No Man Knows My History by Fawn M. Brodie

No Man Knows My History:
The Life of Joseph Smith
Fawn M. Brodie

It took me a long time to finish, but I've finally turned the last page of the book the Mormon church would prefer never be read. I won't pretend to know the Church Of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints' official position on Brodie's work, nor that of the Mormon reformed church of the same birth; but based on discussions I've shared with Salt Lake Mormons, it's obvious that No Man Knows My History is in direct conflict with the sanitized history the LDS church and its members accept and worship.

I picked up No Man Knows My History, first, because I wanted to learn more about Mormon history; and second, because Brodie is a large source of information for many other books on Mormonism.

Fawn M. Brodie's writing style is dry and academic. Nearly every page features a citation in the footnotes. Most of her sources, in fact, come from church documents like History of the Church, or the published journals and letters of the characters themselves. Joseph Smith founded a religion in the time of the printing press, and Brodie built a book on the evidence of the printers.

She approaches Joseph Smith as a man, rather than the perfect mouthpiece of God as many Mormons view him. In some ways, this is an unfair approach. Abraham (of the Biblical Old Testament) looks like a crazy person if the reader doesn't accept that Abraham hears the voice of God and acts on those words. On the other hand, Joseph Smith wasn't a perfect mouthpiece; he wasn't God. Brodie outlines mistakes and failures as well as successes, and this makes Smith look a little more human that Mormons wish. Appearing human shouldn't be a bad thing. Paul (of the New Testament) knew he was a retched sinner, but he's revered almost next to Jesus in the Christian faith (but not quite).

Wading through this book is an insightful journey. Joseph Smith was an interesting man, strange, but still interesting. He ran for President of the United States.  He sent Parley P. Pratt, an elder in his church, on a mission to England and then married the man's wife while he was away. He was a Mason and adopted many Masonic practices and rituals into his religion. He was arrested many times, and fraud was often the charge; but on one occasion, warrants were written on the charge of murder. Smith was the mayor of Nauvoo and wrote his own laws, outside the scope of common law, his city charters, or the Constitution of the United States. Although Nauvoo was a dry community, Porter Rockwell (Smith's burly bodyguard and "Destroying Angel") ran a saloon in Smith's home and hotel until Emma (Joseph Smith's first wife of nearly fifty wives) put an abrupt stop to it. Smith had a love of the finer things in life and lusted after adventure, power, and the ladies (married or not, church members or otherwise). His death was tragic, but his actions in life may have predicted the possibility of his earthly demise.

Fawn M. Brodie's No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith is an fascinating book. Her work, no matter how controversial, is worth consideration. Although it crashes against the re-crafted history of the Mormon church, I recommend it to anybody interested in LDS history--especially present members of the LDS church, apologists working with Mormons, or anybody generally interested in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its history.

*I have no material connection to this book.