How many of you know the story of James J Strang, the man who claimed an angel came to him after the death of Joseph Smith and said he, and not Brigham Young, was the true heir to the LDS church? Establishing a base just outside of Burlington, Wisconsin, he and his followers went on to control Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. From there, his followers did a little piracy, some counterfeiting, and something called consecration, where you rob nonbelievers in the name of religion. Yes, it’s crazy. But what’s even more interesting of the story is how this now footnote to history captured the 19th century zeitgeist in so many ways, from religious revivals to astounding transformations to the rise of the confidence man, such that Strang’s story might have been one of the inspirations for Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man and an incident in Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. Fascinating history with lots of great stories!— Daniel Goldin
The King of Confidence tells this fascinating but largely forgotten story. Centering his narrative on this charlatan's turbulent twelve years in power, Miles Harvey gets to the root of a timeless American original: the Confidence Man. Full of adventure, bad behavior, and insight into a crucial period of antebellum history, The King of Confidence brings us a compulsively readable account of one of the country's boldest con men and the boisterous era that allowed him to thrive.
About the Author
Miles Harvey is the author of the national and international bestseller The Island of Lost Maps and the recipient of a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship. His book Painter in a Savage Land was named a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year. He teaches at DePaul University.
"The story of James Strang--a messianic con man who wreaks havoc on an island community of his own devising--is amazing in itself. But it is the telling of the tale--think Herman Melville meets Mark Twain--that makes The King of Confidence a masterpiece. This book has talons that sink into you and won't let go."—Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower
"The King of Confidence is a ludicrously enjoyable, unputdownable read--a book with unsettling (but also weirdly comforting) parallels to our time. By illuminating this forgotten moment in American history, where a group of rational adults fell under the spell of a charismatic madman, Harvey reminds us of the endlessly repeating nature of history and humanity."—Dave Eggers, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Zeitoun and What Is the What
"The King of Confidence is that rarest of gems: gorgeously written, impeccably researched, and completely addictive. Miles Harvey has written one of the best books of the year. But don't take my word for it. Read it!"—Jonathan Eig, New York Times bestselling author of Ali: A Life
"Flip this book open, read page one, and then try to stop. The King of Confidence is mesmerizing all the way through--a quirky, rollicking ride through an America marked by upheaval, tumult, and religious fervor. It feels like one of those dystopian futures that Hollywood keeps warning us we're hurtling toward, but it's actually our own forgotten past. What this startling book cleverly illuminates, though, is our own perilous present, where so many of us still yearn for con men and kings."—Dave Cullen, New York Times bestselling author of Columbine
"Wooly and wild, as artful as scrimshaw, The King of Confidence literally had me at the table of contents, and never let go. What an immense pleasure to be in the hands of so deft a storyteller, to be swept away by the richest kind of story, one that veers back to a historical moment while capturing America today, our pixie-dust delusions and national gullibility in the face of old-fashioned hucksterism. Miles Harvey is a literary treasure; he's added his best-yet to a growing heap of masterpieces."—Michael Paterniti, New York Times bestselling author of The Telling Room and Driving Mr. Albert
"Miles Harvey masterfully relates one of the great unknown chapters of our nation's history, one of those peculiarly American tales where faith, madness, and old-fashioned flimflammery converge to stunning effect. The story of James Strang, con man extraordinaire, is wildly amusing in its exposure of the stone-cold gullibility of our forebears, but also unsettling in its eerie echoes of our current national landscape, and the realization that very little has changed. The King of Confidence is a marvelous read."—Scott Anderson, author of the New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award final
"Perfect for fans of Devil in the White City... Harvey's narrative is a page-turning exercise in popular history... A nicely spun yarn of religious chicanery on the frontier in a nearly forgotten historical episode."—Kirkus Reviews