John Williams of The New York Times reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
In 1838, Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued an order to drive all Mormons from his state. After a bloody three-month war, the members of the young church fled to Illinois. The religion's founder, Joseph Smith, would die there a few years later. In the brief amount of time Smith had left, a lot happened. As the journalist Alex Beam puts it in his new book, "American Crucifixion": "If one sentence could describe the last few months of Joseph's life, it would be: 'Wait, there is more.'"
Illinois warmly accepted the Mormons as victims of Missouri's bigotry, but the tide of popular sentiment eventually turned. Thomas Sharp, a young newspaper editor and avowed opponent of the Mormons, published a series of mocking editorials.
Tensions escalated on both sides. In 1844, while being held in jail, Smith was killed at the hands of an angry mob. Beam describes that moment with great drama. His book also ranges over Smith's struggles to get his fellow Mormons to accept the teaching of polygamy, and the church's fate in the wake of his death. Tragedy and absurdity run through this account of a fascinating and pivotal moment in the history of a country and a faith.