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American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Churchby Alex Beam
Synopses & Reviews
As Mormonism continues to increase in size and influence in American culture, the assassination of the founding prophet Joseph Smith has become one of the great underreported episodes in American history. The weeks at the end of Smith's life, marked by scandal, sex, imprisonment, and ultimately his shooting in a Carthage, Illinois prison cell in 1844, represent not only the central event in Mormon history, but also one of the most dramatic killings in national memory. Yet to date these events have never been the subject of a book by a non-Mormon writer.
In American Crucifixion, Alex Beam tells the tale of Joseph Smith's final days: how his own followers turned against him; how that prosecution turned to violence; and how, ultimately, Smith could not escape the consequences of his ambition and pride.
In the hands of Beam, this is not merely a great story but a moment with profound implications for the future of a religion that now has about 14 million adherents worldwide. American Crucifixion describes the succession crisis that followed Smith's death, as a scramble for power pitted the dead prophet's family against a host of rival claimants, one of whom — Brigham Young — transformed the Latter-day Saints from a tiny, regional religion into a potent force in American culture and politics.
American Crucifixion exposes a gripping narrative at the heart of one of America's most prominent religions, and a key moment in our national history.
"Aside from the fact that Mormonism's founder Joseph Smith was assassinated in jail by gunfire, not nailed to a cross as the title indicates, Beam's tale brings alive a cast of early 1840s characters as strange, flawed, and significant as any in American history. Beam (Gracefully Insane) presents Smith as an inventive, narcissistic visionary hounded for beliefs that ran counter to those of most Americans. If his new bible, The Book of Mormon, wasn't enough to condemn him, his belief in plural gods and practice of polygamy surely would. But in Beam's balanced telling of Smith's tumultuous final years, it was the prejudice and intolerance of others as much as Smith's strangeness that condemned him to early death and his new religion to enduring battles. Few Mormons and 'Gentiles' get off lightly here, and Beam makes a strong case that they shouldn't. That may not endear the book to all readers, whatever their beliefs, but it reveals how the fight over Mormonism, one built both on its distinctive claims and its enemies' intolerance, extends into our day. Better, Beam implies in this lively telling, to try to understand its sad and violent origins than to condemn or praise it outright. Illus. Agent: Inkwell Management." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The murder of Mormon religious leader Joseph Smith is compelling on its own terms and is made all the more so here by Beam's thorough research and riveting storytelling .Beam's page-turner will appeal to history (not just religious history) buffs, as well as find a place on specialists shelves owing to its examination of primary sources.” Library Journal, Starred review
Beam offers a captivating saga of Smith's rise and fall and of a colorful cast of characters who contributed to the internal politics and rivalries that led to Smith's death and drove the Mormons forward to their destiny. Anyone interested in the formation and transformation of Mormonism as well as the intersection of religion, politics, and U.S. history will enjoy this fascinating book.” Booklist, starred review
Beam is the consummate journalist, precise about his research and offering judgment only where there is ample proof of wrongdoing. He treats Smith with journalistic objectivity but doesn't hesitate to point out that Joseph received so many revelations that they inevitably conflicted.' With so much history to tackle, from the roots of Mormonism to the economic, political and moral climate in which hatred of the new religion developed, it is impressive that Beam maintains narrative tension and excitement while injecting personality .A fascinating history that, while particularly appealing to those interested in religion, is sure to inform a far wider audience.” Kirkus Reviews
On June 27, 1844, a mob stormed the jail in the dusty frontier town of Carthage, Illinois. Clamorous and angry, they were hunting down a man they saw as a grave threat to their otherwise quiet lives: the founding prophet of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. They wanted blood.
At thirty-nine years old, Smith had already lived an outsized life. In addition to starting his own religion and creating his own Golden Bible” — the Book of Mormon — he had worked as a water-dowser and treasure hunter. He'd led his people to Ohio, then Missouri, then Illinois, where he founded a city larger than fledgling Chicago. He was running for president. And, secretly, he had married more than thirty women.
In American Crucifixion, Alex Beam tells how Smith went from charismatic leader to public enemy: How his most seismic revelation — the doctrine of polygamy — created a rift among his people; how that schism turned to violence; and how, ultimately, Smith could not escape the consequences of his ambition and pride.
Mormonism is America's largest and most enduring native religion, and the martyrdom” of Joseph Smith is one of its transformational events. Smith's brutal assassination propelled the Mormons to colonize the American West and claim their place in the mainstream of American history. American Crucifixion is a gripping story of scandal and violence, with deep roots in our national identity.
About the Author
Alex Beam is a columnist for the Boston Globe and for the International Herald Tribune. He is the author of two works of nonfiction, Gracefully Insane and A Great Idea at the Time, both New York Times Notable Books. He has also written for the Atlantic Monthly, Slate and Forbes/FYI. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and three sons.
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