The best books on Mormon history

Who am I?

In 2012, a publisher asked me if I wanted to write a book about Joseph Smith's assassination. I leapt at the chance, in part because I was fascinated by Smith and the Latter-day Saints, and in part because I appreciated how many of the important contributions to Mormon history --- including Fawn Brodie’s famous biography of Joseph Smith, or the first honest and comprehensive account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre -- sprang from the pens of women and men with no formal academic training. By contrast, many “scholars” have disgraced themselves with prevaricating or pusillanimous accounts of the religion’s raucous and fascinating 190-year history. So jump in! Never a dull moment with the Latter-day Saints! 


I wrote...

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

By Alex Beam,

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

What is my book about?

American Crucifixion is the definitive, readable account of the last days of Joseph Smith, Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and founder of the Mormon Church. All of Mormon history flows from Smith’s brutal assassination in June, 1844 --  The harrowing cross-country trek to the Great Salt Lake; the rise of Brigham Young; and the embrace of polygamy, the system of “plural marriage” (one husband, many wives) that haunts the church even today.

The books I picked & why

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No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

By Fawn M. Brodie,

Book cover of No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

Why this book?

“Brodie saw the fraud at the heart of Mormonism,” according to Larry McMurtry, and she described it with style and panache – at considerable personal cost. Her uncle, a future Church president, denounced her and participated in her ex-communication.


Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

By Linda King Newell, Valerie Tippetts Avery,

Book cover of Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

Why this book?

This is an honest book about Joseph Smith’s first, and only “real” wife, Emma, who virulently opposed polygamy and, after Joseph’s death, convinced herself that it never existed. Emma is one of the three titans of Mormon history: she, her husband, and the subject of my next pick.


Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

By John G. Turner,

Book cover of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

Why this book?

You hear a lot about John C. Fremont and Kit Carson, but square mile for square mile, Brigham Young is the man who built the American West. He dispatched Latter-day Saints to settle the following states, either wholly or in part: Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and Oregon.


Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith

By Dallin H. Oaks, Marvin S. Hill,

Book cover of Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith

Why this book?

Not only is this book fascinating, but it is also utterly honest, and honesty is in short supply in Mormon history-telling. Oaks is a politically conservative and culturally controversial member of the Mormon church’s ruling triumvirate, which in no way detracts from this masterpiece.


In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith

By Todd Compton,

Book cover of In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith

Why this book?

These heart-wrenching biographies of 33 of Joseph Smith’s wives were the first, in-depth exploration of the social and emotional costs of Mormon polygamy. Loneliness appeared in 1997. The church waited until November 2014, six months after the publication of American Crucifixion, to officially acknowledge that Joseph had up to 40 wives.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mormons, polygamy, and assassins?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mormons, polygamy, and assassins.

Mormons Explore 5 books about Mormons
Polygamy Explore 12 books about polygamy
Assassins Explore 42 books about assassins

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Stolen Innocence, The 19th Wife, and The Sound of Gravel if you like this list.