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