As illuminating as commentaries are, nothing conveys Joseph Smith’s character like his own unadulterated words. In his distinctive language—a mix of biblical and frontier idioms—and in his famously spontaneous humor, one can imagine him speaking and feeling the force of his charisma. Like Old Testament prophets, he was alternately contemplative and poetic, animated and surprisingly earthy.
Previous, popular editions of Smith’s speeches and writings have edited out the extemporaneous complexities, as well as any deviations from present-day doctrines. Recent academic publications, for their part, have too often camouflaged the text in scholarly apparata. By contrast, this volume brings together a sampling of the prophet’s thinking from New York to Illinois in a complete, unabridged form, utilizing the earliest known sources, without excessive footnoting or commentary. No attempt is made to harmonize disparate, conflicting ideas. Readers can trace the developing, revelatory unfolding of ideas for themselves. They can also enjoy the text without reference to any interpretative agenda. In other words, The Essential Joseph Smith is readable and reliable. Bracketed material and punctuation are added where needed, but the text otherwise speaks for itself. These are Joseph Smith’s own words, his most essential messages.
Marvin S. Hill, professor emeritus of American history, Brigham Young University, is the author of Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism; co-author of Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (with Dallin H. Oaks), winner of the 1975 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association, and of The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics (with C. Keith Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer); co-editor of Mormonism and American Culture (with James B. Allen); and contributed the foreword to The Essential Joseph Smith. He is married to Lila Foster, has six children, and currently resides in Provo, Utah.