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For week ended September 12, 1999 Posted 19 Sep 1999

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Biographer Brodie Is the Subject Of a New Book

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Biographer Brodie Is the Subject Of a New Book
Salt Lake Tribune (AP) 7Sep99 L2
By Hannah Wolfson: Associated Press

Author Fawn McKay Brodie, who died 20 years ago, is the subject of a new biography due out next month by fan and fellow author, Newell Bringhurst, who himself like her, is a non-practicing, non-believing church member from Utah.

Born in 1915, the child of a prominent Huntsville, Utah family. Her father, Thomas McKay, was a counselor to church leaders. Her grandfather turned Brigham Young Academy into the university it is today. And her uncle, David O. McKay, became president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints five years after her excommunication.

She is known best for her signature anti-Mormon book on Joseph Smith, "No Man Knows My History." But has published many others, including one on Richard Nixon and a best seller that tackled Thomas Jefferson's relationship with black slave Sally Hemings. All of them hit pieces, geared to knock respected heroes and citizens of their high perches of respectability.

Brodie once mused, "Why is it, I wonder, that I prefer someone I can tear into?" Perhaps, she said, "Is it because until I was twenty I was such a supremely good and obedient child that I am still trying to make up for lost time?"

Brodie began seriously questioning her faith after attending graduate school in Chicago in 1935. She antagonized her family even further by marrying a Jew.

Her biographer Bringhurst suggests that Brodie's fascination with Smith grew out of frustrating years of watching her meek father being bullied, as she claims, by his wealthier siblings. Calling him a hypocrite, she blamed her uncle David's speculative ventures for her family's poverty, and despite being the town's most prominent family, the McKays lived in a drafty farmhouse without indoor plumbing

Her first published article, printed in 1938 under a pseudonym, was an attack on the Mormon welfare system that claimed the church bled the poor with mandatory tithes and benefited from voluntary labor.

She is widely praised by the left-leaning secular world and thought of as a traitor in the Mormon community. She has come to be known as an exposeí author that tries to shoehorn history to fit the classifications of her agendized thesis.

Richard Bushman, the Gouveneur of the Morris Chair of History at Columbia University and a Mormon writing his own biography of Smith, praises Brodie's fluid writing style. However, he said that she was "tone-deaf" to Smith's religious language and left too much crucial data "on the cutting-room floor" in an attempt to prove her thesis.

Others have even been far more critical. In 1946, Brigham Young University Professor Hugh Nibley wrote a widely popular pamphlet called, "No Ma'am, That's Not History," which critically analyzed Brodie's thesis. Thirteen years later, he added a preface calling Brodie's book a "remarkable monument of biographical mendacity." He said inconsistency was the least of her vices, and accused her of not reading the documents she quoted.

She was heavy in to the atheistic psychological-biography thought processes and used them in her works to prove her points. The first two printings of "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History" sold out in months and the book spent 13 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Yet Brodie's forays into that new field provided fuel for her critics.

But then, even in the secular world, all of Brodie's books received mixed reviews. Her Nixon book was classed as a quickly cobbled together work completed in her final months as she fought lung cancer. She was criticized for being too psychological but praised at the same time for her documentation of his youth.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information