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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smiths best biography, for now.
This is certainly the best biography about Joseph Smith so far. I believe it is certainly the most objective, it does not bash Smith or praise and defend him. Its objective is to attempt to understand Joseph Smith. I feel for the most part it does achieve that goal. I felt after reading it I certainly had a better understanding of who Joseph Smith was. I appreciated the...
Published on August 20, 2002 by Ryan Wimmer

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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still no definitive biography of Joseph Smith
Donna Hill's biography of Joseph Smith is good. Ms. Hill does a good job of telling the history without being too partisan (pro/anti mormon), unlike the two preceding major biographies of Joseph Smith. However, she falls into the trap in many instances of not going into enough detail, and not elaborating enough. This book seemed to me too rushed and incomplete. It...
Published on January 6, 2000 by JOSHUA J DIVINE


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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smiths best biography, for now., August 20, 2002
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
This is certainly the best biography about Joseph Smith so far. I believe it is certainly the most objective, it does not bash Smith or praise and defend him. Its objective is to attempt to understand Joseph Smith. I feel for the most part it does achieve that goal. I felt after reading it I certainly had a better understanding of who Joseph Smith was. I appreciated the fact that Hill did not get off on issues such as whether or not the Book of Mormon is real history or if Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that was not the books goal. My only criticism is it does not really focus on Joseph Smiths culture or enviroment that he lived in. It also sometimes seems that it is more of a early history of the Mormon Church than a biography. There are more biographies about Joseph Smith currently being written that I believe will replace this one as being the most definitive biography of Joseph Smith. However right now there is no better biography about Joseph Smith available. And having spent several hours of my own in the Churches Historical department studying certain aspects of Joseph Smiths life, I do feel somewhat qualified in saying that.
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Objectivity is Not Possible..., March 28, 2000
By 
Missing in Action (Idaho Falls, Idaho USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
The chore of any biographer is to attempt to portray their subject in as true a light as possible. The problem lies in the reality that most people, especially the colorful characters that shape history, look so different when cast under different lights. None more so than Joseph Smith. Donna Hill tackles no small task in attempting a balanced look at an extremely controversial figure, one whose name is had for divine praise or demonic derision, but seldom anything disspationate. What is important is that she doesn't shy away from the tough topics including; the Smith family's fascination with folk magic; money digging; polygamy; and the Danites, yet leaves the reader free to draw their own conclusions. For instance, as she describes what many critics have called "the Zion's Camp fiasco," the reader is left to recognize the importance of the journey, while understanding the tragic circumstances of its conclusion. What she has done is describe the "times and seasons" of the Prophet's life, while avoiding to a reasoble degree the temptation to cast judgement on that life (although she tends to be considerably more forgiving of Joseph Smith's shortcomings than is Fawn Brodie in "No Man Knows My History." On the other hand, she is far more objective than Joseph Smith himself in his "History of the Church.") To faithful followers of "The First Mormon," it is essential to read the book with an eye toward understanding the meaning of the life of Joseph Smith, rather than getting caught up in the possibility that he was a fallible human being. To the non-Mormon, it is important to understand the times and circumstances that produced a man of extraordinary talent and vision, which has led to the establishment of a world religion that is destined to play a role in shaping the future of our civilization. The topic, Joseph Smith, is no trivial matter, and understanding him is no trivial undertaking. Ms. Hill has done as admirable a job as any I know of.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent scholarship, strong stomach required, August 16, 1999
By 
J. M Tudor (Little Rock, AR USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
I found this book extremely fascinating and balanced. One question I continued to ask myself when reading was whether or not a non-Mormon, upon reading this book, would be drawn to a favorable conclusion regarding the LDS church.
I suppose that many members of the LDS church will find this a difficult read, as there are many items troubling for one (such as myself) who believes that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of Heavenly Father. But there are many positive, credible and admirable qualities that Ms. Hill brings out in her rendition, and I found her writing style very crisp, clear, well-reasoned and easy to read. This book kept my interest and I found it difficult to put down.
I would recommend this book if for no other reason that it presents an incredible story about an incredible man, with a fair assessment of probable inferences where facts are lacking to establish certainty. On balance, I would have to say my faith in my church is strengthened knowing that its establishment survived against great odds.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed work and non-polemical, November 4, 2005
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
It was a relief. After having read Fawn Brodie's "No man knows my history", her eloquent literary style and description of Joseph Smith's mind, Donna Hill's biography became so simple , descriptive - and dare say wordy. Hill's writing style is like a storyteller. It can be boring in the long run. She never guesses what people thought in any situation - it is not a psychiography as Brodie's of course. Hill has weighed several sources and draws conclusions whenver possible, but sometimes she leaves it open.

