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

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  853 ratings  ·  185 reviews
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
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 22nd 2014 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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Start your review of American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church
Brett C
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lds
The author does a great job of delivering the facts and telling an unbiased narrative of the early Latter-day Saints (LDS) church and the events leading to the death (or martyrdom) of (the first Prophet, seer, and revelator) Joseph Smith. At the end of his life, he was being held in Carthage Jail in Illinois. He and his brother Hyrum came to their tragic end when a mob stormed the jail, shot, and killed them both on June, 27 1844.

I have read a lot about the LDS faith and I learned quite a few
``Laurie Henderson
Feb 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-order
Interesting take on the murder of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith in Illinois which led to the successful migration of this sect to Utah.

One complaint I have with this book is that the author was extremely biased against the Mormons.
I didn't expect to find that Joseph Smith was a perfect man but surely he had good qualities as well as bad. If so the author failed repeatedly to address them.

The author could've done a bit more research as well as to the financial situation that led to Smith's dea
Jon Nakapalau
The murder of Joseph Smith and how the Mormon Church reacted to the event has much to tell us about America at this critical time.
Mal Warwick
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
By any measure, he was a remarkable man. At a time in US history when religious passion was seizing hold of the American imagination, he was “the first prophet . . . to traffic in millenarian predictions, and he wasn’t the last. But he was the most successful.”

Joseph Smith, the eccentric “prophet” who conceived the Mormon religion in 1830, was uneducated, though he wrote a book that has been read by millions from that time forward. He was a down-to-earth man of the American frontier whose spellb
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I'm sure this is not an easy topic for a historian to write about, but I thought Beam did a really good job. There are obviously a lot of conflicting reports about Joseph Smith and when there were differing accounts of events, Beam would include words like "allegedly" and he attempted to gauge the reliability of witnesses. For example some anti-Mormons were called scallywags and such. I've read a lot written by believers and it was fun to get a bit more socio-economic-political background on why ...more
Nov 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Thank you to Perseus Books Group and Netgalley for the ARC!

What other books on Mormon history (written from outside the fold, anyway) pass over in a few terse paragraphs, Alex Beam expands. In this delightfully well-researched, well-documented, and well-written account, both the lead-up and the fallout to the events at the Carthage jail are brought to fore. I especially enjoyed reading about all of the haranguing and bitter diatribes exchanged via the independent press in and around Nauvoo!

Tom Cameron
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
It can often be a humbling experience to ask for, or even to stumble upon, an outsiders view of something that you hold dear. This was what happened to me when reading Alex Beam's book "American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church".

In "American Crucifixion" Alex Beam explores a narrow window of Mormon history when the faithful Mormon believers escaped from Missouri to Nauvoo. He also examines the events surrounding the eventual murder of Joseph Smith, and d
Austin Archibald
Jun 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: mormonism
This book is plagued with several problems. A negative and somewhat dishonest picture is painted of Joseph. He is almost portrayed as a sex-crazed megalomaniac. The author has his obvious biases, but much worse, the reader is severely handicapped with no footnotes to check the source of the author's claims stated as historical facts. The reader had no way of knowing if the source was a late recollection, what his motivations were, or whether it was first, second, third, or fourth-hand. The reade ...more
Sep 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fffabc
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ryan Daley
May 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book misses the mark - although accurate it never seems to actually adequately tie the title into the book even though there are remarkable possibilities that could have been significant and powerful... However speak to what the book is - it is a general discussion of the assassination of Joseph Smith and that is all - it doesn't add any new insight to the topic and unique perspectives or even facts laid out in a provocative and entertaining way - it is just a synopsis of events... Wouldn't ...more
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
As a Mormon I appreciated having a well researched outsider's perspective on what lead to the Carthage assassinations. I believe it could have been avoided but I also see that JS wasn't the blameless figure portrayed in Church manuals. "Joseph Smith" by Robert Remini is also a very good (more positive), well researched and more balanced portrayal of JS.
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's a tricky topic and may offend a Mormon who hasn't been exposed to some of the skeletons from Mormonism's early closets. Beam's outsider's perspective gave the book a balanced tone, covering crap that both sides pulled. It was really an ugly time with a lot of hate. It amazes me the things that people can do to each other. And the things that people can endure.
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Alex Beam offers an unvarnished, or white washed history of Joseph Smith.

