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No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,833 Ratings  ·  230 Reviews
The first paperback edition of the classic biography of the founder of the Mormon church, this book attempts to answer the questions that continue to surround Joseph Smith. Was he a genuine prophet, or a gifted fabulist who became enthralled by the products of his imagination and ended up being martyred for them? 24 pages of photos. Map.
Paperback, 576 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Vintage (first published 1945)
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The Book of Mormon by AnonymousJesus the Christ by James E. TalmageHoly Bible by AnonymousStanding for Something by Gordon B. HinckleyThe Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball
Best LDS non-fiction
26th out of 195 books — 243 voters
Joseph Smith by Richard L. BushmanUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon KrakauerNo Man Knows My History by Fawn M. BrodieThe Mormon Experience by Leonard J. ArringtonThe Mountain Meadows Massacre by Juanita Brooks
Best Mormon History Books
3rd out of 33 books — 31 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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This book was not the anti-Mormon expose I thought it might be. In fact, I was surprised by how generous Fawn Brodie was with Joseph Smith. Despite her own religious skepticism, she seemed to have a real affection for Joseph Smith and his people. Where many writings about him are propaganda intended either to promote or crush faith, her agenda was to understand the man.

I was impressed by the wealth of information she had access to back in the 40’s. I’ve read a bit about early LDS church history
Michael Andersen-Andrade
Aug 09, 2014 Michael Andersen-Andrade rated it it was amazing
This book helped answer my question: Why did my paternal ancestors join the Mormon Church in the 1830's and 40's. The answer? They fell for the charms of a charismatic, narcissistic and sociopathic "prophet". One of my ggg grandfathers signed the deed of the family farm over to him, and one of my ggg grandmothers hid him in her flour bin to save him from the vengeful mob. Several generations later my grandparents had the good sense to finally leave the church when they could no longer swallow fa ...more
Aug 22, 2007 Cat rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culturalhistory
Well, I'm not a scholar on Mormonism, nor a Mormon, so I think my perspective is a little different then the detailed reviews below. I read this book because after I read "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Krakauer, I was like, yeah, Mormonism is interesting. This book is THE book to read if you want a clear picture of Joseph Smith.

Of course, people nit-pick, but I know an engaging, well-written book when I read one, and this is an engaging, well-written book.

Some of the chapters I like best inclu
Wells T.
Nov 24, 2014 Wells T. rated it really liked it
As a starting point I confess I am somewhere on the order of a seventh generation member of the Church Joseph Smith founded. I am, I would like to think, genetically a “Mormon.” And yes, it is not without irony that I admit my predicament.

In understanding my approach to “No Man”, one must consider that Brodie was excommunicated from the Church after publishing the book and never returned. She was the niece of Church President David O. McKay. Some members of the Church felt she used her implicit
Garry Wilmore
Jan 03, 2010 Garry Wilmore rated it liked it
I am more than a little reluctant to confess to having read this book, since I am a practicing Mormon, and in the culture of my church, No Man Knows My History is regarded as an abomination and a work of the rankest sort of heresy. But I decided to read it anyway, partly because I knew it is highly regarded in literary circles and by most historians, and partly just to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I hasten to note at the outset of my review that this book had only a negligible imp ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Clint rated it did not like it
Shelves: religion, biography
1.0 - I was interested to read a book on Joseph Smith that was written by what I hoped would be a mostly non-biased non-LDS author. I came to realize rather quickly that this author was extremely biased. Upon further research I learned that she was an ex-mormon with her own self-justifying bias. It was clear from the portions I read that her portrayal of Joseph was fueled by a very one-sided predetermined agenda.

