David'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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's review
Feb 14, 2012

really liked it
Read from January 19 to February 14, 2012

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 various topics. Bushman’s book maintains a neutral viewpoint throughout, and equally portrayed Joseph’s successes and foibles. Brodie’s skepticism is obvious when talking about the First Vision and polygamy, but the rest of her book is far from the apostasy that I had been led to expect – she presents Joseph’s human side and portrays both the pro-Mormon and anti-Mormon viewpoint of the occurrences in Joseph’s life. Bushman’s book is better-written and more detailed, but Brodie’s excels when describing the drama of the Haun’s Mill massacre, his incarceration in Liberty Jail, his triumphal return after being arrested in Nauvoo for treason in Missouri, and his ultimate martyrdom.

Some of my take-away points:

1. Joseph's leg infection as a kid was much more of a big deal than the happy story we learn about in primary. It took him years to heal and the trauma likely affected him for the rest of his life, both physically and emotionally.

2. Money and politics played huge roles in what happened to Joseph and the church. Mormons were a huge voting bloc and swayed elections in Missouri and Illinois. People got mad when Joseph promised the Mormon vote to both sides and didn't come through. Finances caused the church to leave Kirtland, and Joseph and the church were constantly in debt.

3. Polygamy was seriously messed up, at least the way it was introduced and practiced. It is (for me) a huge stretch to believe that God sanctioned the secrecy, heartache, dishonesty, lying, and weirdness that went on in Nauvoo.

4. Joseph Smith is human. He wasn't a good judge of people's intentions, had a temper, and definitely could have used a financial planner and PR person. But he was a great leader, showed love to everyone, preferred peace over war, developed some amazing theological ideas, and left a lasting impact on human history.
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message 1: by Konrad (new)

Konrad Rough Stone is actually the next book that I am going to be reading after I finish the two that I am going through right now. Chris T lent it to me when I was in Utah for the holidays, so I need to jump into it before he visits Oregon or I visit UT again. I am interested to see what the book is going to be like.

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