Grant Palmer's "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins" proves, once again, that there is nothing new under the sun of anti-Mormonism, except now they've recruited someone who claims to be a Church member. Palmer tries to put new wine into old bottles, and fails spectacularly. There is hardly an original thought between the covers of this poorly researched, hastily put together book.
Palmer betrays his agenda on nearly every page, stretching scant evidence to fit his pre-conceived notions of Church history, wrapping them in a facade of "Christian Mormonism". He is pretending this counterfeit version of Church History can lead the Church to better spiritual footing, all the while undermining the pure source of knowledge. In one passage, Palmer even questions the reliability of the Holy Ghost in granting knowledge to truth seekers; luckily, the Holy Ghost will give readers a bad feeling towards this argument, to let them know it isn't true. Check...and...mate.
The un-originality of his ideas is on stunning display from chapter one, where we learn that supposedly Joseph Smith never actually translated anything. Palmer must have allowed his FARMS subscription to lapse, because he conveniently dismisses the mountain of evidence for the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham translations. Whether through sheer ignorance, or intentional sabotage, such oversights are hardly innocent. Instead of reliable history, we are exposed to fantastical stories of Greek "Psalters" and counterfeit "Kinderhook" plates. The translation from the Greek would be extremely hard to verify, since recent studies have shown that most English words derive from a Greek source (see the documentary "Greek Wedding" Vardalos, 2002). The funny name "Kinderhook" also signals to anyone with common sense that they were obviously forgeries, so this argument is tenous at best, decieving at worst. And it goes downhill from there.
The research errors and tenuous arguments are so great, that I can only offer one as an example. Palmer claims, in chapter 24, that Joseph Smith never had any success as a money digger. This statement completely sidesteps the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that Joseph Smith was a "money digger" to begin with! This fictional view of Joseph Smith's life is drawn upon at every turn. With material mistakes like that in evidence, the veracity of the rest of the book is immediately called into question. The reader is then faced with the choice of finishing the book and trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, or profitably using their time by studying Church history that has been well reviewed by FARMS.
To add insult to injury, the cover and typeface are hardly befitting a book that aspires to scholarly standards. The footnotes are too small to read comfortably, and the copyright page is poorly laid out. This alone should indicate to the discriminating buyer the poor quality of the book's contents. The title could more accurately have been "An Outsider's Guide to Anti-Mormon Bedtime Stories." Perhaps this can be changed for the second edition.
Scholars seeking a more balanced approach to Church history are encouraged to steer clear of this book. More reliable information can be had from any publication of Deseret Books or FARMS, or even the Church's ever reliable "Church History in the Fulness of Times", although the depth and scholarly approach of the latter may be off-putting to some. As an introduction, Deseret Books' insightful "Primary Kid's First Coloring Book: The Joseph Smith Story" also offers an interactive approach to learning the truth about Joseph Smith and his claims (see upcoming FARMS review by same author).
Disclaimer: Because of budgetary concerns, the reviewer was unable to procure a copy of this book. This review has been written based on comments in internet discussions, reading the back cover at Borders, and studying the sample pages at Amazon. The Signature Books website may also have excerpts, but the author's LDS internet filter prevented access in time for the review.