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642 of 751 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timeless Classic in Mormon Studies
I've consummed a library of books on Mormon studies, and had held off on reading "No Man Knows My History" because I had already read a considerable quantity of biographical material on Joseph Smith. I capitulated at last only because it is among the most well known books on early Mormon history. I am so glad I did. No book could have pulled it all together...
Published on April 2, 2001 by Missing in Action

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171 of 219 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting!
As a Mormon, I expected to find myself offended by this book, but it simply wasn't the case. Granted, Brodie approaches Smith with the assumption that he was not a real prophet...but once you understand that, her true facination and, yes, admiration for the man comes through.
On the downside, she does try to psychoanalyze Smith using 20th century standards, and...
Published on October 8, 1999


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642 of 751 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timeless Classic in Mormon Studies, April 2, 2001
By 
Missing in Action (Idaho Falls, Idaho USA) - See all my reviews
I've consummed a library of books on Mormon studies, and had held off on reading "No Man Knows My History" because I had already read a considerable quantity of biographical material on Joseph Smith. I capitulated at last only because it is among the most well known books on early Mormon history. I am so glad I did. No book could have pulled it all together and made sense of it all as well as Fawn Brodie's book. It is as valuable today as it was when it was first written over half a century ago. None of the objective scholarship of recent years contradicts her conclusions, but rather validates her, page after page after page. Her insight is piercing, her style is almost poetic, and her message is powerful.
It is not any easy book for a Mormon to read, as is evidenced by some of the reactionary attacks Brodie receives in some of the reviews already written. The faithful do not want to hear that Joseph Smith was an "evolutionary revolutionary," his doctrine growing with his ego and sense of personal magnificence. But this is no mean swipe at the character of Joseph Smith...if anything, you come away with a sense of awe at the creative genius, the charismatic giant that he must have been. If he brought scorn and violence upon himself and his people, it was a measure of the power he produced and the fear that he struck in lesser men with whom he shared his time and space. Nevertheless, Brodie's exploration of the world of Joseph Smith and the context within which his doctrine evolved is brilliant. She is adept at recognizing the role that projection has played throughout his career, beginning with the Book of Mormon, and continuing on through all of his other writings, including the History of the Church. Ms. Brodie says it best herself in the opening lines of Chapter 19: "A man's memory is bound to be a distortion of his past in accordance with his present interests, and the most faithful autobiography is likely to mirror less what a man was than what he has become." Or as is so often the case, "less what a man was than what he wished he had become." To one who has studied the role of paradigms in shaping the way we interpret our world, Brodie's book makes the most beautiful sense. To one who's faith is at stake, however, her book may serve to threaten the idylic, heroic legend of Joseph Smith that has been carefully nurtured since his murder in 1844.
This is among the finest pieces of historical literature I have had the priveledge of reading. Her scholarship and writing and fearless approach to tackle controversial issues with objectivity and sensitivity is matched only by Juanita Brooks in the realm of Mormon studies. This is a book not just to read, but to consume.
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91 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many bash Brodie... but I liked it!, April 21, 2010
After hearing about the "controversial" nature of this book amongst my peers and how "horribly" written it was I decided I would read it for myself.

Needless to say I was enthralled from the very beginning of the book. I found the book and the subject matter fascinating. I had expected the book to have a clear bias, but I felt Brodie presented the information very fairly and in a suprisingly unbiased way... oftentimes giving both perspectives and the information where both sides claims come from (i.e. she'll present people's claims that Joseph Smith was a moneydigger and occultist, and than show the court documents where he was on trial for doing so, and than she would show the other side's argument.).

In fact the only part of the book that I felt had a truly negative biased tone was the "afterword" that was added several years after the author's excommunication.

In the end though, I would have to say that the part I enjoyed most about the book was that it not only gave a detailed account of Joseph Smith, but of other church history figures such as Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young, John D. Lee, etc. I felt like a picture of what life was like back then was painted.

