Six weeks after the 1929 stock market crash, Frank Bruce Robinson created a self-help religion he called Psychiana. An ingenious mass-marketing pioneer, he sold a correspondence course promising health, wealth, and happiness to those who believed in the “God Power.” In the midst of the Great Depression, his mail-order religion with a money-back guarantee swept the United States and spread to some sixty-seven countries—or so its founder claimed—to become one of the most successful twentieth century New Thought religions.
Facing charges of passport fraud in May 1936, an immaculately dressed Robinson arrived at the federal building in rural Moscow, Idaho. A person of considerable local and regional significance, he was Latah County’s largest private employer. Throngs lined the streets and sidewalks waiting for him. He exited his sleek green Duesenberg, waved to the crowd, and smiled for pictures. His son later wrote that the charismatic leader possessed “an insatiable appetite for publicity.” Central to the investigation was Robinson’s true identity. He was not all he claimed to be, and his small-town trial captivated the country and made national headlines.
A full-length biography of Robinson combined with an in-depth historical examination of Psychiana, this book traces the improbable rise and fall of a master charlatan while also giving voice to his unwavering followers—from a dust bowl farmer to a former heavyweight boxing champion—who clung to their beliefs despite ongoing financial and emotional costs. Their stories reveal how adversity can galvanize faith in a false prophet, and paint an intriguing, intimate portrait of a nation challenged by a brutal depression and war.
Brandon R. Schrand is the award-winning author of The Enders Hotel: A Memoir, and Works Cited: An Alphabetical Odyssey of Mayhem and Misbehavior. His nonfiction has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The Utne Reader, North American Review, and numerous other publications. He holds an MFA in creative writing, nonfiction, and an MS in American studies.
“I always have Brandon Schrand’s The Enders Hotel on my list of favorite books about Idaho, and Psychiana Man is similarly compelling. Indeed, I think its primary strength is his powerful writing.”—Keith Petersen, former state historian and associate director for the Idaho State Historical Society
Illustrations / notes / bibliography / index / 6″ x 9″ / 414 pages (2021)