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American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church Hardcover – April 22, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (April 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610393139
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610393133
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

Benjamin Moser, New York Times Book Review“The story Beam tells is full of dramatic detail: the precautions the Mormons took to prevent the Smiths’ bodies from being snatched; Emma Smith’s dogged, pathetic delusion that she was Joseph’s only wife; the capers of the kangaroo court that acquitted the murderers; the Mormon fantasies about divine punishments meted out.”

Wall Street Journal
“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.”

Chicago Tribune
“Fascinating…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 characters… "American Crucifixion" paints a brilliant picture of religious experimentation, public intolerance and the making of a martyr.”

Los Angeles Times
“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.”

Daily Beast
“An evenhanded and fast-paced history… 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.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[A] colorful account of the amazing rise and untimely demise of this fascinating figure… [Smith] was one-of-a-kind, to be sure, but Beam insightfully analyzes him in the broader context of Jacksonian America’s raucously democratic and frequently violent frontier…A compulsively readable tale of Smith’s life and times, ‘American Crucifixion’ 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 ‘the other.’ ”

Library Journal, Starred review
“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… 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.”

Booklist, starred review
“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.”

Kirkus Reviews
“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 climate in which hatred of the new religion developed, it is impressive that Beam maintains narrative tension and excitement while injecting personality…A fascinating history that, while particularly appealing to those interested in religion, is sure to inform a far wider audience.”

Publishers Weekly
“Beam’s tale brings alive a cast of early 1840s characters as strange, flawed, and significant as any in American history…[R]eveals 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.”

Maclean’s
"In his nuanced and engrossing tale of the first Mormons’ alternating periods of triumph and despair along the original American frontier—on both sides of Huck Finn’s antebellum Mississippi River—Beam illuminates not just their history but their nation’s."

Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars
“High drama as one of America’s greatest—and most mystifying—characters, Joseph Smith, meets one our most incisive writers, Alex Beam, at a crossroads of our history.”

T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
“If Mormonism is the most American of religions—and it is—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 Mormons’ rising tensions with ‘gentile’ neighbors—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.”

Gary Krist, bestselling author of City of Scoundrels
American Crucifixion is an engrossing, powerful account of the rise and fall of one of the most remarkable figures in American history. Alex Beam’s portrait of Joseph Smith—equal parts P. T. Barnum, Huey Long, and the prophet Jeremiah—captures the man in all of his contradictions and complexities.”

Standard Examiner (Ogden, Utah)
“I recommend “American Crucifixion” to readers. Like the Joseph Smith biography, “Rough Stone Rolling,” it does in part convey the isolation of Illinois, as well as the savage bloodlust that was allowed to flourish. The recap of the murders are terrifying. It captures the deliberate killings, as well as the temporary satiation of deadly impulses that the deaths accomplished… The book’s account of the murders and the ensuing trial makes it worth a read.”

Under the Radar
“The book is well researched and informative, its narrative as fascinating as any in American history… American Crucifixion is a gripping tale of a strange era in American history.”

Rational Faiths
“The book is great; it reads more like a novel than a dry history book; it’s fair in its treatment of history although it sacrificed historical nuances (Mormons and “Mormon-haters” are each likely to find interpretations they disagree with) in favor of a narrative flow."

Customer Reviews

The book is a page turner.
sixty minutes
This is not the America I know and certainly hope I never will.
Mike
The book was well researched and written.
mnelsonj

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

100 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Eric F. Facer on April 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By James Denny on May 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
"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 By Margaret C. Stout on April 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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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