American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church
Alex Beam ’75

Public Affairs, $26.99

Reviewed by Melanie Asmar, a newspaper reporter and freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado.


Mormons are in the limelight. Google “Book of Mormon” and the first result is not the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints but the website of the Broadway play The Book of Mormon—“Click Here for Tickets!” Add to that the reality show Sister Wives, about a polygamous family who belong to a fundamentalist Mormon sect, and the 2012 presidential bid of Mitt Romney, and you have more Mormons in popular culture now than in recent history.

But if you’d prefer a well-researched account of the nineteenth-century beginnings of the religion and the man who brought it to life, read American Crucifixion by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam ’75.

Beam’s thorough account focuses on the five years leading up to founder Joseph Smith’s 1844 death at the hands of a Mormon-hating mob. After publishing his “Golden Bible,” Smith is chased from one state to the next by people wary of his beliefs and of the political power of his growing band of followers. He works to build a thriving city—a Zion—in Illinois, all the while refining his religion (No polygamy! Yes, polygamy!). But his brand of Christianity doesn’t sit well with the “old settlers,” who eventually take his life in a quick and bloody attack.

Beam’s retelling draws from letters and diary entries written by Smith and his confidants, as well as contemporary newspaper stories and memoirs. The result is an honest, if not always flattering, account of the Mormon prophet and a highly unflattering portrait of his enemies.

The comment period has expired.