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Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon Paperback – August 15, 1999
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In the revised edition of her pioneering Joseph Smith biography, No Man Knows My History (Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), Fawn M. Brodie suggested that Smith's personality matches psychoanalyst Phyllis Greenacre's "imposter" profile, but cautioned that a "comprehensive clinical portrait" would require a qualified psychologist with a "much more intimate knowledge of the man than is presently possible" (p. xi). Now Robert D. Anderson, M.D., "a Semi-retired psychiatrist," has come forward with just such a portrait, based upon almost three decades of historical and psychoanalytical research since Brodie first applied Greenacre to Smith. Anderson's argument is that Greenacre's "imposter" is a species of narcissism, and he offers both a fascinating reading of the Book of Mormon and new research into Smith's life and times to show that Smith fits a narcissistic profile. The result is about as close to Brodie's "comprehensive clinical portrait" as historical sources and psychological research are likely to get. --Gary Topping, Journal of the West
About the Author
Robert D. Anderson, M.D., is a semi-retired psychiatrist in private practice whose studies at the Psychoanalytic Institute stimulated his interest in applied psychoanalysis. He is a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith and has published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and in the American Journal of Psychiatry. He and his wife live in Bellevue, Washington.
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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.
After reading the book, I had to look for the identities of the characters in my Taylor Jones detective and western novels. After all, being raised a Mormon, I know more about the history of Joseph Smith than any other fictional character. I can relate to Joseph Smith's poverty and his actions.
In my western saga BULL, is Roy "Bull" Davis in reality Joseph Smith as he builds his western empire by hook or by crook as he tries to overcome his poverty and the childhood experience of having his parents killed by Comanches who butchered his pregnant mother? Is my own sarcasm reflected when Bull, after giving money to a teamster to give to a powder who has had his leg crushed in the temple quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon (actually my grandfather who spend two years healing in Porterville and ended up with one leg two inches shorter than the other), is asked by the teamster, "Are you one of the three Nephites?" Bull, not understanding the remark, rides on through the valley as he seeks the villain, Corn Smith, who murdered is beloved Happy's third husband (Bull is her fourth husband. Legal polyandry?) Again, Walks-Like-Snake, the Ute chief antagonist in Bull, while selling pine nuts and looking at the Temple spires on Main Street in Salt Lake City, tells his wife that the Mormons are confused about and change their minds about the number of their gods.
Is deputy Peter Ott in Revenge on the Mogollon Rim confused about his role with women and secretively dishonest and cruel because he is a prototype of Joseph Smith?
What about detective Richard Lacey in Bone China and in In No Way Guilty? Why do his cases become increasingly grandiose as he tangles with Nazis in Bone China and with two mafia families in In No Way Guilty?
If Doctor Anderson read my western novels, would he find me in the saddle? Oh, I know he would, but perhaps Joseph Smith too.
John Taylor Jones, Ph.D. (TAYLOR JONES)
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.