on February 26, 2002
I wish I could give it four and a half stars. Dr. Anderson takes a fine point to the early life of Joseph Smith. With impeccable care and documentation, he leads us through the childhood of a man who would exhibit a type of genius rarely seen in charismatic leaders. Anderson wisely limits himself to the effects of Joseph's experiences in the composition and contents of the Book of Mormon. By the time the "semi-retired psychiatrist" gets to the end of the book, he barely needs to justify or explain his diagnosis since he's already done so from a variety of angles previously. My only criticism is that occasionally Dr. Anderson extends his theories and suppositions quite far, but he usually does so with qualifications.
Not for the initiate into the arcane world of LDS theology and history. Try "Mormon America" first. But for a guy like me who spent 40 years (two as a missionary) in "the Church," it's a haunting trip into the mind of a very famous, unique American religious leader.
on April 23, 2005
Anderson begins by accepting the scientific evidence supporting the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is a fraud. Within this context, and owing to its rapid dictation, he views the Book of Mormon akin to the sort of free association a psychologist might encounter with a patient. He then applies the principles of psychoanalytic analysis to discern specific attributes and traits of Joseph Smith's personality. In Anderson's words:
"This book is not about `Did Joseph Smith create the Book of Mormon?" but "How did Joseph Smith create the Book of Mormon." [xxvi]
I must admit I was skeptical about the author's claim. After all, psychoanalysis is viewed by many scientists as a branch of pseudoscience and quackery. Anderson tempers his approach, however, and when he goes out on a limb with his explanations he's quick to point it out to the reader, and to moderate his conclusions with warnings about the limitations of his craft.
Even if one disregards the psychoanalytic aspects all together, this book still has considerable value. Anderson presents a nice summary of interesting bits of early Mormonism that are probably unknown to most members, owing to the church's revisionist and exclusionary policy toward Joseph's early history. Anderson also presents some very compelling parallels between Smith's life and key events and themes in the Book of Mormon.
The author diagnoses Joseph Smith as a narcissist. He also claims the Book of Mormon plays out (often several times) key events from Smith's life. Some of the parallels he describes are truly interesting and hard to ignore. Because of this, the temptation is always present to use these parallels as evidence against the Book of Mormon. While parallels between Smith's life and the Book of Mormon do call into question the book's authenticity, one must remember that the book's fraudulent nature is accepted from the start with Anderson.
With the exception of the introduction, the book is quite interesting and held my interest. The introduction is filled (it seems) with very dry and technical information about psychoanalysis that I found hard to wade through. This is unfortunate because it may dissuade readers who would truly enjoy later parts of the book.
Anderson describes many parallels that are striking and too obvious to ignore. Sometimes, though, I think he tries too hard, and I found some of his conclusions far fetched. When the parallels don't quite line up he invokes inversion and exaggeration. This left me with the occasional impression that the author was simply picking and choosing explanations - using correlation when it's there, and anti-correlation when it's not there. That's exactly the sort of ad hoc story telling that astrologers and other superstitious people use, and it distracts somewhat from the validity of Anderson's case.
According to Anderson, Smith saw himself as Nephi (Nephi was just one of Smith's alter egos in the Book of Mormon), and Smith used elements of his life throughout the Book of Mormon. Here are a few examples:
1) Nephi is Smith. Later in the book, Smith uses Moroni as an alter ego
2) The surgeons who cut into Joseph's leg are represented by Laban and other bad guys in the story
3) The surgeon's knife is represented by the sword of Laban
4) A prophet named Nephi raised his dead brother. The brother represents Joseph's brother, Alvin, who also died, and the story illustrates Smith's fanciful vision of himself as a great prophet
5) Smith's money-digging activities and superstitions are mirrored in the slippery tools and treasure in the Book of Mormon
6) Jesus' work with little children and the visions received by the little children represent Smith's frustration over the fact that his prophecy failed when he said his first son (born disfigured and stillborn) would translate from the gold plates
7) Cities, roads, political events and robbers/barons from Smith's frontier life are all represented in the Book of Mormon (Many others have commented on the obvious parallels between Book of Mormon politics and religion and Smith's sermons in the Book of Mormon).
Anderson claims the parallels in the Book of Mormon and Smith's actual life are so correlated that the chronology is mirrored in 3 Nephi (one of two other places where Anderson says Smith presents his life in allegory). He outlines over a dozen of them on pages 110-111 (table 2). Although I winced at some of his parallels, I think may of them are quite remarkable, and all of them are more striking than anything FARMS has ever presented in their comical attempts to prove the Book of Mormon's authenticity.
The last few pages are among the best. Here, Anderson illustrates how narcissistic religious leaders attract converts with particular personalities, and how the followers reinforce the leader, who then reinforces the followers in a circular fashion as they feed each other's emotional needs. He also illustrates the narcissistic nature of the LDS Church itself:
"The narcissist not only assigns feelings and roles to other(s) but also coerces and manipulates others into taking the assignment. A common technique is the implied threat: "If you don't accept the position, feeling, or role in relationship to me, I will leave or send you away." The second party - individual or group - accepts the role, abandons critical evaluation, and remains locked in a primitive form of fused function with the narcissist."
