If you’re not a subscriber to BYU Studies (why not?), make haste to the bookstore and pick up a copy of the latest edition. It’s a nearly 200-page chronology of Joseph Smith’s life (transcribing the chronology available online at josephsmith.byu.edu ). In the print version, events are color-coded by category as well as being listed by date.
To call this compilation “extremely useful” would be a vast understatement. Simply put, this is a tool that every member should have access to. The information has been available for some time online (in a relatively little known spot), but putting in in book form makes it much more accessible. You should pick extra copies up for your bishop, your father-in-law (*may not apply to John F. or Rosalynde), your home teaching companion. It’s gold. It’s very rare to see this combination of scholarship and information, on the one hand, with a presentation that is this accessible to everyday members. Kudos to the Joseph Smith Papers team for assembling the chronology, and to BYU Studies for publishing it. Very well done.
I do have a few quibbles, of course.
-The most egregious omission comes on the Works Cited page. Is there any good reason why Bushman is not on the list? It would be one thing if the works cited were all primary sources, but they’re not. Newell and Avery’s Mormon Enigma is on the list, as is B.H. Roberts Rise and Fall of Nauvoo. Those aren’t exactly primary source journals. Once the door is open to secondary sources, it defies reason not to cite to Bushman, who may be the leading Joseph Smith scholar of this generation.
-I also wondered about a few of the editorial choices, which were . . . interesting, at times.
Take polygamy. It is discussed, some. The chronology lists marriages to Louisa Beaman, Sarah Whitney, Eliza R. Snow, and the Lawrence and Partridge sisters (explicitly noting that the last marriages were performed with Emma’s approval and in her presence). However, more controversial marriages (like Helen Mar Kimball or Zina Huntington Jacobs) are not included.
Similarly, the Kirtland Bank account is oddly abbreviated. Important events like the denial of the bank charter are omitted entirely. (A copy of a bank note is included, so one can see, if one checks carefully, the “Anti-Banking Society” legend.)
What’s the result of this editorial approach? Well, the chronology is rather safe. You can give it to your bishop or your father-in-law without wondering if they’ll think you’re an apostate. It’s safe enough that it could end up with widespread use in ward settings, and that would be excellent.
So, what’s the verdict?
For the average member, this chronology is extremely helpful, and entirely positive. It’s a huge improvement over the tools most members have for understanding Joseph Smith’s life.
For someone who has read Bushman and Brodie and Newell and Avery — I’d give a slightly more mixed review. The chronology is still extremely helpful. It’s very useful to see information laid out chronologically, and it makes it easy to make connections that hadn’t fully clicked before. Unless you’ve got RSR committed to memory, the chronology will probably be a useful tool.
However, it will also be frustrating in places. I’m tempted to take out a pen and start adding a few entries here and there. I like it a lot, but I do have complaints.
They aren’t going to keep me from picking up copies for bishop, father-in-law, home teaching family . . .
(P.S. It’s available for purchase online — not cheap at $12 a pop, but not all that expensive, either — at http://byustudies.byu.edu/Products/MoreInfoPage/MoreInfo.aspx?ProdID=2105&Type=6 ).