Book Review: No Man Knows My History

Brodie, Fawn M. No Man Knows My History. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage Books. 1995.

WOW this book took me forever to read. Originally published in 1945, this was the first comprehensive biography of Joseph Smith. Brodie, the niece of President David O. McKay, was ultimately excommunicated from the LDS church, largely because of this book.
Brodie rightly presents Joseph Smith as a powerful, intelligent, and charismatic leader. She doesn’t, however, present him as an inspired prophet. Yet the book clearly shows her admiration and respect for Joseph Smith. She presents Joseph as a complicated individual, with obvious strengths & weaknesses. She is quick to give him credit when it is due, but doesn’t shy away from deserved criticism. The book is sure to offend some stalwart LDS readers, but it’s also sure to inspire many non-LDS readers.
One of the most interesting (and controversial) aspects of the book is the way Brodie goes beyond simply telling facts about Joseph Smith. She uses a technique called psychobiography and attempts to determine Joseph’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations. She tells not only what Joseph did, but speculates about why he did it. As with any psychobiography, she is sure to have made some false conclusions, but the result is a very readable book presenting an inspiring narrative.

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