The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews


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

Description


The "unputdownable" (Dave Eggers, National Book award finalist) story of the most infamous American con man you've never heard of: James Strang, self-proclaimed divine king of earth, heaven, and an island in Lake Michigan, "perfect for fans of The Devil in the White City" (Kirkus)

"A masterpiece." -- Nathaniel Philbrick

In the summer of 1843, James Strang, a charismatic young lawyer and avowed atheist, vanished from a rural town in New York. Months later he reappeared on the Midwestern frontier and converted to a burgeoning religious movement known as Mormonism. In the wake of the murder of the sect's leader, Joseph Smith, Strang unveiled a letter purportedly from the prophet naming him successor, and persuaded hundreds of fellow converts to follow him to an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king.

From this stronghold he controlled a fourth of the state of Michigan, establishing a pirate colony where he practiced plural marriage and perpetrated thefts, corruption, and frauds of all kinds. Eventually, having run afoul of powerful enemies, including the American president, Strang was assassinated, an event that was frontpage news across the country.

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.

Praise For…


"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

"A rollicking story ripe for a Hollywood treatment."
Vanity Fair

"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

"Harvey serves up what promises to be a page-turner about this bizarre moment in Michigan history where fair Beaver Island served as an epicenter of fraud, polygamy and piracy."
Jennifer Day, Chicago Tribune

"Harvey delivers a vivid account of the life and times of American sect leader, lawyer, newspaper editor, and con man James Jesse Strang... He paints antebellum America as a time of 'excesses and delusions' and skillfully explores the era's technological advances, rising immigration, political violence, religious fervor, and leading literary figures. This evocative tale will astonish and delight fans of American history."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"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

"Vividly portrayed... Miles Harvey specializes in true stories of audacious individuals, here attaining new heights of wonderment... Writing with electrifying pleasure in discovery, Harvey zestfully captures 'the carnivalesque atmosphere' of antebellum America... Deftly performing a fresh and telling analysis of the timeless power of the con man over Americans who worship those who invent their own rules and 'their own truths,' Harvey brings to galloping life a forgotten, enlightening, and resounding chapter in America's tumultuous history of searchers and charlatans."
Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"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

"A spirited, entertaining read with a twist of insight and a tang of scandal... Harvey has penned a tour de force of popular history."
Library Journal


Product Details
ISBN: 9780316463591
ISBN-10: 0316463590
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: July 14th, 2020
Pages: 416