Being part of the in-group is a part of most humans and we love to be in on the "secret". To know, or think we are in the know. Joseph Smith provided what several people were seeking during the Second Great Awakening, preparation for a new world order and the 2nd coming of Christ. The only two things he asked converts to believe was the truth of the Book of Mormon and that he was a prophet.
There was actually much more tha
Zeb Kantrowitz
Jan 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
The best thing that I can say about this book is that it is (or appears to be) and unvarnished history of the beginnings of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ and Later Day Saints, LDS). It centers on the founder Joseph Smith and the time the church was located in Nauvoo Illinois.

The book starts with a short history of Joseph Smith and his life, before and after he finds the “Moroni” tablets in Upstate New York, and the translation of the tablets. Give kudos to Alex Beam that he doesn’t p
Po Po
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Interesting material and well-researched. Although the main portion of this book centers around the cold-blooded murder of Joseph Smith and the uncertainty of choosing a successor in the chaotic aftermath, there is enough background information on Joseph's early years, money-digging, hat and seer stone incident(s), conflicts with the law and antagonisms with non-Mormon settlers in Missouri and Illinois.

There were numerous conflicting viewpoints in this book (he said / she said; pro and anti-Morm
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started this book not knowing that Joseph Smith was killed or anything about Mormonism. It was a fascinating read and very well written.
Joseph Smith is the so called prophet of the Mormon religion - finding the gold tablets which he dictated to his wife Emma. He moved from Upstate New York to Ohio and Illinois spreading his religion and building temples. He was a very charming man and helped all those who came to follow his word with kindness and had a real down to earth feel about himself. Sm
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Alex Beam's "American Crucifixion" reads like an Erik Larsen novel. Of course that's deservedly high praise. To fit into that narrow categorization an Erik Larsen novel occupies, you need a work of narrative non-fiction (or creative non-fiction) with a strong, engrossing narrative that takes only slight precedence to the facts. You don't want a text book, but you don't want fan fiction or historical fiction. In that way, it's quick and enlightening read for someone familiar with Mormonism, but a ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Nothing new in this book but a riveting narrative of the events that lead to Joseph smith destroying the press. Which lead him to jail and murdered. For Mormons who only read the correlated version of this story this book may have new disturbing information, like instances of coerced polygamy. Send men on mission to marry there wives. When I was growing up Mormon I heard he destroyed the press because of slander. That's not true he destroyed it because there was accurate information about Joseph ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was a quick read for me. Historically accurate but reading more like a novel than a history text. Rich detail and background is provided and framed in a nice literary way.

Joseph's Smith persona as one both loved and hated is explored in a way that helps you see both sides. He is complicated. He is a little scary and powerful. He deserves both the love and the hate. It is an interesting story to follow, much like watching a train wreck-- you know what is going to happen, but are not su
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book.
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent fact-gathering and analysis of the murder of Joseph Smith. It's very well-written and unbiased. As an Ex-Mormon, I enjoyed the honesty of the subject's faults (Joseph Smith was anything but innocent, was a lawbreaker, and predator), while also acknowledging that he didn't have a fair trial before his death, and that it was permitted to happen by those who should have protected him before the trial. It covers some of the aftermath as well, the pain the Saints felt to lose their proph ...more
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a very fair and historically accurate account of the murder of Joseph Smith, a pivotal event in American history that author Alex Beam felt has long been overlooked by historical scholars. And though it also presents a fair narrative on the origins of the Mormon faith, the murder itself, and the year or so leading up to it, is the real focus of the book.