Granted true blue Mormons will be offended when reading this book because they haven't heard anything but the filtered down version, AND they will gnash their teeth and bash on Fawn Brodie... BUT give her a break! It was the first biography of its kind and it was written in the 40's for heaven sakes. All the teeth gnashing looks ridiculous as if you're trying too hard to prove your obedience and faith.

A good product will sell itself, and this book has sold suprisingly well despite being restricted to a small fraction of the world who actually knows what a "mormon" or who "Joseph Smith" was. I enjoyed the book very much, thank you Fawn Brodie.
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48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dispassionate history that will bother some Mormons, August 28, 2012
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This is the second edition of Fawn M. Brodie's classic 1945 biography of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. Brodie is well-known for her other highly respected biographies on Thomas Jefferson, Richard Nixon, Sir Richard F. Burton, and Thaddeus Stevens. The book is a detailed dispassionate factual narration of Joseph Smith's life and the early days of the Mormon Church until his murder by a lynch mob at age 39 in 1844.

While Brodie is careful not to disparage Joseph Smith, she presents him as a human with normal inclinations and faults, and Mormons might not like to think of him in this way. In fact, the Mormon Church excommunicated her because of this book. She writes that the "major original premises of this biography was that Joseph Smith's assumption of the role of a religious prophet was an evolutionary process, that he began as a bucolic scryer, using the primitive techniques of the folklore of magic common to his area, most of which he discarded as he evolved into a preacher-prophet."

Brodie offers evidence showing that Joseph Smith began his career offering to help gullible farmers find buried fortunes on their land. He originally intended to compose a fictional novel about buried treasures but then altered it into a true account of a revelation delivered to him on golden plates in a foreign language with tools to translate them. Brodie discusses the belief that much of this Book of Mormon was plagiarized from another person's novel. Joseph Smith claimed that he had his first vision of God and Jesus, who had human forms because God was once human, in 1820 when he was fourteen. Brodie shows that this dating is "sheer invention... he dictated at least three different descriptions of the `first vision' between 1831 or 1832 and 1839, and these descriptions differ strikingly in detail." The revelation states that American Indians descended from Israel's "Ten Lost Tribes" who sailed to America around 600 BCE. (Actually, the ten tribes were driven out of Israel in 722 BCE.)

The Book of Mormon disparages all people of color, although Indians are better than blacks. Women are also belittled. Their role both in life and in the after-life is to care for their husbands. A wife cannot enter the after-life unless her husband allows her entry.

Joseph Smith called his new religion Mormon saying that the word is Egyptian and means "good." But he didn't know Egyptian. Brodie describes a trick pulled on him where he was told that a document apparently contained Egyptian writing, and he was asked to translate it. Smith didn't know that the person was an Egyptian scholar and gave a totally wrong imaginative translation. He later called his church the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Shortly before his murder, Smith and some of his saints began to practice polygamy, while publically insisting that the practice was wrong. Brodie names and describes over forty women that he married. Over a dozen were married to other men and their husbands apparently knew nothing of the liaisons. These included five pairs of sisters and one mother and daughter. Some women whom he approached turned him down. His wife was opposed to polygamy and claimed that he never engaged in it. She married a non-Mormon after his death.

