Saturday, January 3, 2015
Book Review: The Lost Book of Mormon by Avi Steinberg
Author: Avi Steinberg
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Content Alert: Nothing I recall
I love the premise of The Lost Book of Mormon: Avi Steinberg was feeling stuck in his life-- living in Jerusalem, struggling in his marriage, trying to finish a novel, he became fascinated with The Book of Mormon, and decided to track the trajectory of the story, traveling from Jerusalem to Mexico, to upstate New York and Kansas City. The book occupies an interesting rhetorical situation, since Steinberg is not a Mormon. In fact, he believes that Joseph Smith is just another author trying to make it big with his first book. This might be seen by many Mormons as criticism or heresy, but it actually allows Steinberg, as an enthusiastic outsider, to make some observations about Mormon culture and the Book of Mormon that neither a believing member nor someone who wants to disprove Smith's claims could make.
And while I was attracted by the premise of the book, I wasn't as entranced by the execution. I've read a lot of immersion/stunt journalism projects (AJ Jacobs, Gretchen Rubin, Michael Pollan), and this is one of the least successful of these types of books. Steinberg starts in Jerusalem, where Nephi and Lehi may have walked (which was interesting), and then goes on a Mormon tour of ancient ruins in Mexico and Guatemala, where the story was much less about the Book of Mormon than it was about the fellow Mormons on the bus. His experience getting kicked out of the Hill Cumorah Pageant was interesting, but not necessarily insightful to the project. All in all, I enjoyed the idea of the book more than the book itself.