I found Joseph more holistic and not that controversial in Hill's writing. Even if Brodie used the same quotes and situations, in Hill everything came natural, Joseph seemed natural - something he surely was. People who are acquainted with scholarship, know very well, how important it is to not draw any unconfirmed conclusions about the past. Some episodes in Joseph's life - which normally take a lot of pages in other books, such as the writing of Book of Mormon, the coming forth of Book of Abraham, First vision, are treated just as equally as other episodes of his life - his escapes, his constructions, his involvement in politics etc. This is a healthy approach.

For example, about the First vision, Hill wants to say that notwithstanding the several accounts, there are some similar details and in the context of 19th century religious atmosphere, nearly everybody had some extra-body experience. She treats the Book of Mormon as how an ordinary believer in those days saw it - a sign of latter days and she doesn't go into its "source" or try to decipher who copied who. The most difficult issues of early LDS, such as the consolidation of prophet's power, plural marriage and Afro-americans, are handled subtly and gently. The perspective introduced on plural marriage, is healthy, it is not judging or positive - it's neutral, because as a historian, she has researched on the "why" and on the "how". The issue of Afro-americans - they received the priesthood one year after the publication of Hill's book - confirmed my belief that Joseph never intended to shun them away. He had his prejudices but he did hot let these come in the way. He ordained an Afro-american to be a priest.

Joseph's life, his environment, is difficult to understand, especially when it comes to the hostility shown to him and his movement, the different financial details such as the Anti-banking in Kirtland, the land speculations, his trouble with the law - which haunted him all the time. But Hill shows how patient he was. Something that gave me a further insight, was the reflection she made when Joseph saw the hatred of the people in Carthage, who killed him. She writes that it was the first time he understood how hated he was. How pity!

I am fascinated with this personality, not as a believer, no, but as a humanist. Reading Hill and her account of the hostility towards LDS in those days, makes me angry - what did these people do besides being good Christians? This hostility exists today from anti-LDS Conservative Christians, directed also to Liberal Christians like me. Even though Joseph made mistakes ( excommunications of friends, Nauvoo expositor, Council of Fifty) - as Hill shows, I appreciate the good he did.

He opened a new realm and understanding of god and scripture, which has changed the lives of millions - and even mine, though I don't believe in a supernatural god. Hill, though, too wordy, has done a detailed job. She has taken into account the environment, Joseph's ancestors - which clearly confirm again the fact that Joseph was nurtured by his family's religious activities and conflicts in his prophetic career - the arguments of his enemies and a detailed description of governor Ford and other mildly helpful non-LDS. I do not agree with one of the reviews below, that she writes a lot about Danites, no! She has only written three pages about them, and more than 40 pages about plural marriage and some 20 about Afro-americans, and some 15 about Book of Mormon - she has treated Joseph as a whole.

Hill has demonstrated that one can write a non-polemical and truthful biography of a religious person. Good done, ma'm!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to a fascinating subject, February 26, 2009
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
I've read a number of books on Joseph Smith starting with "No Man Knows My History" through "The Mormon Experience" to "Martyr, Prophet of God",and a number of others. I've read viral anti-mormon literature to real white washes. What I like about this book are its straight forwardness and its footnoting. If I want a more in-depth look at a subject I know where to find it. If I was to read one book on Joseph Smith, this would be it. Having said that, if this is your first read, you'll be hungry for more on a fascinating subject; this is where the footnoting comes in. I recommend this book highly.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still no definitive biography of Joseph Smith, January 6, 2000
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
Donna Hill's biography of Joseph Smith is good. Ms. Hill does a good job of telling the history without being too partisan (pro/anti mormon), unlike the two preceding major biographies of Joseph Smith. However, she falls into the trap in many instances of not going into enough detail, and not elaborating enough. This book seemed to me too rushed and incomplete. It is a good introduction to the life of Joseph Smith, but it left me feeling that I still did not know who the man was that she was writing about. This is not an earth-shattering biography, but merely a good biography. Other reviewers who have been astounded by this work, I believe, over-reacted in their praise of Ms. Hill's biography.
Other historical figures from the 19th century have their biographers: Lincoln (who some may say has too many) has D.H. Donald and C. Sandburg (who I consider to be the best), Robert E. Lee has D.S. Freeman, U.S. Grant has McFeely, and Theodore Roosevelt (better included in the 20th century, but including him here helps me make my point) has Edmund Morris. Joseph Smith is still without a definitive biographer: perhaps because even the source material for writing about him is unavailable or suspicious. Never the less, I do not believe that his book is as good as it is going to get about Joseph Smith.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A respectable biography. As with most on this subject, NOT the complete picture., January 25, 2009
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
Having read both Brodie's No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith and Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, I was not terribly excited to read yet another biography of Joseph Smith other than the fact this one appeared to be a middle of the road rendition and not biased (heavily) in one direction or the other.

