No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

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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.
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Overview

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.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394469676
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/12/1971
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 499
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 1.79 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2008

    Honor my Myth

    Brodie's 'No Man Knows My History' is the extensively researched history of the life of Mormonism's Prophet, the charismatic and gifted Joseph Smith. As a nonbeliever, myself, I approach almost everything from a secular level, as does Brodie, therefoe I'm bound to agree with her approach, recognizing, at the same time, that some of her sources are less than perfect. Some sources were necessarily those of people who came to hate Joseph Smith and/or his strange religion. Brodie seeks to understand the young Joseph growing up in hard-scrabble Vermont and Western New York. We see a talented, ambitious young dreamer trapped amongst largely uneducated people who were superstitious and, oftentimes, painfully gullible. Young Joseph, who isn't enamored with farming, is fascinated by Indian mounds and treasure finding. He finds a stone through which he claims he can divine the location of hidden treasure. He is persuasive enough [alternatively, people are so gullible] that he makes a modest living from selling his talents although there is no evidence that he, or anyone else, was ever enriched by his divining 'talent'. As a matter of fact, he is successfully sued by one angry man who regards himself as cheated. Over a period of time, and contrary to Mormon preachments, Joseph morphs into something like a religious mystic. He claims he has found a 'Golden Bible' although the circumstances of finding it are initially vague. The Golden Bible has interesting characteristics. Smith generally keeps it hidden in a box or under cloth. It seems that few people can visualize it, except himself, although...accoring to witnesses...it has weight and heft. Also, despite the fact others can't see it, Joseph reports hiding it from place to place so that it won't be stolen for its golden value. Using magical implements, including stones, Joseph 'translates' his golden plates into the document later known as the 'Book of Mormon.' Joseph's tale of angels, God and Jesus seem to have, for the most art, post-dated the translation of he gold. The nature of these visions, the number of angels, personages etc. morphed over time. Joseph is now well on his way to becoming a Prophet and a world-shaker. He gains increasing numbers of believers. The question is,'how much of this does Joseph believe himself'? We'll probably never know but, I suspect that over time and with increasing adulation, that he comes to believe that he is the true instrument of God's Power on Earth [a little like Jim Jones and David Koresh]. Like most powerful men, women flock to him as bees do to honey. He has additional'revelations' including that of plural marriage. This revelation has the force of a commandment and Joseph, without the knowledge of his wife, Emma, takes on multiple women as religious wives. The newly-founded sect finds itself persecuted for its communistic and polygamist practices. They are forced to move, almost en masse, from one place to another, until founding of the city of Nauvoo, Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi. The city is successful, perhaps too much so. Joseph sets himself up as General of the Militia and ordrs the destruction of an anti-Joseph printing press. He is arrested by secular authorities and, while imprisoned in the upper floor of a jailhouse, he and his brother are shot to death by an anti-Mormon mob. Joseph is dead but a martyr is born.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This Biography Should Have Brought The Mormon Church To It's Knees.

    This is an excellent biography of the LDS Church's founder and first leader.
    At times it reads like Shakespeare in Love, in which the reader gets to see from where Smith derived some of the more pivotal ideas (or "doctrines") of the church: A vision in the BOM is from his father's diary; the overall content of the BOM is lifted from The View of the Hebrews; the doctrine of eternal progression comes from The Philosophy of a Future State, etc. Brodie deals evenhandedly with Smiths polygamy, antigovernment rants, money digging, false prophecies, bank fraud, and various forms of self-aggrandizement, while at the same time being somewhat sympathetic to him as a person. This is not a book that sets out to bash Joseph Smith, jr.. Inadvertently, and probably unintentionally, it lets his life speak for itself, and do it's own dirty work.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The SECOND best biography of the American prophet

    Fawn Brodie's masterpiece has withstood the test of time and subsequent scholarship. The boom in Mormon historical research since the mid-1970's (called the "New Mormon History" movement) and the uncovering of countless Mormon journals, letters and documents contemporary (to Joseph Smith's life time) have only further solidified most of Brodie's conclusions.