A much better biography is Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.
Apr 08, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
This is really all you could ask for in a biography, and it is really deserving of the five stars. Incredibly well researched, great mix of general sweep and specific detail and anecdote, very readable. I would love to read her other books as well.
A practicing Mormon would probably not enjoy this book, because the thesis presented here is that Joseph Smith did not receive the book of Mormon in a revelation guiding him to golden plates, but rather made it up off the top of his head. That's the i
Jun 26, 2007 Danna rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adventure seekers & history buffs
You want the real skinny? Faun Brodie dishes it out in engaging and painstakingly documented research (if you don't know who she is, she's the historian who at one time was dismissed as a pop historian, that is until DNA proved the gal knew exactly what she was talking about: she declared Jefferson had children with his slave, with evidence from his letters that showed a direct correlation between his new and constant use of "mulatto" when describing his land to the estimated time he took up wit ...more
Jun 16, 2010 Jamie rated it really liked it
I read this book primarily because one of Trent's co-workers was reading it. He had just finished reading Bushman's book (who is a believer that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God) (which I also just reviewed) and was now reading this book to get the opposite perspective (Brodie being a non-believer). This book was tricky to find at the library. Ultimately I had to order it from the UCONN library system and do an inter-library transfer. So it is certainly not very readily available to those who m ...more
May 01, 2009 Nicole rated it really liked it
I didn't read this book for a long time because I was told it was anti-mormon literature, which I do not read. However, this book is well researched and backed up by a plethora of sources. Because of her relationship to David O. McKay, Brodie was actually granted access to church documents never before revealed. Although Fawn's spin of the prophet does color the book, I was fascinated with the faults and strengths of the prophet she relates that are only hinted to in Sunday school.
It is amazing
Jul 19, 2007 Kristine rated it it was ok
Jun 16, 2008 Brett rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone who wants to understand JS
This is a must read for every Mormon and Mormon researchers. This expands the horizon and opens the mind to the life of Joseph Smith. A fascinating and entertaining read. Fawn Brodie had insights that many have come to respect and proved her self a worthy historian with her other well respected and accurate works as well. Anyone researching Mormon history should read this first.

Wes King
Mar 17, 2016 Wes King rated it really liked it
Finally! A fair account of the founder of the Mormon church.

It was refreshing and fascinating to read a fair account of Joseph Smith and the early history of his church. It is well sourced and extremely thorough, as well as engaging and only minimally challenging to follow the thick history. It places Joseph's admiral qualities in the same realm as his growing paranoia and megalomania. He was a natural born leader, an unruly youth prone to money digging and tall tales, and a prodigiously charis
Jul 16, 2012 Vernon rated it liked it
I started this book when I was about halfway through "Rough Stone Rolling." I found that this was a much more interesting read. At first Brodie's narrative tone was rather grating, as if she was trying to hard to imagine what it was like to be in Joseph's shoes. But by the end, I was either got used to it or she wasn't so obnoxious. It feels much more like a novel than a biography. There were parts of it that I just could not put it down because it was so disturbing. But I think partly it was th ...more
Feb 14, 2012 David rated it really liked it
I read Richard Bushman’s “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” and Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith” together to get two differing viewpoints on the events in Joseph Smith’s life. Both books were informative and provided information that would have been lacking had I read only one of the books. Brodie’s book has a reputation for being anti-Mormon (she was excommunicated from the LDS church after writing it), so it surprised me how similarly both books presented vari ...more
Sep 08, 2008 Russell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mormonism
Absolutely wonderful book on JS.
Very helpful in explaining how this worldwide religion (LDS) managed to get off the ground and continue to exist in its current strength despite the illegitimacy of it's foundations.
Very helpful to members of that church who cannot bridge the gap between "True" and "reality".
Jim Whitefield
Aug 24, 2011 Jim Whitefield rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I ever read following my discovery of the hoax behind Mormonism. It was first published in 1945 and I was lucky enough to obtain a UK 1963 First Edition. It is beautifully written and remains to this day one of the best exposes of the 'real' Mormon facts.
Timothy Hallinan
Jan 18, 2012 Timothy Hallinan rated it it was amazing
Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn't have sought out a biography of Joseph Smith, first prophet of the Mormon church and reputed discoverer of the reputed gold tablets from which the Book of Morman supposedly came. But it was recommended to me by a woman who had done a dazzling job of arranging an author visit to Mendocino -- booked me somewhere, including television, every hour -- and then she sent me a copy.

Amazing book. Fawn Brodie, whose name was known only vaguely to me, had a gr
Dave Winter
Feb 06, 2010 Dave Winter rated it it was amazing
There are so many things to say about this gem.

