Reviews – The Essential B. H. Roberts

The Essential B. H. RobertsJournal of Mormon History
Arguably, B. H. Roberts was the greatest intellect ever produced by the Latter-day Saint tradition, and his long life “stamped him as one of its most remarkable defenders and expounders of Mormon history and belief.” As Brigham D. Madsen notes in the introduction to this useful collection of Roberts’s works, he will be remembered “for his independence and honesty of thought” and for his “indefatigable pursuit of the evidence concerned with the origins of his faith” (ix).

The introduction provides an excellent summary of Roberts’s life, while the selections capture the public controversies and private struggles that made it so remarkable.

This collection of thirty documents illustrates Roberts’s vigorous defense of the faith and his far-ranging intellectual curiosity. They present Roberts’s views on the preexistence, evolution, politics, women, revelation, polygamy, the origins of the Book of Mormon, and the character of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. Historical sketches such as “The Tennessee Massacre” and “The Missouri Persecutions” reveal the personal courage he exhibited in retrieving the bodies of missionaries murdered by the Ku Klux Klan and his forthright analysis of “human nature under the stress of religious impulse” (105).

Especially interesting is the light this collections sheds on Roberts’s great works that remained unpublished during his lifetime, The Truth, the Way, the Life and Studies of the Book of Mormon. Madsen, who edited Studies in 1985, contrasts selections from New Witnesses for God with Roberts’s later work to show the evolution of his thinking on Book of Mormon origins and his commitment to the truth as he perceived it. The concluding document, Wesley P. Lloyd’s journal notes of his 7 August 1933 conversation with Roberts, indicates that Madsen’s earlier work was right on target.