John L. Brooke, an associate professor of history at Tufts University, is, by his own description, "not a Mormon historian;" his earlier work has centered on the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century social history of Massachusetts and New England. His new book does not claim to be "necessarily a well-rounded approach to early Mormonism" or "a balanced history," but is rather a "selective reinterpretation" which is conceptually allied to D. Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. Brooke acknowledges that he "share[s] some of the agnostic skepticism of Fawn Brodie," and this position is clearly manifest throughout his book. But his claim that his "study is not intended to advance a cause or a polemic" rings rather hollow in light of his frequent denunciations of LDS Church doctrines, policies, and activities.
The central thesis of Refiner's Fire is that "there are striking parallels between the Mormon concepts of the coequality of matter and spirit, of the covenant of celestial marriage, and of an ultimate goal of human godhood and the philosophical traditions of alchemy and hermeticism, drawn from the ancient world and fused with Christianity in the Italian Renaissance."