Smith was charismatic and able to draw thousands of people to his new religion. Because of repeated vicious persecutions, he had to lead his saints to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. He was imprisoned for treason when the lynch mob stormed his jail cell and murdered him.
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171 of 219 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting!, October 8, 1999
By A Customer
As a Mormon, I expected to find myself offended by this book, but it simply wasn't the case. Granted, Brodie approaches Smith with the assumption that he was not a real prophet...but once you understand that, her true facination and, yes, admiration for the man comes through.
On the downside, she does try to psychoanalyze Smith using 20th century standards, and loses much of her credibility in the process. On the other hand, though, I've never read a more riveting account of the Missouri period. This book gives a flavor for what a truly remarkable man Smith was...whether one believed his claims or not.
My advice to Mormons is: Read this book if you truly have an open mind and can appreciate a non-believer's point of view. To non-Mormomns I'd say: Remember, this book doesn't tell the whole story.
All authors on Mormon history approach the subject matter from preconceived notions of belief or unelief, and that orientation clouds whatever comes after. Contrary to other reviewers, my feeling is that a book of this kind will never help someone to understand whether a religion is genuine or not. Those decisions come from other places in one's mind...and heart.
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55 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Balanced Look at Religious Genius, February 28, 2008
By 
G. Bestick (Dobbs Ferry, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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Like Ben Franklin, Kit Carson, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Joseph Smith was incandescent in a uniquely American way. The church he founded is America's most successful home grown religion. A century and a half after Smith's murder by an Illinois mob, the Mormon Church flourishes, with over 12 million members worldwide. You don't have to believe he was divinely inspired - and Fawn Brodie clearly doesn't - to be impressed by his vision, energy, resilience, entrepreneurial skill and improvisational brilliance. Smith was undoubtedly a religious "genius" - William James' term for charismatic founders of new religious movements. This superb biography gives us the life in all its tumult and glory while skillfully refuting the larger than life myths it spawned.

As Brodie shows, even as a semi-literate farm boy in upstate New York, Smith was a magnet for the social and theological currents whirling through 1820s America. His Book of Mormon, a mythic tale of warring tribes in the primordial American wilderness, drew upon magic, folklore, superstition, Masonic ritual, the old and new testaments of the Christian bible, racial prejudice against blacks and Indians, and the crude anthropology of his day. He grounded its authenticity in the Angel Moroni, who allegedly led him to the golden plates on which the book was inscribed in ancient hieroglyphics. He, Joseph, claimed only to be the messenger.

Brodie has less interest in the mysteries of divine revelation than she does in the mysteries of human charisma. Smith's powerful voice, penetrating gaze and bluff, good-natured personality drew men and women from all walks of life into his orbit. His followers loved the man, according to Brodie, and saw in him the physical embodiment of their church. He was also shrewd enough to custom fit his religion to the character of his time, making Mormonism an ingenious meld of the secular and the spiritual. To a people eager for miracles, he proclaimed several. He gave Mormonism a patina of democracy, creating governing councils and making each member accountable for the overall health of the church. He also played on the willingness of Americans to see evidence of God's favor in the size of their bank balances. In Smith's religion, there was little friction between the good life on earth and the one that comes after.

As the Mormons migrated west through Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, Smith updated his theology through periodic revelations from the Almighty. His most controversial revelation had to do with the taking of multiple wives. Interestingly, it wasn't the practice of polygamy that led to Mormon persecution during Smith's lifetime. Polygamy was too explosive for even Smith to sell to his followers, so he kept this revelation a secret outside his inner circle. The persecution the sect endured in Missouri and Illinois had to do with local fears that Smith's religious army would tip the balance of political power. That the prophet and his followers were cruelly persecuted, particularly in Missouri, is beyond dispute. By being tone deaf to their neighbors' concerns and by proclaiming themselves above secular authority, they created a decent portion of the resistance they encountered.

At the time of his death in 1844, Smith was in the middle of a run for President of the United States. He was presiding over his church, the town of Nauvoo, a private military army, a vast financial and real estate empire, and a secret squadron of "fifty of so" wives. As he said in a sermon to his followers, "I don't blame anyone for not believing in my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself."

