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No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  2,561 ratings  ·  322 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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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
Feb 06, 2010 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
Wells T.
Sep 19, 2011 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
Aug 22, 2007 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
Garry Wilmore
Jul 26, 2009 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
Macy_Novels at Night
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an older book, and still very relevant! Being born and raised a Mormon, these are some things that have been hidden and purposely not mentioned to anyone following this religion. We are now in an age of free thinkers, and this is all coming to light, and it is so needed for so many people. This is hardly the place to get on a soap box, and I know that other people in other religions may feel the same, but please people if you are going to follow, follow with knowledge. Educate yourself a ...more
Mar 30, 2009 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 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 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
Apr 26, 2009 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
Mar 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
Jul 16, 2012 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
Jun 16, 2008 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.

Jim Whitefield
Aug 24, 2011 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.
Hmmm... I have sort of mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is emminently readable. I have rarely - if ever - picked up a non-fiction book that moves with such pace and drama. On the other hand, I can't help but notice a great deal of speculation. I suppose this book falls into the category of semi-academic history. There are footnotes: the text in general is well sourced, but there is often an inclination towards filling in with speculation where no sources are available or appea ...more
Mar 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
This book is VERY interesting. It is well researched and full of fascinating info on the life of Joseph Smith. Fawn Brodie is carefully to present the information as is and rarely places her own judgment, leaving it to the reader to decide on Joseph Smith's mindset and character. The info is thorough and, at times, dry and difficult to read through; which is the reason for a 4 rather than 5 star rating.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding biography. Brodie may come off as speculative at times but when you examine her sources you can see that her analysis has a lot of basis in testimony and fact. And in all honesty I think she was quite fair to Smith, recognizing that he seemed to be a man of conviction and (in some ways) integrity, but also one who had a history of mysticism and fanaticism.

(view spoiler)
May 25, 2009 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
Timothy Hallinan
Jan 18, 2012 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
Feb 14, 2012 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
Apr 07, 2011 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
Cameron Reilly
Aug 04, 2013 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
Apr 22, 2009 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 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This would have gotten 5 stars because of the stunning amount of research included, except she frequently used phrases like, "... he certainly felt ..." I don't think she has any notion how people felt, and it lessened (for me) the general feeling of objectivity that the book had.

Although the book was not apologetic, it definitely felt fair to me. She clearly believes that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, and many reviews I've read by Mormons slam this as "anti-Mormon propaganda." Howeve
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a very well written, carefully documented book by a well respected professor of history at U. C. L. A. She brings Joseph Smith to life with all the documentation and footnotes backing her up. I cannot list favorite quotes this time along as there are just too many to note.

This took a long time to get through not because it is a long read, which it is, almost 500 pages, but because it was just too painful to read at times. My ancestors fell for the lies of this con man and the consequence
Aug 12, 2015 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
Sep 08, 2008 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".
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although maligned for its use of source material and interpretive liberties, this work’s influence on Mormon historical studies and subsequent Joseph Smith biographers cannot be overstated. Its seminality is apparent in considering Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, Vogel’s the Making of a Prophet, and even the most recent Saints book, officially published by the Church. The timeline, vignettes, and narrative that appear as common threads in these books all appeared in No Man Knows my History first. ...more
Christopher Angulo
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fun read. The prose is excellent. The take on Joseph's life was enlightening (though I disagree with many of her conclusions). There was more insinuating than I wouldve liked, but I'm not as familiar with writing in the 1940's and so I will remain silent on that. The insinuations were just as obnoxious as the overly glamorized writing of Tullidge or Cannon.
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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

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