Heather's Reviews > No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

No Man Knows My History by Fawn M. Brodie
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Nov 10, 07

bookshelves: religion, history-philosophy-science, mormon-history
Read in December, 2007

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, and it seems that succeeding biographies have added only details to her impressive work. Even Bushman’s biography which came out last year adds little to what she wrote, and she was the better writer (note that Bushman’s book is still in my “currently reading” folder – it is very well-documented and thorough, but it is a bit of a slog).

At first I was skeptical of the usefulness of her commentary. She is the type of biographer who is unafraid to insert her own ideas. Given the inflammatory nature of her topic, I wondered if she would have done better to just state the facts and let them speak for themselves. But I came to appreciate her narrative. Any work is in some way a reflection of the author, and in writing this book Brodie convinced me that she was a sensitive, intelligent person possessed with academic integrity. I respect her enough to want to know what she thought about her subject.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Blaine Hey Heather,
What are your thoughts about how Brodie's book about Joseph Smith compares to Rough Stone Rolling? I still am in the middle of Rough Stone Rolling. It's very interesting, but drags a bit through the priesthood part. I have ended up reading lots of books in the meantime. Every time the book mobile comes I pick up more books than I intend too. They have been easy to read books as well.

Isn't Brodie a "disgruntled ex-mormon"? I believe Bushmann refers to her in his book as well.


Heather I'm in about the same place in both of these books right now (the writing of the Book of Mormon), so I can only compare them up to that point.

Brodie is an excellent writer while Bushman is dry.

Other than that, they both deserve respect for their efforts to bring thoroughness to the subject. They are both upfront about their viewpoint (he a believer, she a skeptic). For the most part they mention the same events, but the emphasis is different. Where he briefly mentions Joseph's dabbling with treasure hunting and stone reading - and in the same section deemphasizes these activities, she spends a lot of time on these activities. He views those activities as unimportant, she views them as fundamental to his character. There are lots of those sorts of differences, but the facts seem to be basically the same. I like reading the two books side by side so that I can keep in mind how Joseph Smith can be viewed so differently (fraud vs. prophet) by two obviously intelligent and respectable historians.


message 3: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Blaine Thanks Heather. That is a good way to look at it. I think that the Book of Mormon part was the most interesting so far. Happy Thanksgiving!


Dave Winter Pretty gopd review. I am an ex-Mormon but never got around to reading this. I think I will give it a whirl now.


message 5: by GymGuy (new)

GymGuy Hope you enjoyed Rough Stone Rolling. Far better analysis. Brodie was a disgruntled ex-Mormon with an axe to grind. RSR is far more objective.


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