    This book is NOT anti-Mormon--contrary to the claims of most apologists for the Utah LDS Church (Mormonism's largest denomination--but not, contrary to its claims, only denomination.) Anyone reading the book objectively can see that Brodie is impressed by Joseph's talent, imagination, inventiveness and drive--and she pays tribute to his great contribution to American religion and the American move westward. Nevertheless, Brodie is an historian--not a believer in or apologist for a religion--and she writes from scholarly secular point of view--as any GOOD historian SHOULD. She follows the evidence where it logically leads: Archeology does NOT support "The Book of Mormon" as a literal history, and Joseph's ideas regarding the nature of God cannot be objectively proven. (This is true of ALL religions. Much in the Bible itself--such as the entire book of Exodus--is not supported by the archeological record and the survivinmg histories of ancient Egypt and the area that we now call Israel.)

    I refer to "No Man Knows My History" as the SECOND best biograph of Joseph Smith.

    The FIRST is the recently published, award-winning book "Joseph Smith: the Making of a Prophet" by Dan Vogel (Signature Books).

    Vogel's book covers only the period from Joseph Smith's birth to late 1830 when Smith moves from Palmyra, New York to Kirtland, Ohio. BUT his exploration of this time period (Joseph Smith's formative years) and the dynamics with the Smith family is so in-depth that the result is almost staggering. Vogel does not contradict Brodie, but he had access to hundreds of documents---many discovered or released since the time which Brodie wrote her book. The resulting book is THE best biography of Joseph Smith wirtten at this time (2009).

    Richard Bushman's recent Joseph Smith biography "Rough Stone Rolling" is certainly better than any LDS apologetic masking itself as an objective history: Bushman does not shy away from many of the aspects of Joseph's life and character that usually trouble devout LDS Mormons. And yet in the end, his book IS more of an apologetic than an objective history. Early Mormon documents themselves, not to mention non-Mormon documents and the facts of ancient American archeology, simply undermine the LDS Church's claims regarding Joseph, the historicity of "The Book of Mormon" and the facts of Mormon history between 1820 and 1857. Even an historian as respected as Richard Bushman, should he avoid admitting this, must be viewed as more of an apologist for his religious denomination than as an unbiased scholar.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2005

    A facinating read

    Not being a consummate reader of biographies I found this book to be both enlightening and facinating. With mormonism being one of the fasted growing religions in the world today it was intriguing to read that in the day and age of the printing press that a new religion can form from such dramatic and dubius begginings. It makes one wonder about the origins of older more established religions. This book shakes the cornerstone that the religion/cult was built upon. It is no wonder why most mormons are afraid of this book and so willing to cast stones at it. What is the difference between a cult and a religon? Size?

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2004

    The landmark biography on Mormonism's founder

    This is one of the most important and controversial works in Mormon history. When it was published in 1945, it set off a firestorm of controversy. The author, Fawn M Brodie was excommunicated from the Mormon church and a number of educated Mormons, such as Professor Nibley at BYU sought to come up with adequate rebuttals to her work. This work is controversial precisely because it strikes at the heart of Mormonism. Fawn Brodie obviously does not believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Yet, I think that she did have respect and even admiration for the subject of this biography. To anyone who would like to gain knowledge into the background of early Mormon history, I cannot reccommend this work enough. It is precisely this biography's greatest strength. Brodie admirably introduces her reader to the people, places, and background which lead to the founding of the Mormon church.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2002

    An excellent primer on Mormonism's roots

    Fawn Brodie deserves great posthumous credit for this work. Richly documented piece (taken in large part from the Mormon Church's own documents) which portrays Joseph Smith in his true light: a generally well meaning, God fearing man with an overactive imagination, who morphs into a power, money and flesh hungry soul. Ms. Brodie delves into Smith's psyche as best she can; don't let naysayers (primarily active Mormons) tell you she oversteps the psychological profiling boundaries because she does not. And don't let authors like Hugh Nibley tell you that this book is not history, because it is history, in pure form, taken from church archives, many of which have now been unfortunately closed to scholars as a result of Brodie's fine research.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2007

