No Man Knows My Psychology: Fawn Brodie, Joseph Smith, and Psychoanalysis

Anyone (like me) approaching the study of Mormon history wet behind the ears soon confronts Fawn McKay Brodie’s famous (or, in certain LDS circles, infamous) biography of Joseph Smith. Quickly fulfilling Herbert Brayer’s prophecy that it “will probably be one of the most highly praised as well as highly condemned historical works of 1945,” No Man Knows My History elicited both wholesale acclaim (“the best book about the Mormons so far published,” Bernard De Voto enthused; a “definitive treatment,” seconded her friend Dale Morgan) and wholehearted condemnation (“the statement made by Joseph Smith that ‘no man knows my history,'” Milton Hunter concluded, “is still true as far as Fawn M. Brodie is concerned”). Unsurprisingly, non-Mormons typically favored the book, while Mormons fulminated against it. The biography further strained Brodie’s already ambivalent relationship with her father, an assistant to the LDS Church’s Council of the Twelve, and hastened her excommunication.

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