Synopses & 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 and#147;Golden Bibleand#8221;and#151;the Book of Mormonand#151;he had worked as a water-dowser and treasure hunter. Heand#8217;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 revelationand#151;the doctrine of polygamyand#151;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 Americaand#8217;s largest and most enduring native religion, and the and#147;martyrdomand#8221; of Joseph Smith is one of its transformational events. Smithand#8217;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.
Wall Street Journal
and#147;A remarkably fair account of the origins and trajectory of Mormonism itself...Mr. Beam displays a fine sense of narrative pacing...American Crucifixion is an excellent book about the life and death of this utterly uncategorizable man.and#8221;
and#147;Fascinatingand#133;While "American Crucifixion" masters its setting and era, the book's greatest contribution is its dramatic account of the events, as acted out by many memorable charactersand#133; "American Crucifixion" paints a brilliant picture of religious experimentation, public intolerance and the making of a martyr.and#8221;
Los Angeles Times
and#147;It's a brutal yet absorbing slice of history that Alex Beam captures well in his new book, "American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church." While Beam wraps in some essential early church history, this is at heart a journalistic account of a murder that tells us as much about religious intolerance and the low flash point of mob violence as it does about Mormonism.and#8221;
and#147;An evenhanded and fast-paced historyand#133; Focusing on the days surrounding the perversion of justice that took place in Carthage, Beam makes every effort to contextualize Joseph Smith in American history.and#8221;
Cleveland Plain Dealer
and#147;[A] colorful account of the amazing rise and untimely demise of this fascinating figureand#133; [Smith] was one-of-a-kind, to be sure, but Beam insightfully analyzes him in the broader context of Jacksonian Americaand#8217;s raucously democratic and frequently violent frontierand#133;A compulsively readable tale of Smithand#8217;s life and times, and#145;American Crucifixionand#8217; also serves as an intriguing study of why people are moved to abandon themselves, both to devout religious belief and unreasoning fear and hatred of and#145;the other.and#8217; and#8221;
Library Journal, Starred review
and#147;The murder of Mormon religious leader Joseph Smith is compelling on its own terms and is made all the more so here by Beamand#8217;s thorough research and riveting storytellingand#133; Beamand#8217;s page-turner will appeal to history (not just religious history) buffs, as well as find a place on specialistsand#8217; shelves owing to its examination of primary sources.and#8221;
Booklist, starred review
and#147;Beam offers a captivating saga of Smithand#8217;s rise and fall and of a colorful cast of characters who contributed to the internal politics and rivalries that led to Smithand#8217;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.and#8221;
and#147;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 doesnand#8217;t hesitate to point out that and#145;Joseph received so many revelations that they inevitably conflicted.and#8217; 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 personalityand#133;A fascinating history that, while particularly appealing to those interested in religion, is sure to inform a far wider audience.and#8221;
and#147;Beamand#8217;s tale brings alive a cast of early 1840s characters as strange, flawed, and significant as any in American historyand#133;[R]eveals how the fight over Mormonism, one built both on its distinctive claims and its enemiesand#8217; 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.and#8221;
"In his nuanced and engrossing tale of the first Mormonsand#8217; alternating periods of triumph and despair along the original American frontierand#151;on both sides of Huck Finnand#8217;s antebellum Mississippi Riverand#151;Beam illuminates not just their history but their nationand#8217;s."
Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars
and#147;High drama as one of Americaand#8217;s greatestand#151;and most mystifyingand#151;characters, Joseph Smith, meets one our most incisive writers, Alex Beam, at a crossroads of our history.and#8221;
T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prizeand#150;winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
and#147;If Mormonism is the most American of religionsand#151;and it isand#151;then the story of its founding is an American epic. In this gripping book, Alex Beam tells the story of the fate of Joseph Smith amid the Mormonsand#8217; rising tensions with and#145;gentileand#8217; neighborsand#151;and among themselves. With an acute eye for character, he depicts Smith, Brigham Young, and their enemies as vivid, complicated human beings, immersed in struggles over money, power, survival, and the controversial doctrine of polygamy. With its dramatic and consequential ending, this book throws new light on the trek to Great Salt Lake and the birth of the LDS Church we know today.and#8221;
Gary Krist, bestselling author of City of Scoundrels
and#147;American Crucifixion is an engrossing, powerful account of the rise and fall of one of the most remarkable figures in American history. Alex Beamand#8217;s portrait of Joseph Smithand#151;equal parts P. T. Barnum, Huey Long, and the prophet Jeremiahand#151;captures the man in all of his contradictions and complexities.and#8221;
About the Author
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
. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and three sons.