James J. Strang was the founder and ruling figure of The Church of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), a small splinter group of Mormons that formed in the power vacuum left by the assassination of Joseph Smith in 1844. Strang persuaded his followers to move first to the tiny Wisconsin hamlet of Voree, then to inhospitable Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. Along the way, Strang gained many enemies, especially when he embraced polygamy after his initial rejection of it. The self-proclaimed prophet and “king” was murdered by two of his foes in 1856.
Author Miles Harvey fits Strang and his followers into the pre-Civil War era, when religious zeal was at a height and the end of the world was seen as being just around the corner. Even hapless U.S. President Millard Fillmore makes a cameo appearance. Harvey rejects the notion that Strang was a true believer, and instead is of the opinion that the “king” was nothing more than a confidence man (or “con man”) from the beginning of his career as a prophet.
The narrative is informative and populated by a cast of colorful characters, including Strang’s cross-dressing wife Elvira Field. This book will appeal to history buffs. Find this item in our catalog here.
(Reviewed by Amy B.)