This is not a biography of Joseph Smith but rather a series of journal entries from a fictitious character who is an early convert to Mormonism. This character takes the listener through the process of his conversion, his gathering to Zion in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo and the persecutions and troubles of those time periods. The character interacts with Joseph Smith along the way but this is not a book about Joseph Smith per se. As a convert, the character portrays the events through the lens of a believer though the author includes the other side of the story via apostates or the main character's own internal debates as events unfold.
I found the book entertaining and a worthwhile listen because I understood what the book was before I started. In that regard, the title of the book is misleading. The author's portrayal of historical events were accurate and his writing style was very appropriate to the time period and kept me engaged. If you are interested in learning more about the early history of the LDS Church in an entertaining way then you will enjoy this book.
I will not spoil the ending but there is a twist at the end that some reviewers did not like. Though I knew something was coming, the twist caught me by complete surprise and I thought that it was an incredible move by the author (in a good way). It proved to me that the author was out to write a great book and not just follow a traditional script.
This book is an interesting travelogue of Sanjiv's interactions with some very colorful personalities within the various polygamous groups in Utah as well as those who have left (escaped) the culture. While the stories are fascinating at times, most of the experiences that Sanjiv chooses to focus on are full of abuse and neglect and are at their core quite depressing. Sanjiv lightens the mood through humorous jabs at his subjects, their towns, and especially their faith. I strongly prefer audio books to be professionally narrated (not performed by the author) but it really worked in this case. It is like Sanjiv is telling you all of these crazy experiences over dinner complete with his endearing British accent. 5 stars for the narration.
My problems with Sanjiv's book and the reason why I gave the story only 3 stars are twofold. First, he is obnoxiously dismissive and mocking of the Mormon religion. I am active LDS. It doesn't bother me at all if people disagree with the tenets of the faith or poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of Mormons as a subculture. I'm cool with that, I think that Mormons are funny too. But if Sanjiv is going to call Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon a fraud and mock them mercilessly throughout the book, he better do his homework. His "teardown" of the faith was religious amateur hour and a book this long deserved a little more rigor than that. He seems to have given no serious consideration to the other side of the argument at all. In the end, the tone of the book was that of a smug, liberal atheist from LA swooping in to mock and disparage religious conservatives in small town Utah.
My second problem with the book is that Sanjiv really drills in when he finds abuse, oddities and "dirt" but seems uninterested in the truly happy families. When he meets wonderful people at Centennial Park and The Rock he simply says that they are great and then he talks about the flies or Bollywood flicks and curry. After seeing all of the problems in polygamy, why didn't these examples spark more intellectual curiosity? What are these people doing right? Aren't the positive cases as intellectually interesting and deserving as the scandalous ones? Apparently not for Sanjiv who seems more interested in proving a point (polygamy is evil) than understanding a multi-faceted issue. Sanjiv likes incest, abuse, intrigue, and suspense. But throw a happy community in his path and he doesn't know what to do with it. The snarky atheist quickly runs out of questions. Uh...more banana bread, please? I do agree with Sanjiv that polygamy should be decriminalized, just don't expect him to be fair and balanced.
All that said, it was still worth the price of admission.
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