In the mid-19th century, a persuasive Mormon leader named James Jesse Strang led hundreds of followers to Beaver Island in the middle of Lake Michigan. Then he declared himself the King of Earth and Heaven.
That’s the story author Miles Harvey tells in his new book, The King of Confidence - A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch.
"I came to see Strang not just as a Michigan story, or a Mormon story, but as a national story," says Harvey. "I see Strang as sort of a lightening-rod for all the incredible enthusiasms and passions of the mid-19th century."
Harvey says he doesn't want to make over-simple comparisons to then and now, but he believes the story of James Jesse Strang has commonalities to our current times. For example, both are times of great change economically, socially and politically.
"We know from this summer just how tumultuous our times are, and Strang lived in the same kind of time," Harvey says. "It's times like these where someone like Strang, who offers simple solutions to complex problems, thrives.
Miles Harvey is the featured guest of the National Writers Series virtual event on Tuesday, July 14.