American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church

PublicAffairs. Apr. 2014. 352p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610393133. $26.99. REL
OrangeReviewStarOne of the great stories in American religious history is given balanced coverage by Beam (columnist, Boston Globe; A Great Idea at the Time). 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. He sets the stage by providing a capsule biography of Smith and a history of his church up to the Mormon arrival in Nauvoo, IL, in the early 1840s. Wherever Smith went, controversy followed, and Nauvoo was no exception. Though initially welcomed, Mormon immigrants, by their sheer numbers, intimidated the area's previous settlers. Beam characterizes Smith as a complex figure but often a braggart who did not endear himself to the local citizenry. Then the doctrine of plural marriage was added to Mormon practice; although it was supposed to be a secret, it was not a very well-kept one. Finally, Smith ordered the destruction of Nauvoo's only opposition press and the already combustible situation exploded. Add to this mess anti-Mormon mobs, the Mormon's own homegrown army—the Nauvoo Legion—and an indecisive governor and you have the making of a true-crimes thriller.
VERDICT 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.
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