The result is a very good effort. Donna Hill is a believing member of Smith's following, and as such, does a commendable effort in presenting this history. But as a believer, Hill does not cover EVERYTHING that could be covered. But she nonetheless does a good job.

For example, the book neglects covering topics that were a big influence in Joseph Smith's life, like his involvement in treasure seeking or "money digging" which is today recognised and accepted by ALL Mormon historians, and in my opinion is a key topic in understanding Joseph Smith's cultural history. Another exclusion is Joseph's (and the church's) involvement in Freemasonry, again an important influence in the activities of the early Church.

Some noted passages:

"The evidence so far accumulated suggests that Joseph Smith had no need of the Egyptian papyri to produce "The Book of Abraham", but he found them stimulating. Feeling in direct communion with the Lord, through the workings of his mind, he believed he had done a translation." (p.194)

I loved this statement, not because it was the best reasoning the author could come up with to explain why the papyri found does not translate (by modern means) into the work Joseph Smith produced, but because it aptly describes the SAME translation process that occurred in producing the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith had no need for the plates - which he rarely referred to , as he didn't perform a "translation" but instead relied on revelation to produce the Book of Mormon).

pp. 188-190 raises the beginnings of polygamy as early as 1835, with the prophet's first plural wife, the 17 yr old Fanny Alger. The Church's official policy from that point onwards (included in the Doctrine & Covenants until 1876) was "we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again". From 1835 onwards, Joseph Smith was married to many women including some who were already married to living husbands, somewhat contrary to the public official belief.

The topic of polygamy continues on in Nauvoo (pp 358-359) where the doctrine is becoming public knowledge via the actions of soon to be apostate John C. Bennett. The Church issues a statement that they are neither aware of such activities and condemn any that exist, while in reality the practise was being taught and sanctioned. Later, in 1886, the Deseret News issues a statement to explain that the Almighty (and hence his servants) are justified in denying [lying about] doctrines "not intended for the world".

The book includes a chapter on Joseph Smith's intention to establish a literal kingdom of God on the earth complete with a revelation directed to rulers of the world to accept the restored gospel or else, they will fall in glory.

Lastly, of the MANY books I have read on Joseph Smith's life, this is by far the best one in regards to covering the events leading up to the prophet's imprisonment at Carthage, the charges, the men involved in prosecuting him and those meant to protect him, and even more rare, the events that took place after his murder in dealing with those accused and responsible for the crime. It covers much in regards to the political side of things in the state of Illinois at that time, and the players involved in dealing out justice.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Like most on the subject, it is not a definitive, "complete" biography, but it certainly worthy of attention.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best that can be done, April 19, 2000
This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
This is the best book about Joseph Smith that I have read.Hill tells the story as fairly as she can through the availabledocuments surrounding Smith's life. Since Smith was/is such acontroversial figure, there is a load of conflicting reports about him. Hill was able to let the primary documents speak for themselves. When conflicting reports existed, she presented them all and let the reader be the judge. Loved it. END
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5.0 out of 5 stars Joseph Smith the First Mormon, January 4, 2014
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This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
This was the first bio I read on Smith and I loved it. I have since read others to check her facts.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Factual and well done., May 11, 2013
By 
Sandra Harper (Orem,, Utah United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (Paperback)
I found it informative without bias.. very hard to find those in anything
written about the Prophet Joseph Smith. They are usually either so pro
or so con you can't read them.
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Joseph Smith: The First Mormon
Joseph Smith: The First Mormon by Donna Hill (Paperback - March 15, 1999)
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