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



The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch
by Miles Harvey

A very readable, sometimes irreverently told history of "King James", the mid-nineteenth century confidence man and self-proclaimed King of Beaver Island.

James Strang "ruled over" a Mormon splinter community on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. The book details his conversion from a youthful atheist confidence man to the supposedly anointed successor to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion. He convinced a group of Mormon faithful to follow him to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan where they established what they thought of as a Mormon colony.

Strang however, tried to use the colony as a springboard, combined with criminality and corruption, to achieve his life long dream of royalty and power. Proclaiming himself "King of Heaven and Earth" in a ceremony on the island, he had grandiose visions of one day ruling as King over all of the United States.

Instead, as you might guess, it all ended badly for Strang.

Miles Harvey has done a good job of conveying the broader context of America before the Civil War. It was a time of fervent religiosity (the Second Great Awakening), of fervent conflict over abolition versus slavery (including the rise of John Brown), and of fervent "hucksterism" (including the rise of PT Barnum).

And yet, I ended reading this book with mixed thoughts. While I did enjoy all of that context, it didn't fully become part of the flow of the main story, at points seeming more like "padding".

I give The King of Confidence 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐ - I liked the book despite my issue above. Having grown up in Michigan I have heard of the King of Beaver Island before, but never knew the full story until reading this book.

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