It seems 2008 has delivered its first miracle -- the new Joseph Smith manual. Who would have thought that a correlated manual could actually be interesting? That's doubly rewarding as the new Joseph Smith manual will be with us for two years. A short write-up with several striking illustrations is posted online at the Church News. I'll add a few things I noted while browsing through the manual on Sunday afternoon.
First, the cover, which is likely to become the new standard image of Joseph Smith. If I ever get a portrait painted, remind me to look this artist up. I suspect if Joseph were presented with a copy of the new manual, his first response would be, "Wow, did I really look that good?" The book mixes new illustrations of this type with some of the old classics, as well as a few nice maps. Somehow it always surprises me that young Joseph lived within walking distance of the Erie Canal (see p. 3).
Second, each of the 47 lessons starts off with a couple of pages titled "From the Life of Joseph Smith." It's nice to have a chunk of history at the start of every lesson, a short narrative that actually hangs together as a whole as opposed to the cut and pasted paragraph quotations that, strung together, constitute the balance of the chapters. [I know they have done this for prior manuals, but the Joseph Smith history selections are inherently more interesting.] There is also an introductory 24-page "Life and Ministry of Joseph Smith" that (brace yourself) does not mention Haun's Mill.
Third, I detect a real effort to get the details right, for example in a mere eight lines on pages 23-24 relating that, in June 1844, Joseph was first charged with riot; then acquitted in Nauvoo; subsequently required by Governor Ford to answer to the same charge in Carthage; freed on bail in Carthage; then hit with a new charge of treason against the state of Illinois and immediately thrown in the local jail. The footnotes are careful to give full references to sources as well as qualifications to the source when appropriate. There are many quotes from the History of the Church ("HC"), generally with additional explanation such as the particulars of a letter included in the HC and quoted in the manual, or noting who reported the specific material being quoted from the HC. There are no citations to Rough Stone Rolling or any other book or article in the secondary literature.
I'll close by letting the manual briefly speak for itself, giving a short quote from the introductory chapter (from pages 19-20):
Throughout his ministry, the Prophet loved to be among the Saints. Of the city of Nauvoo and its inhabitants he said, "This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens." ... One convert observed, "There was a personal magnetism about him which drew all people who became acquainted with him to him." "He does not pretend to be a man without failings and follies," one Nauvoo resident wrote. "He is a man that you could not help liking; ...."
Originally posted with comments at Times and Seasons.