The 2016 opening to historians of Mormon archives about Nauvoo enables Park to name names and assign dates to the events leading up to the Mormon cataclysm. He fashions a dense, exciting, and absorbing narrative of the most consequential and dramatic movement to dissent against and secede from the Constitutional republic before the Civil War.
In Kingdom of Nauvoo, historian Benjamin E. Park has a wild story to tell ... Mr. Park is a smooth writer and a careful historian—at times, too careful—who is blessed here with an overabundance of fascinating material ... Mormon historians have finally come to grips with polygamy in the past quarter-century, and Mr. Park isn’t bringing much new to the table here. If anything, he sounds slightly protective at times ... Mr. Park adeptly describes [Joseph] Smith’s cautious acceptance of female authority on the frontier and Brigham Young’s reactionary rejection of it ... Mr. Park is sharp and unsparing in his account of the church’s initial acceptance, and later humiliation, of its very few black members during the Nauvoo era and its aftermath ... Too often, Mr. Park seems to be pulling his punches when describing [Smith].
Park’s book is a compelling history, built from contemporaneous accounts and from the previously unreleased minutes of the Council of Fifty, a governing body of sorts that Smith convened in Nauvoo, Illinois, when he was feeling besieged by his enemies and anticipating the Second Coming of Christ ... Park’s access to these minutes is part of what makes Kingdom of Nauvoo so illuminating.
In crisp prose...Park argues convincingly that, far from being radical outsiders, Smith and his congregation were representative of American society of the time ... A perceptive study of a religion that has become a dominant force in American society. This work will appeal to anyone interested in the often-contentious history of religion in America.
In this enjoyable and fastidiously researched work, Park...entertainingly establishes this little-known Mormon settlement’s proper place within the formative years of the Illinois and Missouri frontier.
Read this book for a straightforward discussion of Joseph Smith’s polygamy using several largely ignored primary sources. In it, author Benjamin E. Park also draws out the tensions of minority rights versus majority rule in an early American fledgling democracy. Using the Mormon experiment as a case study, he explores boundaries of race, gender, and whiteness. After the first two chapters, I could hardly bring myself to put it down ... The author is an assistant professor of American history at Sam Houston State University, with a rich background in Mormon history. He engages with groundbreaking research on two fronts. First, he writes the neglected and forgotten stories of several other demographics in addition to the white men who normally center in Mormon histories ... This careful attention situates Mormons within the holistic context of native populations, Black men and women, and people of color in general, and reveals more salacious details of women’s experiences. The result is a dramatic reshaping of the motivations and impulses of the white men who’ve previously silenced or skirted these other narratives ... Secondly, he draws on a new source in the Council of Fifty meeting minutes which have only relatively recently been released by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints archive. These new sources alter the historical narrative, which, until now, has largely been a history of Mormon victimhood. Park’s history is a much more honest account ... The early chapters of Kingdom of Nauvoo introduce prominent characters a couple times and may be familiar to Mormon readers. Then, the narrative explodes with episodes of polygamy and kingdom-building that the average Mormon might not know about Park also avoids a typical Mormon trope about why people were drawn to the movement in the first place, an approach that feels fresh and original. However, there were times when I wanted a little more discussion about why people voluntarily joined such a controversial movement. It would humanize the larger body of Mormons not fully aware of these secret activities ... In other words, the book places the kingdom vis-à-vis Joseph Smith without addressing much of what a general Mormon settler, outside of Smith’s inner circle, might be experiencing or not experiencing in parallel. Again, that story has been told elsewhere. It is refreshing to read an historical account from the perspective of Smith’s inner circle that examines its more shocking behaviors. Be aware of the perspective Park is taking ... an important and riveting read about a largely white minority testing traditional systems of power. It is also a fascinating case study of a man who tried to reset the boundaries of sexual propriety — including who participated and who wavered — and of what the primary sources reveal about the motivations of those involved.
Vigorous study ... The author effectively links the Mormon critique to other dissidents, including the states' rights advocates who would lead the secessionist movement and modern-day dissidents who 'flagrantly challenge the political and legal system' and reject the nation’s democratic precepts. A welcome contribution to American religious and political history.