Fawn McKay Brodie

Biography of Fawn McKay Brodie

Fawn McKay Brodie (September 15, 1915 – January 10, 1981) was a biographer and one of the first female professors of history at UCLA, who is best known for Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974), a work of psychobiography, and No Man Knows My History (1945), an early and still influential non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Raised in Utah in a respected, if impoverished, Latter-day Saint (LDS Church) family, Fawn McKay drifted away from Mormonism during her years of graduate work at the University of Chicago and married the ethnically Jewish national defense expert Bernard Brodie, with whom she had three children. Although Fawn Brodie eventually became one of the first tenured female professors of history at UCLA, she is best known for her five biographies, four of which aim to incorporate insights from Freudian psychology.

Brodie's depiction of Joseph Smith as a fraudulent "genius of improvisation" has been described both as a "beautifully written biography ... the work of a mature scholar [that] represented the first genuine effort to come to grips with the contradictory evidence about Smith's early life" and as a work that extensively presents poorly supported claims and conjecture as facts. Her psychobiography of Thomas Jefferson became a best-seller; she provided evidence to support accounts that he had taken his slave Sally Hemings as a concubine. According to J. Philipp Rosenberg, Brodie's study of Richard Nixon's early career demonstrated a weakness of psychobiography when written by an author who disliked the subject.

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