Book Review: “Hidden Cities”

I first heard of Roger Kennedy in the film made by Steve Smoot called “Lost Civilizations of North America”. He was interviewed in the film about his knowledge of Ancient Pre-Columbian activity. He was the director of the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution and even in his position, was not aware of all the evidence of Ancient America till late in his career…Hence the book “Hidden Cities”.

It is a very well written and researched book, published in 1994. He is well versed in American history. And in his writing, he weaves what was going on in history when certain antiquities were found.

While he touches on the antiquities of Central and South America, he feels the United States antiquities are older and more surprising to find. He writes “Before anything so ambitious had been built in Mexico, Central or South America, earthen buildings were arranged in strict repeated geometric patters along the bayous and channels in what are now the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.”

His writing is eloquent, but he does seem to slightly “show off” with his knowledge and takes his time getting to the point of the antiquity or site or concept. Yet in reading you do have to be patient and get more of a history lesson then just a typical “list” of ancient antiquities like other books do.

Sometimes the history lessons are fun. Sometimes you want him to cut to the chase. And he does put a lot of emphasis on race and the damage done to the Native American and African American as slaves. It is all true, but if you are of European descent, you might feel like crap after a while.

I do feel Roger Kennedy was very fair in his discussions. Most of his book covers the likes of Washington, Jefferson and Jackson and their dealings with ancient American antiquities. He sites many examples that explain how treating the natives as less-then a human caused much of the antiquities to be lost. (Manifest Destiny)

My favorite section is a short couple of pages where he goes into the example of religious people who believed the natives were of a tribe of Israel. He considers these people one of the few who were actually allies of the displaced natives. It is during this section he quotes the likes of Manasseh Ben Israel, Ethan Smith and even Joseph Smith.

When taking about the Mormons view of the Natives, he gives an overall positive view of Joseph Smith and was well researched on the Book of Mormon. All through the explanation, he kept saying the Nephites were the Mound Builders (even though Smith hardly ever made the direct reference, Kennedy did it for him), and made it look more like Smith had “discovered the truth about the builders of the mounds”.

One of Kennedy’s quotes on the Mormons: “Smith became founder of the only world religion to be based in American archeology”. An interesting take on The Book of Mormon.

I overall loved this book. I loved watching Kennedy on Smoot’s documentary to begin with, but the book is very complimentary to his “old-fashioned history teacher” presence. I would have loved to have met him, but he passed not long after the making of “Lost Civilizations”. I was lucky that my copy had his autograph on it.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Hidden Cities”

  1. Hi Kels, I just wanted to point out that Joseph did specifically identify the Nephites as the ancient mound builders in his letter to Emma Smith on the Camp of Israel march. Here’s the relevant portion:

    “The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest men and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country — the fertility, the splendor and the goodness so indescribable — all serves to pass away time unnoticed, and in short were it not at every now and then our thoughts linger with inexpressible anxiety for our wives and our children — our kindred according to the flesh — who are entwined around our hearts; And also our brethren and friends; our whole journey would be as a dream, and this would be the happiest period of all our lives.”

    — “Letter to Emma Smith, 4 June 1834”, p. 57, The Joseph Smith Papers


    1. Actually, if you see the first episode of my show, I give that very quote. I never said he made NO reference to the mound builders, he just rarely did. If you read the book, you will see that almost every time Kennedy said the word “Nephite” he used the words “Mound Builders” next to it. AND Kennedy gave the impression that Joseph Smith discovered the true identity of the Mound Builders, as if that was his mission with the Book of Mormon (not bringing people to Christ). That is what I was getting at.


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