Reconsidering No Man Knows My History

Reconsidering No Man Knows My History

Edited by Newell G. Bringhurst
Copyright Date: 1996
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  • Book Info
    Reconsidering No Man Knows My History
    Book Description:

    Fawn Brodie's biography of the founding Mormon prophet has received both praise and condemnation since it's publication in 1945. In 1995, at a symposium to mark its fiftieth anniversary, several scholars gathered together to re-examine Brodie, her Joseph Smith biography and its continuing importance. Bringhurst has brought together many of the essays from that meeting.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-335-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: The Example of Fawn McKay Brodie: A Tribute
    (pp. vii-xii)
    William Mulder

    Fawn McKay Brodie and I were strict contemporaries: We were born in the same year; we met on several occasions; we corresponded; and once, in June 1978, we shared the same platform with the distinguished Black historian John Hope Franklin at a Phi Beta Kappa ceremony.

    The Papers of Fawn McKay Brodie, officially so called, which now form part of the special collections at the University of Utah, occupy twenty-five linear feet of shelf space in the Marriott Library. The records of her final work, the Nixon biography, alone fill twenty-nine boxes, evidence of what she called, in the middle...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Newell G. Bringhurst

    Alfred A. Knopf first published Fawn M. Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet in November 1945. Over the next twenty-five years, this work went through eight printings. In 1971, it was revised and enlarged into a second edition. This revised edition, in turn, has gone through a dozen printings and is still in print.

    The obvious question is: Why has No Man Knows My History retained sufficient appeal to remain in print over the course of the past half century? This feat is even more remarkable given the publication of several subsequent...

  6. 1 A Biography of the Biography: The Research and Writing of No Man Knows My History
    (pp. 7-38)
    Newell G. Bringhurst

    Fawn Brodie did not originally set out to write a biography of Joseph Smith per se. Instead, she explained years later that when a study of the anthropology of American Indians convinced her that they were of Mongoloid rather than Hebraic origin, she wanted to satisfy herself by exploring “how the Book of Mormon came to be written.”¹ Also prompting her were questions posed by her husband Bernard, “totally new to the Mormon scene and very fascinated by it.”² But as Brodie got into her research, she found there was “no good biography of Joseph Smith” and thus undertook the...

  7. 2 Applause, Attack, and Ambivalence: Varied Responses to No Man Knows My History
    (pp. 39-59)
    Newell G. Bringhurst

    In November 1945 Alfred A. Knopf published the first edition of Fawn M. Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith. Brodie, in terms of her background and intelligence, seemed highly qualified to write a biography of Mormonism’s founder.¹ Born Fawn McKay in Ogden, Utah, on September 15, 1915, she was the daughter of Thomas E. McKay, an assistant to the Council of the Twelve, the Mormon church’s ruling elite, and the niece of David O. McKay, the future church president who in 1945 was already a member of the church’s First Presidency. Brodie’s mother, Fawn Brimhall...

  8. 3 Secular or Sectarian History? A Critique of No Man Knows My History
    (pp. 60-93)
    Marvin S. Hill

    When Herbert O. Brayer reviewed No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie’s biography of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review in 1946, his words were prophetic. “This book,” he said, “which purports to be a ‘definitive biography’ will probably be one of the most highly praised and highly condemned historical works of 1945.”¹ The book has indeed been highly praised and highly condemned, with plaudits coming generally from professionals in the field of American history. It quickly became the standard life of Joseph Smith and the most influential book on early Mormonism, a status it...

  9. 4 Fawn McKay Brodie: At the Intersection of Secularism and Personal Alienation
    (pp. 94-126)
    Mario S. De Pillis

    My analysis of No Man Knows My History, the landmark and still unreplaced biography of Joseph Smith, within the context of larger trends in American religion and society, is an exercise in history, biography, and autobiography.¹

    I argue that Fawn McKay Brodie’s immediate environment was a rich and ambiguity-fraught intersection of modern secularism with Brodie’s own personal alienation from the religious tradition that formed her. Her biography has been a scandal to orthodox Mormons for half a century and Brodie, herself excommunicated by LDS church leaders after its publication, has become the type of apostate who turns to question the...

  10. 5 Literary Style in No Man Knows My History: An Analysis
    (pp. 127-153)
    Lavina Fielding Anderson

    Perhaps the first analysis of Fawn Brodie’s literary style in No Man Knows My History came in August 1944 when she gave a revised second draft of the manuscript to Dale Morgan for his critique, a service he had performed since their first meeting a year earlier. Among other comments he called the manuscript “downright fascinating, … the prose is clean and on the whole admirably muscular; … and at all times it moves rapidly.”¹ When the publisher was looking for a cover comment for the second edition, Knopf chose an observation published in the Saturday Review that praised the...

  11. 6 Fawn Brodie on Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives and Polygamy: A Critical View
    (pp. 154-194)
    Todd Compton

    Anyone who sets out to seriously study Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages must use the appendix to Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History as a starting point.¹ This appendix is a pioneering work; before Brodie, few had studied Smith’s polygamy on a scholarly level. Nevertheless, the discerning reader will use this appendix only with great caution. As is the case with many pioneers, Brodie made significant mistakes in her first survey and evaluation, both on the evidential and theoretical levels of her scholarship.

    We should first emphasize Brodie’s positive contributions to the study of Joseph Smith Jr.’s polygamy. She is...

  12. 7 From Old to New Mormon History: Fawn Brodie and the Legacy of Scholarly Analysis of Mormonism
    (pp. 195-233)
    Roger D. Launius

    If there had been no Fawn Brodie, Mormon historians would have had to invent her. Ever since she published No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet in 1945, calling into serious question most of the faith claims based on Mormonism’s early history, an enormous amount of energy has been expended by Mormon historians, apologists, and critics of all backgrounds and persuasions either to defend or to deny her conclusions.¹ The themes explored by Mormon historians since that time have too often responded to and sought to refute or substantiate Brodie’s arguments. The degree to...

  13. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 234-235)
  14. Index
    (pp. 236-241)