Key to this story is Nauvoo, a city that quickly grew to the largest city in Illinois, capable of wielding enormous political influ
Sep 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
Very disappointing. I went in expecting a very skeptical, non-LDS viewpoint, but I feel the author approached the topic very one-sidedly and treated his biases as clear-eyed truth. In albeit a much shorter treatment of a few pages, someone like Walter McDougall still expresses the outside disbelief in Joseph Smith's claims and deals with topics like revelation, politics, money, and polygamy, but doesn't evince a sneering disdain for anyone who thinks differently. He also shows some appreciation ...more
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
That was incredible. I laughed so much it hurt. Well done Mr. Beam.

This book gives people a quick run through of Joseph Smith's life. (Yes, magic hats and Golden plates, endless young brides and all.)
But the book zero's in on Smith's last few months and death. It's fascinating watching folks blindly follow a supposed prophet by any means possible - even across a few states and through numerous sex scandals and financial embarrassments.

The facts and historical recordings in this book are excepti
Eustacia Tan
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
I saw this book on NetGalley and thought it looked interesting. It's supposed to be about how the murder of Joseph Smith led to a change in the Mormon Church and made it what it is today. It turned out to be a bit larger than that, with an introduction of how Mormonism came about up to the aftermath of the Church.

And it was a very gripping read.

This book explains how Joseph Smith became an outcast, and how his vocal enemies finally killed him, vigilante style. And with his sudden death, the Mo
Bobby  Title
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Over the years I have read many books about Mormons and the historical development of their unusual beliefs. Beam's book is certainly the most fascinating of the lot. He has taken a short but dramatic point in the LDS history and brought contemporary reports to bear on it. Instead of ending up as a boring recitation of historical facts, his words bring to life a story told from all sides that is so amazing that it is simply as hard to put down as a good "who-done-it".

The story moved along well,
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Therese by: Book club selection

As with almost all new religions, Mormonism had a rough and rocky start, and ended quite differently than its beginnings. I knew very little about the history of the Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and so this was an interesting read.

Joseph Smith was the founder of the LDS with support from his wife, Emma Hale Smith and others he came across. At this time of our country's history, many religions were sprouting up in the Northeast, but few (if any) had as much success as Mormonism. T
Apr 26, 2014 rated it liked it
American Crucifixion (2014) gives an account of the circumstances leading to Joseph Smith's martyrdom on June 27, 1844. It seeks to give context to the emotions, political events, and the general sentiment that pervaded Illinois at this time. How did the American frontier become so crazy as to shoot a presidential candidate in cold blood? Why was there not a second Mormon War in response to this? What provoked this kind of action?

My Thoughts:

Where were the footnotes? The End notes? References to
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews
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 c
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Play Book Tag: (Poll Ballet) American Crucifixion by Alex Beam 3 stars 1 6 Apr 12, 2020 08:45PM  

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I'm [still] a columnist for the Boston Globe. Before that I worked as a business reporter in Los Angeles and Moscow. I've lived in Boston since 1984, and written for the newspaper since 1987. I'm working on my next book, about the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. I wish I still resembled that handsome photo, taken about a decade ago. UPDATE: Finished the Joseph Smith book (obviously) and have started

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“In front of the reviewing stand, she presented Joseph with a twenty-six-star, handcrafted silk American flag, sewn for the occasion by the ladies of Nauvoo. Then the officers, the honored guests, and the twenty members of the Legion marching band assembled for the procession to the temple site. Joseph had assigned special places on the reviewing stand to the Sauk Indian chief Keokuk and his entourage, who had crossed over from Iowa to partake in the festivities.” 1 likes
“Joseph also administered the new, secret rite of the Second Anointing for chosen couples upstairs at the store. He sealed polygamous marriages in the second-floor office, never revealing them to the Saints at large. Smith and Brigham Young kept coded records of these events, sometimes using pseudonyms. In his diary, Smith occasionally called himself “Baurak Ale.” To record his marriages, Young might write “saw E. Partridge,” a code which meant “[s]ealed [a]nd [w]ed Emily Partridge,” or “ME L. Beaman,” which would mean “married for eternity Louisa Beaman.” One of Joseph’s plural wives, Willard Richards’s sister Rhoda, lived in the store, which was also the site of Brigham Young’s soon-to-be-famous, botched seduction of British teenager Martha Brotherton.” 1 likes
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