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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Alex Beam Why did I love 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.

By Fawn M. Brodie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked No Man Knows My History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first paperback edition of the classic biography of the founder of the Mormon church, this book attempts to answer the questions that continue to surround Joseph Smith. Was he a genuine prophet, or a gifted fabulist who became enthralled by the products of his imagination and ended up being martyred for them? 24 pages of photos. Map.


Book cover of Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith

Alex Beam Why did I love 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.

By Linda King Newell, Valerie Tippetts Avery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mormon Enigma as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mormon Enigma is the bestselling biography of Emma Hale Smith, wife of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. It was Joseph Smith who announced that an angel of the Lord had commanded him to introduce a 'new order of marriage.' And it was Emma Hale Smith who confronted the practice of polygamy head on.

As the authors note in their introduction, "Early leaders in Utah castigated Emma from their pulpits for opposing Brigham Young and the practice of polygamy, and for lending support to the Reorganization. As these attitudes filtered down through the years, Emma was virtually written out of official…


Book cover of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

Alex Beam Why did I love 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.

By John G. Turner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brigham Young as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brigham Young was a rough-hewn craftsman from New York whose impoverished and obscure life was electrified by the Mormon faith. He trudged around the United States and England to gain converts for Mormonism, spoke in spiritual tongues, married more than fifty women, and eventually transformed a barren desert into his vision of the Kingdom of God. While previous accounts of his life have been distorted by hagiography or polemical expose, John Turner provides a fully realized portrait of a colossal figure in American religion, politics, and westward expansion.

After the 1844 murder of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Young gathered those…


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

Alex Beam Why did I love 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.

By Dallin H. Oaks, Marvin S. Hill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Carthage Conspiracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Carthage Conspiracy deals with the general problem of Mormon/non-Mormon conflict, as well as with the dramatic story of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum, and their alleged assassins. It places the infamous event at the Carthage jail (1846) and the subsequent murder-conspiracy trial in the context of Mormon and American legal history, and deals with the question of achieving justice when crimes are politically motivated and popularly supported.


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

Alex Beam Why did I love 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.

By Todd Compton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Sacred Loneliness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beginning in the 1830s, at least thirty-three women married Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. These were passionate relationships which also had some longevity, except in cases such as that of two young sisters, one of whom was discovered by Joseph’s first wife, Emma, in a locked bedroom with the prophet. Emma remained a steadfast opponent of polygamy throughout her life. 

The majority of Smith’s wives were younger than he, and one-third were between fourteen and twenty years of age. Another third were already married, and some of the husbands served as witnesses at their own wife’s polyandrous wedding. In…


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Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

Laurie spoon-feeds orphans in Ethiopia, performs 108 bows at a Buddhist mountain temple, walks shelter dogs in Peru, milks goats in Fuerteventura, and gets lost in Mexico, all the while navigating dating at midlife.

After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…


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Interested in Mormons, polygamy, and death?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mormons, polygamy, and death.

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