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Scott C. Esplin

Return to the City of Joseph

Modern Mormonism’s Contest for the Soul of Nauvoo

University of Illinois Press 2019

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Christian StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network January 27, 2020 Daniel P. Stone

In the mid-twentieth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) returned to Nauvoo, Illinois, home to the thriving religious community led...

In the mid-twentieth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) returned to Nauvoo, Illinois, home to the thriving religious community led by Joseph Smith before his murder in 1844. The quiet farm town became a major Mormon heritage site visited annually by tens of thousands of people. Yet Nauvoo’s dramatic restoration proved fraught with conflicts.

Scott C. Esplin‘s new social history, Return to the City of Joseph: Modern Mormonism’s Contest for the Soul of Nauvoo (University of Illinois Press, 2019), looks at how Nauvoo’s different groups have sparred over heritage and historical memory. The Latter-day Saint project brought it into conflict with the Community of Christ, the midwestern branch of Mormonism that had kept a foothold in the town and a claim on its Smith-related sites. Non-Mormon locals, meanwhile, sought to maintain the historic place of ancestors who had settled in Nauvoo after the Latter-day Saints’ departure. Examining the recent and present-day struggles to define the town, Esplin probes the values of the local groups while placing Nauvoo at the center of Mormonism’s attempt to carve a role for itself within the greater narrative of American history.


Daniel P. Stone holds a PhD in American religious history from Manchester Metropolitan University (United Kingdom) and is the author of William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet (Signature Books, 2018). He has taught history courses at the University of Detroit Mercy and Florida Atlantic University, and currently, he works as a research archivist for a private library/archive in Detroit, Michigan.