    Wow

    This is the real book of Morman. Too bad the followers couldnt have read this one first. Amazing what a loud, bold man who is nice on the eyes can do to those who are gullible and less educated. The red flags in this churches history are countless. Its a wonder why they are doing so well still.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2005

    This is the truth just not in Utah

    A very well researched and documented book. My heart goes out to her knowing what the truth cost Ms Brodie. There is nothing vindictive in this book just the truth. Any reveiwer that calls it lies has not read this book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    "An early example of frontier fiction": THE BOOK OF MORMON

    What endures within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to biographer Fawn Brodie, is the charism of founding prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. and his BOOK OF MORMON. The man Smith falls somewhere along a line of enthusiasts of religion between Joan of Arc and Elmer Gantry. He is not to be taken lightly, nor is he underestimated by his biographer Brodie in NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY: THE LIFE OF JOSEPH SMITH -- THE MORMON PROPHET. He was bright, riotously imaginative, creative. He drew men and women to his spell. His prophesyings rolled themselves out with King James Bible eloquence: "And it came to pass that ..." over and over again. Smith's book was a patchwork of memory and creative re-imaginings of Bible texts, of ideas in the air about Indians as the lost tribes of Israel, the imminent second coming of Jesus and communitarian living. One contemporary observer saw Joseph Smith as expressing all the major ideas, good and bad, abroad in the State of New York in one decade. Yet there are no passages, original either to Smith or an angel or to God Himself, in THE BOOK OF MORMON that bear comparison with Isaiah's Man of Sorrows or Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. As literature, it is chloroform, to paraphrase Mark Twain. ***

    And yet, and yet...THE BOOK OF MORMON is literature. It commands its inexplicably understudied place, according to Fawn Brodie, in American literary history. "... [T]he book is one of the earliest examples of frontier fiction, the first long Yankee narrative that owes nothing to English literary fashions. Except for the borrowings from the King James Bible, its sources are absolutely American ... nothing can detract from the fact that many people have found it convincing history." (Chapter V). ***

    The Mormon Church, according to Brodie, is built upon Smith's personality and his Book. In its day THE BOOK OF MORMON spoke to American concerns about the origins of Amerindians, with their great mounds that seemed to bespeak descent from an older, higher non-Indian civilization. Smith's vision was that God's creation is good. After all He Himself had once been human and had risen, as can all men and women, to divine heights. Smith was Yankee in his blending of piety and avarice, according to his biographer. His religion was this-worldly, kindly, passionate and attractive. Every churchman had a defined role to play. Each knew that he or she could make a difference for Christ. Church ceremonies, some borrowed directly from Freemasonry, were riveting. Families and marriages mattered a great deal in Smith's prophecies, many given him directly by God after prayers for enlightenment. Thousands of people in the USA and the UK were thirsting for what Smith had to offer. ***

    Brodie's research was exemplary for its time and inspired many to go and do likewise in increasingly friendly archives. Certainly, Yale history Professor Frank B. Turner writes concerning Anglican later Roman Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman much as Brodie had of the Mormon prophet. Neither historian took their subject's self-portrayal as definitive. Both Smith and Newman must also be seen as their contemporaries saw them and took their measure -- for good or for evil. -OOO-

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2008

    Yuck

    Ms. Brodie's approach to her topic seemed to be skewed from the beginning. As with any biography, the author has a point of view and then tries to prove it. Brodie makes obvious her desire to discredit Joseph Smith at every turn. I was very disappointed. In comparing it with Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, 'No Man..' pales in comparison. Bushman sought both sides and cites documents more clearly. (As a side note to the historian from SLC- Ms. Brodie did access the Church Archives to a point, then was asked by her uncle David O. McKay to never return.)

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2005

    Bias, Not History

    Brodie's history of Joseph Smith is about as accurate and unbiased as George Bush's reasons to go to war in Iraq. To consider this book as scholarship is silly. It can rightly be classified with other anti-Mormon axe grinding balderdash.

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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