Reading this book, I was struck by the many narcissistic characteristics found in the "leaders" that Mormons favor today. George W. Bush, for example, has many of Smith's narcissistic qualities, and he was elected by about 72 percent of Utahans - a higher percentage than any other state. It's as if Smith designed Mormonism so that it attracts members who value narcissistic leaders, ensuring that Joseph's legacy lives on in the controlling religious/political nature of the modern LDS Church, as victims beget victims, and narcissistic leaders egg them on.
on December 10, 1999
The value of the insights in this book cannot be overstated. The author makes an extremely convincing case that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, and in the process inadvertently let items from his [Smith's] own life color the narrative, providing a sort of "free association" setting during the dictation. Although the author uses these "colorings" to form a psychoanalytical profile for the Mormon prophet, the listing of parallels alone are well worth the price of the book.
The author's intent is to provide a tentative diagnosis, and he fully explains the inherent weaknesses in such an approach. Although there may be alternative diagnoses for Smith, the evidences themselves outlined by the author that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon are *not* so weak and will be much more difficult for the apologists to refute.
Much material about Mormonism, pro- and con-, has been hashed and rehashed. This book does not contain any of that. This book offers a refreshing and unique dimension to the pro- vs. con- dialogue. Often I caught myself saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"
I heartily recommend this book.
on August 9, 1999
A superb and fascinating study, approached with the dual advantage of an insider and an experienced psychiatrist. Anderson has mastered the impressive literature and presents a convincing psychobiographic study of one of the great religious figures of the American scene. He unveils for us one of the most profound and perplexing questions in the understanding of religious movements--how important figures can translate psychic disturbances into messages of conviction and inspiration. The story itself is powerful, and the questions it raises are thought provoking.--W.W. Meissner, S.J., M.D., Professor of Psychoanalysis, Boston College; author, Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint and of Psychoanalysis and the Religious Experience.
Anderson has an excellent grasp of early Mormon history and writes with dispassion and good balance, impressive scholarship, and readable prose. His naturalistic explanation provides a unique and penetrating analysis of the factors which motivated and fashioned Joseph Smith's dictation of the Book of Mormon. We have been waiting a long time for this book.--Brigham D. Madsen, Professor Emeritus of History and former Vice President, University of Utah; editor, Studies of the Book of Mormon.
on March 11, 2007
Inside in the Mind of Joseph Smith is a valuable addition to the small library of books that critically and impartially look at the life of Mormonism's founder. Robert D. Anderson, MD is a semi-retired psychiatrist with a special interest in psychoanalysis, and he uses these skills to examine how and why Joseph Smith created the Book of Mormon (BoM). To Anderson, the BoM is a veiled autobiography of Smith, and Anderson writes a thorough and lucid comparison of notable events in Smith's life to stories in the BoM. Though sometimes circumstantial, this evidence piles up so that the clear thinker cannot help but understand that Smith's claims of translating an ancient record are bogus, often pitiful, and always self serving.
What prompted Smith to dictate a wild, violent set of stories that became his claim to prophethood? As a child, Smith underwent a horrible trauma of three operations without anesthesia on a leg bone diseased with typhoid osteomyelitis. This ghastly triad of events damaged Smith's psyche deeply; and put together with a drunk, lazy father; a superstitious and depressed mother; and episodes of profound poverty, young Joseph turned to fantasy and wholesale deceit to make himself seem special. In this state of mind, he describes himself as Nephi, Moroni, and other superhero prophets as he vanquishes his "ancient American" foes. These foes are thinly disguised versions of his perceived enemies--the surgeon who saved his leg, those who put him on trial for treasure hunting, and so forth.
Some weaknesses in Anderson's book detract from its overall strength. Quoting scientific references from the 1950s and constantly reminding us that he is speculating with his comparisons could easily have been remedied. I wish he would have fleshed out the "psychobiography" of Joseph Smith's later life more than he did. Joseph's "marrying" and having sexual relations with teenage brides; coaxing married women to secretly marry him--these are events that certainly support Anderson's diagnosis of a runaway case of narcissistic personality disorder. The author's case would be more supported and complete with such an analysis. Happily, as he finishes his analysis in the final chapter, Anderson does throw in an interesting description of Joseph at the height of his narcissism (Nauvoo). Letters written by Charlotte Haven, an unbiased visitor to Nauvoo near the end of Smith's life, describe Smith as boastful, egomaniacal, coarse, and seriously lacking in social skills.
