An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith


The personal diaries of Joseph Smith reveal Mormonism’s founder in a new light. With entries reflecting the gamut of human emotions—from heartache and frustration to humor and blind ambition, readers meet a Joseph Smith previously unknown.

February, 1989

SKU: 0-941214-78-8 Categories: , Tags: , , Author: Scott H. FaulringProduct ID: 1282


In his personal diaries Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, emerges as a believable and human religious leader, willing to allow both descendants and followers a complete look at his innovative beliefs and complex personality. “I enjoyed myself by my own fireside with many friends around me,” he recalled of a quiet moment at home. “I drank a glass of beer at Moisser’s,” he dictated with equal frankness. An enthusiast for winter activities, Smith would often close his office whenever it snowed to go sledding with his son Frederick or to take his wife Emma sleighing.

Occasionally short-tempered, Smith once told detractors to “hide their heads in a hollow pumpkin and never take it out.” He could lose patience with people who left meetings before the benediction and with young men who sneaked onto the women’s side of the congregation. People asked him why he used “such flat and vulgar expressions,” but on occasion he could transcend his frontier parlance and speak in eloquent metaphor, such as when he described the resurrection: “It is pleasing for friends to lie down together locked in the arms of love, to sleep, and [awake] locked in each others’ embrace [to] renew their conversation.”

Throughout these diaries significant events are recorded, such as the first ritualistic washings, perfumings, anointings, and washing of feet; early sealings and polygamous marriages (often recorded in shorthand); meetings of the Council of Fifty; and other important episodes in the history of the development of the Restoration church.

Published for the first time in their entirety, the personal diaries of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (1805-44) provide an unequaled view of this controversial American religious leader. Previous compilations of carefully selected and sometimes rewritten passages of Smith’s diaries and journals do not capture the intensity of the present, unexpurgated edition.

Scott H. Faulring, editor of An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, is a graduate of Brigham Young University. A career Air Force officer, he and his family have lived in Vogelweh, Germany, and in Izmir, Turkey, but returned to his alma mater so he could teach military history there. He is now employed by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, located on the BYU campus, and is preparing a documentary history of Oliver Cowdery.

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3 reviews for An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith

  1. Michael White, Associated Press

    Four years after murder and forgery turned a spotlight on the Mormon Church’s early history, publishers are finding a ready market for the original writings of the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith. A new paperback edition of Smith’s personal diaries and journals offers perhaps the most personal and candid view yet of the complex and charismatic Smith. They reveal a robust, gregarious man who might compete in a wrestling match in the morning and preach a sermon after lunch.

    Signature Books reports brisk sales of An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith. Meanwhile, Mormon Church-owned Deseret Book is preparing to release this fall the first of six volumes containing Smith’s complete writings in their original, unedited form. “People tend to identify Mormonism with Brigham Young, but before Brigham was Joseph. These documents give you a view of who he really was,” said Scott Faulring, editor of the Signature volume.

    The larger portion of the book offers an intimate view of Smith in do-to-day activities, relating anecdotes about his parents and his childhood and his frustration and sorrow over persecution that eventually cost him his life and drove his followers to Utah. Students of Mormon doctrine will recognize passages that later became part of the faith’s scripture, such as teachings on the relationship between obedience and blessings. Faulring, who joined the Mormon Church in 1976, said he became interested in Smith’s writings while attending BYU as an accounting student. Eventually, he took a second major in history, and assisted in editing Signature’s nine-volume compilation of the journal of Wilford Woodruff, the church’s fourth president.

    A career Air Force accounting and finance officer, Faulring worked on the Smith project while stationed in Vogelweh, West Germany. “For me, it’s been a kind of faith-promoting experience,” Faulring said. “It’s enabled me to see Joseph Smith as a man rather than a semi-god. Church members tend to see him as [a man who] didn’t make mistakes, didn’t have emotions, didn’t lose his temper. I don’t think he liked to be put up on a pedestal.”

  2. William C. Rigenberg, Church History

    For most consumers of this book, its primary value will be as a reference tool. While parts of the narrative are especially engaging (e.g. Smith’s description of his original visions in his “Autobiographical Sketch, 1832” and his 1844 diary entries during the period preceding his death and assassination), much of the book does not provide for easy, natural reading. Most readers will not follow the book to the end as Smith’s recordings become increasingly disjointed and paranoid as his life became more complex and difficult. Yet the book is important because it is now the single best source of the private writings of the founder of what has become the largest religious organization to have its origin in America. Because of the book’s reference value, the quality of the index is very important. The 21-page index is good in citing people and places but less thorough in listing ideas; perhaps a later edition of the book could redress this imbalance.

  3. David S. Azzolina, Small Press

    There can be no doubt that Joseph Smith was one of the most significant figures of nineteenth-century America. He founded a religion in the United States that is now worldwide. Dozens of new sects and denominations were begun in the mid-nineteenth century in the tumult of Jacksonian America; 150 years later, Smith’s alone is marking its mark on world history (only a slight exaggeration). And Smith is still controversial: prophet to believers, scoundrel to enemies, and, at best, enigma to scholars.

    Given his stature (and perhaps because every side has a vested interest in keeping his writings under wraps), it is curious that published primary documents by Joseph Smith have been scant. Faulring has published ten diaries and journals (written by Smith or his secretaries), an accomplishment for which all students of Mormonism should be grateful. His commentary is sparse and lean—a fine approach since he is scrupulously faithful to the original author.

    The Smith revealed in these pages is, in turn, concerned with his followers and—at the risk of sound flippant—a prophet going about a prophet’s business in the world as he found it. Court decisions have to be dealt with, supplies found, sermons preached. Ultimately, this books provides an appealing image of Smith. I hope the faithful won’t be distressed by its ordinariness and that nonbelievers won’t be derisive. Another Mormon historian, Dean Jessee, has been working on the “collected papers” of Smith and has already published some personal writings. Until that project is completed we can be glad Faulring compiled this book.

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