This ambitious treatment of Mormon origins and Mormon history will likely win plaudits. After all, how can you lose by combining two subjects of interest—hermeticism and Mormonism—both tinged with controversy? Add magic and folk culture, mix in a bit of quantification, get advance recommendations from scholars who should know their subject, land a respected press to publish your work, and then have it reviewed by people whose mastery of the whole range of subject matter is lacking, and a prize should be in sight. But is this fire, or only smoke?
With a range of apparent erudition that will overwhelm the general reader, Brooke weaves a fascinating tale of influences that allegedly converged and combined in the fertile, megalomaniacal mind of Joseph Smith to produce a vicious religious system. The person who reads only this book on the subject of Mormonism will conclude that Mormonism is rotten at the core, combining superstition and pseudoscience in an unholy synthesis and that its early followers were, quite simply, dunces. In fact, in an audacious final summary of the history of the past century Brooke tars modem Mormons with the same brush: only a dimwit, ignorant and devoid of character, could believe this religion. That The Refiner’s Fire has serious methodological flaws—that its central thesis remains unproved—will predictably be overlooked by those who have neither the time not the ability to do a close reading or by those whose predisposition assures a welcome to any book that disparages Mormons.