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Falling in Love with Joseph Smith – My Search for the Real Prophet

Storyteller or visionary, fraud or God’s messenger. One woman’s quest to nail down America’s homegrown prophet.
   When award-winning documentary film writer Jane Barnes was working on the PBS special series The Mormons, she was surprised to find herself inexplicably drawn to Joseph Smith and the Mormon religion. The product of an Episcopalian, “WASPy” family, she couldn’t remember ever having met a Mormon before her work on the series—much less having dallied with the idea of converting to a religion shrouded in controversy. But so it was: she was smitten with a man who claimed to have translated the word of God by peering into the dark of his hat.
   In this brilliantly written memoir, Barnes describes her experiences working on the PBS series as she tottered on the precipice of conversion to Mormonism. It all began when she came across Smith’s early writings. She was fascinated to discover how funny and utterly unique he was—and how wildly divergent his wild yet profound visions of God were from the Church of Latter-day Saints as we know it today. Her fascination deepened when, much to her surprise, she learned that her eighth cousin Anna Barnes converted to Mormonism in 1833. Through Anna, Barnes follows her family’s close involvement with Smith and the crises caused by his controversial practice of polygamy. Barnes’s unlikely path helps her gain a newfound respect for the innovative American spirit that lies at the heart of Mormonism—and for a religion that is, in many ways, still coming into its own.
   An intimate portrait of the man behind America’s fastest-growing religion, Falling in Love with Joseph Smith offers a surprising and provocative window into the Mormon experience.

Preview the first chapter of the book.



Praise for Falling In Love with Joseph Smith

“It turns out that Jane Barnes (born 1942), a novelist, essayist, and documentary film script writer, is just as fascinating as the subject of her new book.”

August 26, 2012 link to full review


“Jane Barnes’ startling, compelling book looks for treasure, much as the young Joseph Smith did, with the passion of a convert and the wild, sharp eye of someone determined to find it in the most unlikely places. This is a beautiful and utterly original book.”

Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak


“A thought-provoking, sometimes surprising account of a female intellectual’s passion for Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and her near-conversion to the faith.”

Kirkus Book Reviews, July 15, 2012


“Barnes’s love affair with Joseph Smith is complicated, not diminishable into sound bytes. I understand it viscerally.”

Jana Riess, blogger Religious News Service, Aug 13, 2012 link to RNS blog article


“This quirky, absorbing memoir by documentary film writer Jane Barnes presents one answer to what historian Jan Shipps has called “the prophet puzzle…”

Publishers Weekly, Jul 9, 2012


“Jane Barnes’ fascination with Joseph Smith is an inward journey, an account of one person’s attempt to articulate and to answer difficult questions about the mysterious Joseph, a man who puzzles and eludes her. Falling in Love with Joseph Smith made me think of one of my favorite hybrid books, Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being.”

Ann Beattie, PEN/Malamud award-winning author, professor of Literature and Creative Writing, University of Virginia


“What I liked about this book was its clear and compelling biographical information about Smith, who was, indeed, an American original…”

Bill Tammeus, August 16, 2012 link to Faith Matters review


“In this beautifully written, witty, fascinating book, Jane Barnes intertwines the explosive life of Joseph Smith, American prophet, and her own spiritual journey . . . Falling in Love with Joseph Smith shows that Mormon roots are deep-set in ingenuity, seeking, appetite for life, and yearning for an afterlife.”

Alison Booth, author of It’s a Woman’s World, professor of English, University of Virginia


“Barnes brilliantly employs the stone in the hat as the central metaphor for her ongoing love affair with one of the most enigmatic religious figures of modern times. She invites the reader to do what she did: pull the hat to the face to exclude ambient light that tends more to confuse than to enlighten, and then peer into the darkness as the first step on an unpredictable journey into the persona of a modern prophet.”

Gregory A. Prince, author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism


“In this brilliantly written memoir, Barnes describes her experiences working on the PBS series as she teetered on the precipice of conversion to Mormonism.”

A Musing Reviews, August 16, 2012 link to review


“Barnes style is masterful, characterized by succinct allusion, inventive metaphor, and lucid articulation of complex concepts. Her book is destined to take a place among the most distinguished interpretations of Mormonism’s founder.”

Levi S. Peterson, author of The Backslider and professor emeritus of English, Weber State University



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