On the Road with Richard Bushman

By: J. Stapley - June 29, 2007

As Bushman wrapped up his biography of Joseph Smith during the summer of 2005, Glen Nelson, who publishes a variety of Mormon Cultural projects, asked him to keep a diary of the events surrounding the roll-out of the book for publication. The fruit of those diaries was an unbound limited edition that sports a handmade cherry-wood slip case. Kofford Books received permission to publish a paperback edition which is available as of this week on Amazon. I picked up a copy at MHA a month ago.

On the Road with Joseph SmithRichard Lyman Bushman, On the Road with Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 141 pages. $14.95

The story of Mormon Studies is, on occasion, interrupted by an event or series of events so dramatic that the subsequent narrative unfolds in a new chapter. The future will show that the publication of Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling is one such demarcation. In On the Road, Bushman notes his thoughts about the event. He writes about the preparation for and reaction to the various conferences, papers, and firesides he gave in the year of commemoration. He discusses correspondence with scholars, media, and Church authorities. We see Bushman face reviewers and readers. He even waxes doctrinally on occasion.

As someone immersed in the Mormon Studies zeitgeist, I relived many experiences as I read Bushman’s diary. This volume will definitely mean something quite different to those who listened to the various conferences first hand or read the original reviews fresh off the press. One might say that much of On the Road is for the connoisseur, but such a categorization betrays the book’s accessibility. Even those who have not read Rough Stone Rolling will find meaningful reflection in Bushman’s self evaluation. What Mormon doesn’t struggle with finding the best voice to explain their beliefs?

I was personally moved by Bushman’s experience. I am a relative newcomer to Mormon Studies. I presented my first MHA paper with my co-author this year and don’t have the baggage of witnessing the mighty pendulum during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s first hand. Still, I have struggled with finding peace in a research project that defies correlated convention. Witnessing Bushman navigate the treacherous topography, seeing his interaction with leaders like Elder Holland, and feeling the chapter end and new one begin filled me with great optimism and confidence.

Here is to Richard Bushman. Well done.

10 Comments

  1. J,

    Thanks for this update. I was hoping they’d come up with the poor man’s version of this at some point. Great news!

    Comment by Guy Murray — 6/29/2007 @ 1:06 pm

  2. I recently finished reading this book, and was very thankful that Bushman opened his heart and mind in this way. I had attended one of the conferences recorded therein by Bushman, and was frankly quite surprised to see that his reaction to his performance there. I thought he gave very good answers, yet he was quite critical of himself. As an author-in-progress, I found Bushman’s narrative encouraging and inspiring.

    My only “complaint,” if any, was Bushman’s opinion that only a believer could “take Joseph Smith seriously” or “take The Book of Mormon seriously.” This wasn’t just an observation from his experience. It was his own view of things. I found that problematic. My own views are complex, but most would characterize me as an “unbeliever” these days. Nonetheless, I’d say I certainly take Joseph and his writings seriously. In most cases, Bushman’s thought seems more liberal than this, and I found this position frustrating.

    Comment by Nick Literski — 6/29/2007 @ 1:49 pm

  3. I would like to jump in and second the recommendation. I found _On the Road_ a page-turner. It is a beautiful work, filled with academic politics, cultural and religious politics, theological exploration and ethical searching of one of the greatest Mormon minds. When I finished I was most touched by Bushman’s manifest love for the Latter-day Saints.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — 7/2/2007 @ 10:41 am

  4. Well said, Mark.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 7/2/2007 @ 11:46 am

  5. I wonder how much the expensive limited edition whet the appetite for the cheap paperback. I like how the cover of Rough Stone Rolling is reproduced within the cover of One the Road: a book about bringing out a book.

    Comment by John Mansfield — 7/3/2007 @ 10:01 am

  6. I think that the paperback was the result from the great interest in the limited volume. I almost bought it, but then I thought how many other books I could get for it and my pragmatism won out. I was stoked to pick it up at MHA for $8.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 7/3/2007 @ 12:57 pm

  7. I think that’s a bit of what I mean. You were stoked not only because of your interest in the material, but also because you were able to obtain it without spending $150. You seriously considered buying the expensive edition, so that set a marker of how valuable it would be if you could obtain it at a modest price. Valid description?

    Comment by John Mansfield — 7/3/2007 @ 2:46 pm

  8. Yep. Now if Signature would only do the same with their Significant Mormon Diaries series (or better yet, offer them in digital format).

    Comment by J. Stapley — 7/3/2007 @ 2:56 pm

  9. On the Road was a fascinating and rare look into the mind of a unique writer. Bushman is candid in relating his self-criticism and doubt, as well as things that made him proud. Anecdotes involving people ranging from critics to general authorities are especially interesting. This was a great book about a book.

    Comment by Blair Hodges — 10/19/2007 @ 8:16 pm

  10. I missed this book. Thanks for the review. I am going to order it and then put it away for some summer reading.

    A couple of years ago I read the History of the Church and everything else that I could find on Joseph Smith. After I while I got to the point where every new book that I had bought was a rehash of something that I had previously read. I pretty much gave up on Joseph Smith literature for a time. In this period of time Rough Stone Rolling had come out but didn’t take much more than a look. Then one of the few people that I value their opinion on Mormon literature strongly recommended it. In my opinion it is by far the best book of Joseph Smith ever written.

    Comment by Mike — 3/2/2009 @ 3:28 am

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