Anderson's book is a necessary addition to the library critical of the LDS church's founder. As Fawn Brodie pointed out in her classic No Man Knows My History, starting a religion in the age of publishing and printing presses was, among other things, quite daring. When one looks critically at materials written by and about Smith during his lifetime, you see a sad picture of a man horribly deformed psychologically by traumatic surgery and poor, superstitious parents. His production, the Book of Mormon, is a superhero-filled comic book of a boy-man crying out for a childhood filled with love and security he never had.
on June 16, 2002
After reading many many books on Joseph Smith from pro and anti sources some dating back more than 100 years old, this one is easily the best and most disturbing of all.
It takes everything that is known historically about Smith and uses what modern science knows to put together a very detailed pscho-analysis, if you will, of Joseph Smith. It is a very sad and disturbing portrait. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart. But if you follow the author's thoughtful argument to the end and understand his thesis, you end up with a very powerful and comprehensive portrait of a sad, lonely and manipulative person who was charismatic enough to gather hundreds of followers who loved and adored him. I would only recommend the book to those well versed in the history of the period and of Smith. Should only be read after reading the Hill and Brodie biographies at a minimum. I was reminded of John Mack's great pscyobiography of Lawrence of Arabia(T. E. Lawrence) "Prince of our Disorder" that won the Pulitzer prize in 1976.
I have read the Anderson book twice in it's entirety and parts many times more and am always struck by the power of his portrait. This is one for the ages, in my opinion. Too bad it has taken this long to reveal the Joseph Smith at last! Don't miss this one, it will change your world view on human nature itself.
on December 20, 2002
The context in which this book must be read is given in the first chapter. The author says, and I paraphrase, "This book doesn't ask the question, 'Did Joseph Smith write the Book of Mormon?' This book assumes that he did, and addresses the question, 'How did Joseph Smith write the Book of Mormon?'"
In short, don't look for a fair approach to the first question. That's not what this book is about.
Anderson has a great handle on Mormon history. The insights that he offers into how certain traumatic events in Joseph Smith's childhood could have affected his personality are often enlightening, and always interesting. i.e. The trauma associated with the near amputation of Smiths leg, and the public humiliation of being on trial for being a glass looker. Anderson does a nice job of helping us reflect on Smith's humanity. He helps us see that these events are indeed difficult for a person to go through, and that they can shape how one views the world.
That said, I thought this book also had some fundamental problems. For example, at times Anderson uses the Book of Mormon text to help determine the order or details of certain historical events in Joseph's life. Other times he seems to claim to know exactly what motivated Smith on certain occasions, because of what is written in a part of the Book of Mormon. This seemed too speculative to me. Some of this speculation is interesting theory, other portions seem specious.
Nevertheless, an interesting read. A intriguing theoretical approach.
This "semi-retired psychiatrist in private practice" wrote in the Preface to this 1999 book, "The primary purposes of this book are to investigate the psychology of Joseph Smith, demonstrate the benefits of psychobiography, expand awareness of psychological processes, provide an alternate explanation for at least some supernatural claims, and expand scientific knowledge."
Here are some additional quotations from the book:
"In this book, I will argue that Joseph Smith, both knowingly and unknowing, injected his own personality, conflicts, and solutions into the book he was dictating. Thus I hypothesize that the Book of Mormon can be understood as Smith's autobiography, that we can discern repeated psychological patters in Smith's transformation of his childhood and youth before 1829 into Book of Mormon stories, and that these observations can contribute to a psychological understanding of Smith." (Pg. xxvii-xxviii)
"Using psychoanalyic perspectives and tools, I argue that certain themes and incidents from the childhooe of Joseph Smith, Jr., repeat themselves in disguise within the Book of Mormon narrative." (Pg. 15)
"I believe that the application of psychological theory to Smith's autobiography and to the Book of Mormon narratives ... provides persuasive reasons for seeing the Book of Mormon as a disguised version of Smith's life." (Pg. 65)
"Smith turned to religion---either for consolation or possibly to placate a vengeful God." (Pg. 91)
"I am proposing that the theology, stories, and geography came from Joseph's life, expanded into 'greater than life' episodes, and being modified as required to allow him to conquer in fantastic reality." (Pg. 126)
"My discussion of the Book of Ether is unquestionably the most speculative in this volume..." (Pg. 200)
"I am profoundly aware of how offensive this interpretation may be to devout Mormons. This very dark view of Joseph Smith's early infancy and childhood is admittedly extreme speculation, and there is no historical documentation of such emotional deprivation from his mother's history that would justify such furious hatred in the story." (Pg. 212)
on July 12, 2008
I thought the book overstated Smith's life events. I am not a Mormon, rather I have extensive reading of available Mormon material as a self interest. I believe Smith had some collaboration as the break up of the group demonstrated in their writing. However, I found the book well written and informative and would recommend it to those readers that are interested in Mormon roots.
on May 12, 2013
I read this a while ago, so I can't really tell you what all was in it. It didn't blow me away but I read it quickly. It was what I expected and delivered on time, no complaints.