His was one of the most thrilling high wire acts ever seen in America. Brodie tells the life clearly, does an outstanding job of documenting her assertions, and gives credit where it's due. While not overlooking his tendency to claim divine justification for all too human urges, she has sympathy for the struggle he waged between "what he really was and what he most desperately wanted to be." If you believe Smith had an actual pipeline to God, you'll probably see this book as a hatchet job. If you see him as a brilliant but flawed human being, you'll appreciate this balanced, clear-eyed biography.
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104 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars meticulous and thought-provoking, June 21, 2004
By A Customer
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I will spare the reader of this review another exhaustive summary of the book contents, since the contents are well-documented and reviewed by innumerable other reviewers (the book was initially published in 1945). At any rate, I found the book well-written, the material neatly couched & contextualized into the era it occurred, and a conscientous effort given to both 'official' mormon history and 'unofficial' mormon history. In spite of one's religious beliefs, this book ought to be required reading for both the scholar of mormon history and the devout mormon churchgoer. Ultimately, this book should serve as a springboard for further investigation and research by BOTH earnest mormon scholars and pious mormons alike.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life changing read for a mormon, July 4, 2013
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If you are a mormon and you read this there is no doubt it will change your view of your church forever. Many have read it and gained or lost faith in Joseph Smith as a prophet but none will finish this book without a closer understanding of what kind of a guy he was and what made him tick. Brodie had such unprecedented access to official church historical records and wrote such an honest portrayal that it changed the face of mormon historical writing forever (essentially the LDS church locked the archives forever). I was a mormon for 15 years before reading this book and I was learning things we were never taught about JS on every page. Do yourself a favor, just read it.

Pros:
- Unparalleled detail into Joseph Smith's life, personality and death.
- Well sourced and very easy to corroborate sources.
- Decades later still the most honest source on JS.

Cons:
- Many mormons will avoid this book because they believe it is "anti" literature. What a shame to skip such a profound work.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, scholarly, and honest., November 21, 2012
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Although published in 1946, this book remains the definitive biography of the Mormon "prophet" Joseph Smith, Jr. Fawn Brodie's research and detailed footnotes make this an excellent reference book. Ms. Brodie was the grand-daughter of the president of Brigham Young University and niece of the "prophet" David McKay. This gave her unprecidented access to Mormon documents unavailable to nonMormon writers and historians. This is a book for those interested in history. It is absolutely facinating and makes history fun to read. Sadly, Ms. Brodie,s honest exploration of the life of Joseph Smith, Jr. led to her being excommunicated from the Mormon church. However, she has preserved historical truth for future generations. This a a must book for every student of American history or religion.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book!, December 30, 2013
My grandfather lent me his first edition copy of this book. Based on the opinions of many active mormons who reviewed it, I expected to find a very lop-sided view of Smith. What I found was a balanced portrait of a great American figure. Brodie's analysis of the mind of Smith is an honest attempt to understand the motives and circumstances that led to the creation of a new American religion. It was fascinating to learn how much the BoM was a product of American frontier thinking (politically, theologically, and culturally). Brodie's style is vivid and easy to read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in reading a humanized version of Joseph Smith's life.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As though any more evidence was needed...., March 2, 2011
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A nice fluffy series of reviews, but it's time to honor Ms. Brodie's excellent work and call a spade a spade. Joseph Smith was certainly a remarkable human being, but as anyone with a clear objective mind can see, he was a charlatan of the highest order. He made up a religion from whole cloth, or rather, from a patchwork quilt of what he had at hand. His "scriptures" had a resonance in his day, but his writings and his church derive from brazen and bold lies and fantasies, plain and simple.

The Mormon church now consists of some millions who deeply believe that Joe Smith was a "prophet of God". They are convinced that the hilarious mish-mash of biblical, masonic, and early 19th century historical and world views that make up the sacred doctrines and rituals of their Church are a sufficient explanation for the wonder of life and human existence on this planet and in this universe.

Don't misunderstand me, Smith's Church is no worse than any organized religion. But in this case (not unlike Scientology), too much has been documented for a rational mind not to expose it. Moreover, the well documented beginning, expansion, and solidification of Smith's church into the Fortune 400 economic powerhouse that it is today (faithful member must pay 10% of their pre-tax income)is extremely illuminating as to how all "great" religions get established.
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No Man Knows My History : The Life of Joseph Smith
No Man Knows My History : The Life of Joseph Smith by Peter Dimock (Hardcover - February 12, 1971)
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