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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


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Escapades, hijinks and pirate colonies — this book reads like a novel!

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)

New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Finalist for the Midland Authors Annual Literary Award
A Michigan Notable Book
CrimeReads Best True Crime Book of the Year

"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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316463607
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 98,230
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

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.

Table of Contents

Prologue: In which an angel watches a man fall from a window in Illinois, then flies to Wisconsin with pressing business 3

Chapter 1 In which we meet a man who isn't there 10

Chapter 2 In which we encounter a mermaid and witness the birth of another imaginary being 23

Chapter 3 In which one shining city falls and another begins to rise from, the prairie 33

Chapter 4 In which a kingdom is horn 53

Chapter 5 In which one charlatan is run out of town, only to be replaced by an even greater scoundrel 72

Chapter 6 In which the end of the world approaches and a sea monster is spotted off Beaver Island 82

Chapter 7 In which we meet J. J. Strang's mysterious nephew 94

Chapter 8 In which our protagonist faces a choice between the diabolical and the divine-and, for once, does not place himself on both sides 106

Chapter 9 In which the King of Earth and Heaven is inaugurated with a crown made of paper on a throne stuffed with tree moss 120

Chapter 10 In which the inhabitants of Beaver Island evolve into what Charles Darwin might have called "a different set of beings" 130

Chapter 11 In which a melodrama is performed, and the curtains fall on one of the players 140

Chapter 12 In which the country's chief executive can't make up his mind 155

Chapter 13 In which many people feel trapped 164

Chapter 14 In which one fanatic hunts a white whale and another tracks down a missing monarch 172

Chapter 15 In which a tragedy opens in Detroit, and a drama comes to its climax on Beaver Island 181

Chapter 16 In which a murderous mood descends upon the kingdom 188

Chapter 17 In which the prosecutor wishes he had a bit more evidence, and the defendant wishes he had one true friend 199

Chapter 18 In which the King of Earth and Heaven runs for elective office 206

Chapter 19 In which the King of Beaver Island visits his old haunts, contemplates eating poison, and loses a machine that can predict the future 217

Chapter 20 In which a legend appears, and a horse thief departs 226

Chapter 21 In which the prophet writes a book, and his followers vote like hell 238

Chapter 22 In which the prophet, like just about everyone else, threatens to slaughter all his enemies 248

Chapter 23 In which the picture comes into focus 257

Chapter 24 In which various people whip their neighbors, bludgeon their colleagues, hack their enemies to death, and bring the United States to the verge of civil war while James Strang insists there's absolutely nothing to worry about 268

Chapter 25 In which the king makes his final procession 280

Chapter 26 In which our story ends where it began-with a disappearance 287

Epilogue: In which the ship steams away 296

Acknowledgments 309

Notes 315

Bibliography 377

Index 387

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