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No Man Knows My History: The Life
of Joseph Smith by Fawn M. Brodie
Fair Minded Biography
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.
Personal Review: No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph
Smith by Fawn M. Brodie
I finished reading Fawn Brodie's book No Man Knows My History about six
months before I wrote this review. I am not very scholarly and I do not
have a very good memory. This review is about why I read the book and
what stands out to me about it.
I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints about one year
before I read No Man Knows My History. During the time between when I
joined and when I started to read the book I was totally brainwashed. In my
prayers I deferred to Joseph Smith because I thought him a saintly man.
This attitude was largely due, I think, to my own inclinations to have faith
but was certainly encouraged by the teachings and testimonies of my
I was quite surprised when I learned from a secular TV show that Joseph
Smith was apparently married to over twenty women at the same time and
that this is a credible fact. I was surprised because no one had ever
mentioned this at church. Further, Joseph Smith's multiple wives are not
mentioned in a Sunday School book that includes a short biography of him.
I began to mistrust those who make church teaching materials. I thought
that perhaps they intentionally left controversial parts of history from their
works. I wanted to find a biography of Joseph Smith that was not official
church material because I wanted to know the truth. I learned of two books
Richard L. Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling and Fawn Brodie's No Man
Knows My History.
Because Bushman is also a member of the church I read Rough Stone
Rolling first. Upon reading the first few chapters I felt relief. My belief was
that I now had the candid truth and yet my faith could remain intact. But by
the time I had finished reading Bushman's book I had developed a rather
critical attitude. Upon learning some facts about Joseph Smith's actions in
his life my common sense led me to entertain the idea that some of his
prophesies were wrong. Bushman's tone continued to be apologetic
though and I wanted to say to him "C'mon man when will you start calling a
spade a spade". I became rather eager to read Fawn Brodie's No Man
Knows My History because I knew she was not an apologist.
By the time I finished reading Fawn Brodie's book I decided to quit the
church. I was livid. I felt deceived and I had a very low opinion of Joseph
Smith. I prayed to God to know if the Book of Mormon is false. I received a
clear answer that it is alright to not believe it is a historically accurate
document. I stopped going to church for a few months but started
attending meetings again recently. I still want to be an active member of
the church because all things considered I like it, but that's another story...
What follows is what stands out to me from No Man Knows My History that
made me want to quit the church. As I mentioned before I am not a
studious historian so these points are only my dilettantish impressions.
Around the year 1820 many people in America thought that the American
Indians were the descendants of a Christian culture. They though this
because discoveries of Christian artifacts like crucifixes were found in
Indian burial mounds. It turns out that these artifacts were added much
later by descendant of the interred and had in fact come from French or
As a young man Joseph Smith was found guilty in a court of law of
disturbing the public peace. Apparently he was encouraging people to
believe he could locate buried treasure using a seer stone. He said spirits
guarded the treasure but he knew how to find it anyway.
Sometime around the 1830s a group of Mormons lived amongst the locals
in a town called Independence in the state of Missouri. The majority of the
locals there became intolerant of the Mormons and ordered them to leave
the county or else they would drive them out by force. The Mormons asked
Joseph Smith, who was living in Ohio, for guidance. Joseph gave them a
revelation telling them to stay. He prophesied that the New Jerusalem
would come to Independence. In reality the Mormon's were severely
persecuted over many years and chased from one Missourian county to
another until eventually they were forced out of the state.
Around the 1830s Mormons living in Kirtland in the state of Ohio practiced
the law of consecration. This meant that they deeded their land to the
church and received an allotment of land and a house according to the
size of their family. Businesses and public buildings like the temple were
owned by the church. After a period of time the Mormons of Ohio decided
they did not want to practice the law of consecration anymore. Church
property was then deeded back to the members. The congregation was
told by its leaders that the temple and some businesses where deeded to
people who live in heaven e.g. Enoch. In fact this property was deeded to
Joseph Smith and other leaders who used the names of heavenly beings
as pseudonyms. They did this to avoid challenges from other members.
Joseph Smith practiced polygamy in Nauvoo in the state of Illinois. His first
wife, Emma Hale Smith did not approve of this practice and asked Joseph
not to do it. Joseph Smith continued to practice polygamy and tried to keep
it a secret from Emma. Emma suspected Joseph was practicing polygamy
and felt hurt, humiliated and furious.
Whilst Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy he publicly denied he had
other spiritual wives. When a newspaper started up in Nauvoo that said
Joseph was teaching the doctrine of multiple-wives Joseph, as major of the
town, ordered the newspaper's printing press destroyed. Which it was.
In reading over these points myself I feel guilty. It looks like a smear
campaign against Joseph Smith. I want to state that I believe Joseph
Smith sinned I also know that I have sinned and my sins are no less
reprehensible in the sight of God than Joseph's sins. My faith in God tells
me that the correct attitude towards Joseph Smith is to love him, pray for
his forgiveness, be thankful for the many good deeds he did do and to wish
him all the best.
Because I love Joseph Smith rather than hate him I can afford to admit to
myself that I am deeply intrigued by the Book of Mormon and fascinated by
Mormonism in general. Since I joined the church and begun studying this
topic my understanding of morality and values as well as faith and truth
have deepened considerably. To this end I recommend this book and give
it five stars but I caution the reader to suspend indefinite harsh judgment
and to sometimes see with the eye of faith.
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