Alex Beam is a columnist for the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune and the author of Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital (2001) and A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books (2008). He has now taken a substantial turn and ventured into the realm of mid-nineteenth century Mormon history with his book American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church.
American Crucifixion is divided into fourteen chapters, which are set primarily in the years 1839–46, when Joseph Smith and the main body of Latter-day Saints occupied Nauvoo, Hancock County, in western Illinois. As the subtitle suggests, the purpose of the book is to explain the reasons, in the context of time and place, behind the violent killing of Joseph and his older brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844. Beam’s narrative does not provide a lengthy examination of Smith’s life, which was obviously never his intention, so to provide historical background he integrates flashbacks and vignettes to provide glimpses of the Mormon leader’s earlier years in New England, New York, Ohio, and Missouri.