American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church [NOOK Book]

Overview


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

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Overview


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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Most Mormons and non-Mormons know that believers of the Church of Latter-Day Saints were driven out of several states before settling in Utah and that Joseph Smith, their founding prophet, was killed while he was a prisoner. For many, however, the context that led to the fatal June 1844 confrontation in Carthage, Illinois remains vague. Alex Beam's American Crucifixion moves beyond generalities to vividly present both sides of the escalating tension between Smith's Nauvoo state-within-a-state and the enemies that surrounded it. His narrative will not completely please either the LDS faithful or their disparagers, but it does clarify the chronology leading to this tragic event. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
01/20/2014
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. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Michael Pritchard does an excellent job of relaying the complexities of Beam's fine writing and Smith's pride. This fascinating portrait of one of America's self-proclaimed prophets is well worth the time of anyone interested in religious or American history." —-Library Journal Audio Review
Library Journal
★ 03/15/2014
One 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.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-16
An account of the Illinois Mormon settlement Nauvoo and the events that precipitated the church's flight to Utah. When Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune columnist Beam (A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, 2008, etc.) introduces Joseph Smith (1805–1844), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smith is on the run again. The author examines the reasons for his desperate Mississippi River crossing and what led to previous, similar episodes. The founder of a brand of Christianity that still fascinates and polarizes the world today, Smith was no less divisive a figure in his own time. The author notes that the very idea of a new religion was disturbing enough to Smith's contemporaries, but he also focuses on the doctrine of polygamy as the truly alienating issue that led to the downfall of the Mormons' Illinois "Zion" and Smith's own death. The rift in the church following Smith's revelations about taking more than one wife legitimized the long-standing hostility of their neighbors. 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 climates in which hatred of the new religion developed, it is impressive that Beam maintains narrative tension and excitement while injecting personality. The author's use of antiquated language—even outside historical documents—adds color to his writing but may also be a source of confusion for some readers—e.g., when he calls the governor of Illinois Thomas Ford "Pecksniffian." A fascinating history that, while particularly appealing to those interested in religion, is sure to inform a far wider audience.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610393140
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 196,647
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet 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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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 25, 2014

    more from this reviewer

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

    American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church by Alex Beam is an enlightening and absorbing account of the Illinois Mormon settlement Nauvoo and the events that triggered the church’s flight to Utah. Readers with a Mormon-inclination and those who are keen on knowing more about the history of this controversial brand of Christianity will find the book of great interest.

    Alex Beam, who is a columnist for Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune, paints a compelling and truly fascinating history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its founder Joseph Smith and his followers angered the local population and they had to make a desperate crossing of the Mississippi River without any choice. The book is compelling, and takes the reader on a journey through the years, months, days and hours leading up the murder of Smith, and the chain of events that unfolded following his death.

    Written with objectivity, this balanced and well-researched work provides a window into the world of Mormonism, especially its founder Joseph Smith and its system of beliefs.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Having grown up as a non-Mormon in the heart of American Mormoni

    Having grown up as a non-Mormon in the heart of American Mormonism I have heard bits and pieces of this tale all my life– usually with some generous obfuscation to protect the reputations of the revered ‘movers and shakers’ of the early LDS church. Alex Beam filled in so many of the gaps in that story with this book. There were heroes and villains, acts noble and despicable on both sides of this battle and Alex Beam presents them all in balanced light. One part of this story that I have never heard before, and which Beam explores in detail, is the arrests and legal proceedings following Smith's death. From the facts presented it is clear that Smith was murdered and that unfortunately some very guilty parties were never held accountable for their crimes. It is also clear that Joseph Smith could have de-escalated the simmering conflict by having less of a god complex.

    Beam uses a story-telling style which is enjoyable and engaging and his facts appear to be well-researched. My one complaint is how much he moves backward and forward in the narrative -- perhaps it keeps the story moving along better but it made it difficult to relate all the sub-plots to the timeline of events without having to take notes.

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  • Posted July 7, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    This is neither the hagiography that Mormons learn in Sunday Sch

    This is neither the hagiography that Mormons learn in Sunday School nor the lurid polemic of an anti-Mormon; rather it is a well-written journalistic description of the complicated life and times of Joseph Smith Jr. It covers the political, including the concentration of power in the Mayor (Joseph) under the Nauvoo Charter (so much for separation of powers) to Joseph’s quixotic presidential campaign.  It covers Joseph’s paranoid overreactions to criticism, including most notably the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor based on "public nuisance" for its single edition criticisms.  (Personal note, I am descended from one of the people Joseph dispatched to burn the type).  And polygamy, oh polygamy.  Beam's treatment of the obfuscations, lies (presenting Emma as his sole wife in public, etc.), dynastic marriages (Eliza Snow and others being sealed to both Joseph and Brigham Young), and overall creepiness of it (so many young girls) is lucid and well documented.  The book also put the broader history in context, in terms of national and international affairs, such as Joseph's interactions with Stephen Douglas (of Lincoln-Douglas fame). Beam also sees it as a murder, in which the government of Illinois was either complicit or negligent.  His discussion of the trial of Smith’s killers is fascinating in terms of (bad) legal strategy.  And Beam does an excellent job of tracing the aftermath of the killing, including the splintering of those who claimed Joseph’s mantle.  Joseph was a complicated man of obvious charisma, hubris, and passions both religious and sexual.  Highly recommended. 
     

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2015

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