Quinn has served in the 1990s as a historical consultant for four Public Broadcasting Service documentaries: Joe Hill, A Matter of Principle, The Mormon Rebellion, and Utah: The Struggle for Statehood, and for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's L'Etat Mormon (The Mormon State). He has been a guest lecturer at the Graduate School of Claremont Colleges and at four Utah universities. In addition, he has been the keynote speaker at meetings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, the Chicago Humanities Symposium, the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Washington State Historical Society. In 1998 he served on an NEH panel for selecting recipients of year-long fellowships.

Quinn has been featured in Christianity Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lingua Franca, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Newsweek, Publishers Weekly, Time, and the Washington Post. In 1997 a biographical sketch and discussion of his writing techniques appeared in Contemporary Authors.

From the Author

Eleven years ago my Introduction expressed confidence that LDS believers did not need to fear including occult beliefs and magic practices in the history of Mormonism's founders. In 1992 LDS church headquarters affirmed that view in its official Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which mentioned the influence of treasure-digging folk magic (see ch. 2) in five separate entries concerning Joseph Smith. These articles did not list my book in their source-notes, but one did cite an anti-Mormon minister's article about this topic in a Protestant evangelical magazine. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see this ripple-effect from the splash of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. As Richard L. Bushman recently wrote in a review for FARMS, "the magical culture of nineteenth-century Yankees no longer seems foreign to the Latter-day Saint image of the Smith family.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 730 pages
  • Publisher: Signature Books; 2nd Edition edition (December 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560850892
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560850892
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

150 of 164 people found the following review helpful By Missing in Action on May 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am not a historian, nor an academic, so I did not read Quinn's book looking for impecable research, and I dared not get lost in the details. And unlike many of his academic readers and critics, I will only read this book once. But that was enough. In fact, what Quinn takes the most heat for, his extensive, even obsessive research, was more of a burden for me than enlightening. I appreciate the fact that he has done a great deal of research, but I assume that any credible author has. What makes this book important is not the fact that fully 50% of the pages are dedicated to footnotes. It's important because it throws necessary light on the possibility that the traditional paradigm and interpretation of "authorized" (read: "doctored" or at least "censored") LDS Church history is not necessarily the way things came into being.
This book is threatening to traditionalist Mormons. It takes sacred mythology that surrounds the lives of the founding members of the LDS church and turns it on its ear, but not for the sake of "breaking it," merely for the sake of seeing it in a manner which may be more consistent with what it really was, rather than what we want it to be. Quinn reminds us that so much of history is lost, even when we have the records, because history is so very much more than facts...it is more about context, interpretation, meaning to the contemporaries, all of which pertains to the world view of the day...which world view necessarily is different than the world view a few generations later. Because our world view today is so far removed from the Magic World View of colonial America, it is nearly impossible for us to make sense of magic images and stories that come to us from history; so we ignore them.
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100 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Active Latter-Day Texan on January 8, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, Quinn captures the world view of Joseph Smith and many other early church leaders. Even if you don't believe every one of the vast number of coincidences, statements by those who knew Joseph, including former prophets and counselors, everyone must admit objectively that much of this is true. Joseph Smith believed in folk magic, which makes him like many people who lived during his time. He practiced it, and it played a part in the formation of the church. Even Bushman in his book "Rough Stone Rolling" admits this.

As Boyd K. Packer has said on the subject of church history, "not everything that is true is useful." This is certainly true for this book. Reading the book, and understanding early history, will put the church in a perspective that is not in accordance with the revised or edited history we are so often presented with, and want to believe in. Historical facts which are true, but left unsaid, are damaging because when discovered, they are testimony damaging.

So what objective truths show that Quinn is correct about early Mormonism and the magic world view?

1. Joseph used "seer stones" or "peep-stones" well before the urim and thumim came along, and he hunted for treasure. It was not a reluctant one time venture, it was a part of who he was, and involved most of his family. He a number of different stones, and used them while translating the Book of Mormon.

2. His treasure hunting included many rituals out of occult books, and this was common during his time. This is confirmed by many statements of early church leaders including Brigham Young, Porter Rockwall, Martin Harris, etc.

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113 of 134 people found the following review helpful By stubbornartist@yahoo.com on June 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
The most important thing to say about D. Michael Quinn's treatment of LDS origins and folk magic is that it is the essential work on the subject. Anyone honestly interested in Mormonism has to read this book: there is no substitute. What Quinn has accomplished with his scholarship is absolutely unparalleled in the field. The modern student really cannot understand the LDS movement without studying Quinn's book.
It is also vital to recognize what Quinn has sacrificed for the sake of truth in this treatment. Many Mormons are excommunicated--but usually they are doctrinally disaffected. Quinn is a believing Mormon whose scholarship cost him his fellowship with the LDS Church. This may not reflect well on the church, but it certainly says a lot for Quinn.
Having given these truths appropriate primacy, I turn critical. Quinn has done something amazing in this book--but he could have done it much better. Indeed, as I read and reread it, I was astounded by how such an insightful investigator and thorough scholar could also be such a bonehead. And I still don't understand it to this day.
In this context, I must take pains to protest that Quinn's faults are not those preached by his enemies in the LDS polemical establishment. Almost always, when he is involved in a dispute with one of these, he is in the right. His command of information involving Mormon origins is truly breathtaking, and his critics are generally reduced to redesigning the rules of evidence in every case in order to discredit him. Quinn rightly resents these tactics--which leads him into one of the superficial faults of this edition of the book.
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