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American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church [Kindle Edition]

Alex Beam
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Chased out of Missouri, founding prophet Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, to lay down roots, build a temple, and deepen their hold in American life. They had quasi-independent status, operated their own businesses and courts, and maintained a paramilitary corps. Seeing himself as “king of the kingdom of God,” Smith sought reparations from Missouri and prepared a bid for the U.S. presidency. But by 1844, the tide had turned against the charismatic leader after a local newspaper editor and a faction that had seceded from the Mormons joined to expose its rising “militarism” and the practice of polygamy. When the Mormons retaliated and burned the press of another critic, nearby citizens had had enough and declared war on the Mormons. What followed were skirmishes that culminated in Smith’s arrest and assassination before he could be tried. 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. --Vanessa Bush


"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

Product Details

  • File Size: 1660 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1610393139
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (April 22, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GL9TP0K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,652 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
98 of 107 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Work of Popular History April 29, 2014
I'll begin with disclosing my religious affiliation: I am a member of the Mormon Church.

I quite enjoyed "Mormon Crucifixion." It was well written and succeeded in holding my attention to the very end. And though this plot of ground has already been plowed by others, I learned some new things about this episode in American history.

Overall, I thought Mr. Beam's account of the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was fair and balanced. Though the spark that spawned the conflagration was Joseph's ill-advised decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor, Mr. Beam makes it clear that this serious error in judgment pales by comparison to the pusillanimous behavior of Governor Ford and the complicity of local officials and law enforcement in the murders. And the subsequent trial of the murderers was a joke, though not without precedent in the era of frontier justice.

I do feel, however, that some of Mr. Beam's characterizations of Joseph's actions were gratuitous and bordered on being sensationalistic. He also should have done a better job, I think, of questioning the reliability of some of his sources, especially those that were second-hand accounts composed years after the fact. In addition, I wish he had acknowledged the difficulty of accurately assessing the polygamous conduct of Joseph and others since the historical record frequently devolves into "he said/she said." Nevertheless, the evidence that such behavior occurred and on a pervasive scale is both compelling and disturbing.

I know that some members of my faith will accuse Mr. Beam of revisionist history. Sadly, much of the history taught within the Mormon Church is in need of serious revision. The Church's last prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, said "We have nothing to hide.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid history that reads like a detective story May 19, 2014
"American Crucifixion" is well-grounded in its facts but reads more like a detective story or murder mystery. It's impossible to put down.

The Mormon church, aka: "The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints," founder and "Prophet," Joseph Smith and his older brother Hyrum, the "Patriarch," were murdered in the Carthage, Illinois jail while awaiting trial. That they should have been murdered by an unruly mob should come as no surprise. The large Mormon community in Nauvoo (the second largest city in Illinois at the time) was not popular with the "Old Settlers." The events and prelude to their murder are well documented. What author Alex Beam has done is to describe the history in such a way that people and events are enriched at every step along the way.

The issue of polygamy as "revealed" to the Prophet is clearly the most central issue in the persecution of the Nauvoo-era Mormon community. Well beyond his twentieth and thirtyith plural marriage, (no one knows for sure how many), Smith continued to deny what he had done to the larger community, to most of his Mormon followers, even to his first wife, Emma who continued to stand by him. His entrusted his secret sealings to only a few of the most senior Mormons, "Apostles," as several of them would go on to embrace plural marriage themselves, or at least, not oppose it.

Beam provides a full post-murder history of the trial of Joseph and Hyrum's murderers. He goes on to give a history of the incredibly ineffectual Illinois Governor Ford under whose administration the murders occurred, as well as many other principals. In the final chapters, Beam explains Brigam Young's success in taking over the Saints, wresting church authority from the remaining members of the Smith family, especially Young's fall-out with Joseph's wife Emma and Joseph's eldest son, Josephy Smith III.
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81 of 106 people found the following review helpful
On April 27, 2014, Greg Prince hosted a Study Group at his home featuring Alex Beam, author of American Crucifixion, a book recounting many events associated with the life, death, and legacy of Joseph Smith. In preparation, my husband and I purchased the book. I originally gave this book a 3-star rating, but after hearing Mr. Beam speak, I decided it was worth a four-star rating.

As Alex Beam related, he was approached out of the blue to write this book. Alex is not Mormon, nor did he have any particular background in Mormon Studies. But Alex is good at writing gripping trade books, the kind of books that take dusty history and make it accessible to general audiences.

Non-Mormon audiences will be surprised at how relatively pro-Mormon this book is. Alex's editor was actually a bit miffed that it was so sympathetic. Mormon audiences will typically feel like this book is a hatchet job.

Though I was somewhat aware of this book due to the Study Group invite, someone forwarded a link to an except from Alex Beam's book posted on Salon. I suppose they thought that I would rise up from my leisurely repose and contradict Mr. Beam.

As I read the excerpt, which jams polygamy-related stories in a manner admitting only one interpretation (i.e., that Joseph was a sex-crazed maniac), I found nothing that isn't common knowledge. There is nothing in that excerpt that asserts anything new. I've had the leisure to read all the information, and find it less damning that portrayed in Alex Beam's book. But there are certainly reputable scholars who agree with Alex's portrayal, so I can believe Alex didn't intend this chapter to be distorted.

I decided I should scan the entire book, to be prepared for Sunday.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Author provides excellent background information on all those...
This is the story of the Assassination of Joseph Smith in Carthage jail on June 27th, 1844. The book starts with the incidents leading to the final arrest of the Mormon Prophet,... Read more
Published 15 days ago by Bwhami
5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it.
Great book. Shed a lot of light on the early Mormon religion.
Published 17 days ago by doglady
4.0 out of 5 stars I really liked Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven
I really liked Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, so this book was a natural for me. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Vineyard Boomer
4.0 out of 5 stars nice introduction
Provides a snapshot of this pivotal moment in the history of the Mormon church and an overview/introduction to the topic, but not as much depth as I was anticipating. Read more
Published 27 days ago by Clint
4.0 out of 5 stars A balanced look at Joseph Smith and the early LDS church
I actually had a better feeling about Joseph Smith after reading this book. While I still put him in a category of religious zealots that have visions and premonitions, I feel... Read more
Published 27 days ago by Michael T. Feeley
4.0 out of 5 stars Prophet Loss
Kudos to the author for writing an objective and even-handed, yet interesting account of an inherently divisive American figure. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Purchased as a Gift !
Published 1 month ago by Stephen Murphy
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book! Joseph Smith is a fascinating subject
Great book! Joseph Smith is a fascinating subject, especially during the time in IL.
Published 1 month ago by Adam Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book.
Published 1 month ago by L. Henrickson
3.0 out of 5 stars Not very well written and lots of info that was ...
Not very well written and lots of info that was already known. But, an interesting premier on Mormon history. Every active Mormon should read it!!
Published 1 month ago by John Dwan
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