Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon

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Signature Books, 1999 - Biography & Autobiography - 263 pages
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A troubled childhood. A difficult adolescence. How might these have affected the adult character of church founder Joseph Smith? Psychiatrist Robert D. Anderson explores the impact on young Joseph of his family's ten moves in sixteen years, their dire poverty, especially after his father's Chinese export venture failed, and his father's drinking.

It is equally significant, writes Anderson, that Joseph's mother suffered bouts of depression. For instance, "for months" she "did not feel as though life was worth seeking" after two sisters died of tuberculosis and later when she buried two sons, Ephraim and Alvin. A typhoid epidemic nearly claimed her daughter Sophronia, and the same affliction left Joseph with a crippled leg, after which he was sent to live on the coast with an uncle. Such factors and others produced emotional wounds that emerged later in the prophet's life and writings, in particular, according to Anderson, in the Book of Mormon.

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The author offers a fascinating look into the mind of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through a psychobiographical study. Using science and academic history, Anderson hypothesizes that the Book of Mormon can be understood as Joseph’s autobiography and offers a diagnosis of Smith’s mental state. The perspective he presents is thought-provoking, one based on his study of Joseph’s early years, his family and neighbors, his homes, his health, state of mind and the state of the nation including politics of the day, the revivalist and spiritualist movements, folklore, poverty and economics. Whether he’s right or not, Anderson’s psychobiographical study is what’s interesting, for he attempts to give a whole picture of Joseph through what historical evidence remains and includes mental health in that picture. The book is presented in a way I understood, and is a good read, save for repetition which became laboring – I skimmed bits of it - but understandable, I believe, for a layperson reading a case study. I recommend. Review by Kate E Thompson, previously published on my blog:


Prolegomenon to a Biography of the Child Joseph

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About the author (1999)

Robert Anderson is Counsellor in the Intellectual Property Division of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, where he heads the Secretariat team supporting the renegotiation of the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).

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