The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch

Little, Brown. Jul. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780316463591. $29. HIST
James Strang (1813–56) was a talented lawyer, charismatic preacher, newspaper editor, state legislator, self-crowned king of a breakaway Mormon sect, and victim of his own overreach when he died at the hands of disillusioned acolytes. According to Harvey (English, DePaul University; Painter in a Savage Land), Strang epitomized 19th-century American archetypes: the “self-made man” (born into obscurity only to become theocrat) and the “confidence man” (lies and narcissism masked by charisma). With this first account this polygamist cult leader since Roger Van Noord’s Assassination of a Michigan King (1997), Harvey has penned a tour de force of popular history. Light on deep or original historical analysis, this work recounts Strang’s colorful story, beginning with his original beliefs as an atheist and conversion to Mormonism followed by battling church elders for control of the Latter-Day Saints and leading followers to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, which he turned into his private kingdom. Strang won election to the Michigan state legislature, brazened out allegations of criminal activity, and scandalized contemporaries by traveling with an ostensibly male secretary who would become his second wife.
VERDICT A spirited, entertaining read with a twist of insight and a tang of scandal.

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