This book is probably one of the first treatments of Joseph Smith from the academy (academic circles) out there, and it shows. Brodie's deft use of non-official sources to back up her points reveal themselves accurately and fluidly. She welded a near-perfect psychoanalysis of Joseph Smith that can't be beat. Others, like Bushman, have tried, but Brodie's work paints a portrait of Joseph Smith's thought process as he faced various crises, triumphs, a
Cameron Reilly
Aug 04, 2013 Cameron Reilly rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, credible and balanced biography on a complex and consummate American huckster, the 19th century forerunner to L. Ron Hubbard. I was inspired to finally read this book during a recent visit to Utah with my ex-Mormon wife. For any student of history and religion, this book is a gem. I was pleasantly surprised at how modern the prose and style was, considering it was written in the 1940's. It really is a page turner. Any Mormon who doesn't read this book is denying themselves a genui ...more
Oct 30, 2015 Brian rated it it was amazing
I was a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed reading Fawn Brodie‘s biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History (NMKMH), especially since it is infamous in Mormon circles and sometimes described as anti-Mormon. I have to disagree with that assessment. To me, Brodie was not attacking the faith tradition, Joseph Smith, or his early followers she was merely doing history on a fascinating person and used a secular non-believing analytical lens to do her work (which is the primary contention bel ...more
Ray Palmer
Jun 29, 2015 Ray Palmer rated it it was ok
It's interesting how much one's basic assumptions frame their ability to process information. Brodie begins with the assumption that there is nothing "supernatural" about Joseph Smith's life. Reasonable, I suppose. But it results in a huge problem. If Joseph and all his followers are having supernatural experiences, they must be unreliable sources. And so she gives these first hand accounts little validity.

The only other people that talked about Joseph Smith hated him. But since they made no cl
May 04, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it
A much easier read than Rough Stone Rolling as her prose is more engaging than Bushman's, though I'm glad I read RSR first - I think reading this when my world had already fallen apart would have crushed me. RSR lets you down more gently. It would probably be interesting to read the two side-by-side. She doesn't hide the fact that she thinks the BOM and Mormonism is fiction, but I can't blame her there. There were times I would have appreciated just the facts and not her conclusions, but overall ...more
Dec 28, 2015 Hyrum rated it it was amazing
It's obvious from the start that Brodie is biased against the official LDS church "approved history", and so many of her opinions are to be taken with that in consideration. However, the historical facts she presents are very interesting and well worth the time to read.
She does a great job at presenting her historical information mainly due to how she rates the credibility of her many different sources. She quotes directly from diaries and official records without the illusion that everything
Jamie Covington
Apr 30, 2008 Jamie Covington rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 09, 2009 Ben rated it it was amazing
No Man Knows My History chronicals the rise and fall of a true American mystic, Joseph Smith, the self-declared prophet, seer, and revelator of the restored gospel. Of particular interest to me were the chapters detailing the writing or translating of the Book of Mormon. During the frenzied time of the book's composition, Brody estimates that Joseph was dictating upwards of 8000 words a day. Given John Krakaur's comparison of the religiousity of New England in the 1830's to the drug-fueled hedon ...more
Apr 22, 2009 Tyler rated it it was amazing
I hope this book is not totally out of favor with believing Latter-day Saints, because Brodie's look at the life and person of Joseph Smith is as good as it gets. Bushman's book is good too, but seems too concerned with putting Joseph in the right light. Bushman seems to minimize topics like polygamy and the Book of Mormon, and too often relegates things to footnotes when they don't fit the story he wants to tell.

It's amazing to me now that Fawn Brodie was so demonized at the time for her portra
Jun 30, 2012 Victoria rated it really liked it
Brodie's research into the history of Joseph Smith offers people a glimpse into the life of a man some consider a prophet, and others a charlatan. Brodie uses court records, diaries, books, and interviews to flesh out his life. She presents a young man molded by the Great Awakening, the yearnings of a visionary family with a penchant for story telling and dabbling in treasure seeking, peep stones, and dowsing. The official church websites offer an altered view of the historical Joseph Smith. One ...more
May 25, 2009 Courtney rated it really liked it
Joseph Smith was born to a poor farm family in Vermont in 1805. Despite his lack of education, hard-scrabble upbringing, and early run-ins with the law, by the time he was lynched by a mob at the age of 38 he had founded what may be the only truly American religion. "No Man Knows my History" is the definitive tale of Smith's life.

Fawn McKay Brodie is no Mormon herself, she does not believe in what Joseph Smith preached, and she does not dwell deeply on the spiritual development of Latter-day Sa
Tanya W
Mar 13, 2011 Tanya W marked it as to-read
Said to contain many of the same historical facts as Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling... but the point of view is that of an unbeliever. My initial opinion is that this book has been given more of a "bad rap" than it deserves. I think it can be a good thing to work to understand people who are "former members" of the LDS community. I'll offer more commentary after I read it.

My position before reading the book is that Joseph Smith was a prophet called by God to do a significant work... that of rest
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Fawn McKay Brodie (September 15, 1915 – January 10, 1981) was a biographer and professor of history at UCLA, best known for Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, a work of psychobiography, and No Man Knows My History, the first prominent non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Raised in Utah in a respected, if impoverished, Latter-day Saint (L
More about Fawn M. Brodie...

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