I will probably never catch up with reviewing books now that I have a virtually unlimited supply of them, but I like to share at least my favorites with you.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really cannot overstate how fascinating I found this book. Although as a Mormon I was fairly familiar with the general outlines of Joseph Smith’s life, this was the first real biography of him that I’d ever read. Self-categorized as a “cultural biography,” it paints a picture of the Prophet against the backdrop of other religious and philosophical thinkers and innovators of his day. I learned a lot about early 19th century America, as well as Joseph Smith, from reading this book. Bushman spends plenty of time detailing the faults, failures, quirks, and oddities of Joseph Smith, but one comes away feeling affection for this very human giant, and marveling at his many incredible accomplishments. Meticulously research and copiously foot-noted, this volume is a great introduction (for Mormons and non-Mormons alike) to the historical and spiritual beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this book off of my mother-in-law’s shelf, and found it very absorbing. I guess the thing that impressed me most about Mother Teresa was her single-minded devotion to what she saw as her mission in life: to love and serve “the poorest of the poor.” This book had plenty of her philosophy and quoted many of her letters and speeches. But some of my favorite parts were the ones that talked about her leadership style and her amazing gift for motivating and inspiring other people. Never compromising her principles, and sometimes sounding almost harsh, she could say things nobody else could, because of who she was and how fully she lived her ideals. I came away impressed by her strength as much as her charity. An excellent biography of a truly incredible woman.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Provocatively titled and insightful, this book is more than anything the story of a believing intellectual’s love affair with the Bible. Ehrman gives a mini history of how we got our modern Bible, and why the words we read today are different from what was originally written. He covers how the “books” and epistles in the Bible were transmitted in ancient times, and how and why they were canonized, when similar writings were left out. Some of the most interesting parts of the book talked about the nitty-gritty business of scribal copying of the sacred texts, and how it inevitably introduced errors, both intentional and accidental. Ehrman also explains some of the scholarly rationale for deciding which passages of the Bible are likely original and unchanged, and how the many different (and often contradictory) existing manuscripts are dated and ranked. For example, he details why scholars believe that the passage where Paul tells women not to speak in Church is probably a later scribal addition. Ehrman begins his journey with ultraconservative views of the Bible’s utter infallibility (similar to Muslim views of the Qur’an), and after many years of research concludes that during its passage through many hands and many centuries, our Bible has undergone significant modifications. Although not written by a Mormon, this book made me see a clear rationale for the Mormon view that “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”
I also reviewed the new Daughters in My Kingdom book about the Relief Society over at Times & Seasons. Happy reading!