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Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (A Biography) Hardcover – April 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

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Was Joseph Smith a true prophet or a religious pretender? Vogel, who edited the five-volume series Early Mormon Documents, attempts to answer this and other questions in this somewhat tedious, workmanlike psychological biography of Smith. In his youth, Vogel says, Smith experienced a dream about gold tablets and the angel Moroni that he later shaped into a narrative of his prophetic calling. Vogel performs a close reading of the Book of Mormon in search of clues to the development of Smith's religious life, arguing that while the book reveals Smith's own inner religious conflictsâ€"his beliefs about eternal damnation, for exampleâ€"the process of "translating" the Book of Mormon exposes a religious leader who was willing to use any means at hand to secure his prophetic authority. Vogel also questions whether the gold plates were really delivered to Smith by an angel or whether Smith fashioned them himself, for he would not let anyone see them uncovered. Vogel's speculations that Smith engaged in deception to obtain his status as God's chosen man will certainly provoke strenuous objections, but his tone is a careful balance of criticism and admiration. The book's chief flaw is that it does not fulfill its own ambitious goals. After an introduction in which Vogel declares his intention to draw upon family-systems theory to analyze the Smith family's dysfunctionality and to use his research on the methods of the charlatan to better understand Smith as a religious pretender, the biography veers off into other directions and ends abruptly at the height of Smith's career.
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"The new gold standard in biographies of the Mormon prophet." -- Will Bagley, Autor of Blood of the Prophets

"Vogel exploits his unparalleled knowlege of primary sources and located them within a broader framework of American history and religion" -- Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University

"Vogel provides and important new explanation of the making of a prophet" -- Ann Taves, Claremont Graduate School

Best Book Award, 2004 -- John Whitmer Historical Association

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 744 pages
  • Publisher: Signature Books (April 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560851791
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560851790
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 2.4 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,187,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By MysteryMan on August 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best and most detailed biographies about the early life of Joseph Smith. The book ends in 1831 when Joseph Smith goes to Ohio. Vogel gives the best possible secular interpretation of Jospeh Smith. Vogel states up front in the introduction that he does not believe in the super natural and interprets Joseph Smith from that point of view. Vogel deals far better with the complexities of Joseph Smith than do other secular biographies of Joseph Smith such as Fawn Brodies biography that states Joseph Smith was simply a con artist from the beginning and may have started to believe in his own prophetic calling. Instead of simply being a fraud, Vogel believes Smith sincerely believed himself to be a prophet but that Smith was willing to use deception in order to convince other people of his calling. Vogel makes the case that Smith likely did have some sort of spiritual awakening in 1820/1821, which later became known as Smith's First Vision. Vogel believes that Smith had a desire to unite his family spiritually, and therefore used "golden plates" story to unite both religion (which was appealing to his mother) and folk magic (which was appealing to his father). Vogel believes that through looking for buried treasure Smith learned to convince people he had a supernatural gift. Later Smith would use his gift of persuasion to convince people he was a prophet.

Vogel also meticulously goes through the Book of Mormon verse by verse demonstrating an immense knowledge of the Book of Mormon. Vogel attempts to show where Smith came up with many of the stories contained in the Book of Mormon. However I believe in some ways this is one of the books most major weaknesses. Vogel gets a little to bogged down in trying to figure out where the stories of the Book of Mormon came from.
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43 of 52 people found the following review helpful By I am the on May 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an exhaustive overview of the origins of Mormonism, focusing primarily on Joseph Smith's production of the Book of Mormon. As such, Vogel's title does not really match the book's content, as at least two thirds of the book is devoted to a detailed, blow-by-blow commentary on the BofM's contents. Hence, I would not call this a biography in the classic sense. Vogel assumes that Smith is the BofM's author. I have no problem with this. But he also assumes that the characters and situations in the book are largely autobiographical, a view that is speculative at best. This assumption leads to some very tenuous conclusions, and causes much of the text to read like "psychobiography." Not that this is a bad thing, but this approach has already been done (and done better) by others. (see Anderson's _Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith_.) But the real problem with Vogel's book is that it is simply too long for what it accomplishes. Editors at Signature Books should have helped Vogel shave off the most speculative conclusions and tangential digressions in his manuscript in order to find the five-star 300 page book lurking within. As it is, it is a three-star 700 page book. I had high hopes for this work, but I cannot recommend it without reservation.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on August 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dan Vogel proved a masterful editor of the five-volume Early Mormon Documents, and perhaps his encyclopedic knowledge of the primary sources is part of the problem with this biography. Vogel knows the young Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon inside and out, but he doesn't seem to know how to summarize what he knows--or to ignore what he only supposes.

Vogel's thesis is that Joseph Smith's motivation for founding a new religion arose in conflicts that occurred within his semi-dysfunctional family. While there is undoubtedly truth to this notion, Vogel insists on taking us through the Book of Mormon blow-by-blow to explicate his argument. Some of his conclusions are clever and perceptive, others in-the-ballpark possible, and some (at best) strained. For instance, in Vogel's reading, the Book of Mormon account of Lamanites forcing women and children to eat the flesh of their husbands and fathers while restricting the prisoners' access to water is supposed to illustrate Smith's "oral rage" at his father "mixed with the fever, thirst, and torture of childhood surgery." (374) There's always something poignant about religious skeptics putting their trust in this sort of psychobabble.

Readers can expect a good deal of autobiography in a first novel, but they should also expect a good deal of fiction. Vogel occasionally seems annoyed when there is no obvious autobiographical hook on which to hang his notions. On one occasion, he suggests that a portion of the Book of Mormon is "perhaps...literary license"(211). Well, yes, literary license is what novels are about.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kay Burningham on May 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is very detailed and densely packed with facts from the Mormon Prophet's life. Vogel presents a natural explanation for the actions and words of Mormonism's founding prophet. In contrast to Richard Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling," he doesn't gloss over, or attempt to provide an excuse for Smith's obvious character flaws.

Because the book is so fact intensive--very detailed--it can drag at times. However, this biography along with Vogel's five volume set of "Early Mormon Documents," are important additions to any library of accurate Mormon history.

Kay Burningham, Attorney

Author of "An American Fraud: One Lawyer's Case against Mormonism"
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