In response to:
Angel in America from the November 17, 2005 issue
To the Editors:
In my recent review of Professor Richard Bushman’s new biography of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith [“Angel in America,” NYR, November 17, 2005] I made two errors: I confused the biblical Ishmael with another Ishmael who didn’t show up until 600 BC; and I also confused the Mormon Tabernacle, in Salt Lake City, with the Mormon Temple, same place.
I also probably should have made it clear that the dying capo who was dipping his bread in milk was not a Mormon elder: he was simply a mobster, plying his trade in Mormon country.
But I resent and reject the charge, leveled by some readers, that I didn’t really read Professor Bushman’s biography: I read every word of it and I found it admirable, if bland and rather cautious.
If you sift through all the commentary the review provoked, the root charge seems to be that I say too much good about Fawn Brodie (No Man Knows My History) and not enough good about Professor Bushman. That charge is true—I do. She’s the better writer by far. Professor Bushman has a lot more information but a lot less kick, and kick was what was needed in the case of Mormonism. Fawn Brodie’s book is still the single best book about Mormonism. She saw the fraud at the heart of Mormonism and she describes it. Professor Bushman pitty-pats around it.
I have recently published a book, Oh What a Slaughter, which contains a long chapter on the Mountain Meadows Massacre; Mormon leaders have been lying about this massacre for 150 years and are still lying, a fact that was exposed more than half a century ago by the brave Mormon scholar Juanita Brooks.* Should the Mormon leadership ever work up to admitting the truth about Mountain Meadows, then Mormonism might be considered an ethical faith: but not before.
March 23, 2006