Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

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Overview

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are ...
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Overview

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In bestselling wilderness adventures like Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, award-winning journalist Jon Krakauer has taken us to the extremes of human experience. Now he focuses his sights on extremism of another sort in Under the Banner of Heaven, a chilling tale of violence and fanaticism that strikes at the very heart of religious faith in America.

The centerpiece of the story is a grisly double murder committed in 1984 by Ron and Dan Lafferty, Mormon fundamentalist brothers who claimed to have killed at God's direct command. In Krakauer's expert hands, the bizarre details of this brutal crime play out against the equally bizarre history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and its subsequent splintering into fundamentalist sects over the issue of polygamy -- a sacred doctrine put forth by Mormon founder Joseph Smith in 1830.

Discarded decades ago in the Mormons' steady march toward the American religious mainstream, polygamy has become a touchstone for fundamentalist dissenters, who seek to return the church to its original vision…at any cost. Krakauer investigates the violent legacy of this single article of faith, explores the link between fundamentalism and the Mormon tradition of personal revelation, and draws a direct line between the religious fervor of a God-fearing community and the religious fanaticism that inspired the Lafferty brothers to kill in the name of the Lord.

Storytelling at its most compelling, Under the Banner of Heaven is a gimlet-eyed look into the blood-soaked history of the fastest-growing religion in the Western Hemisphere and a sober examination of the nature of faith in America. Anne Markowski

From the Publisher
“Fantastic. . . . Right up there with In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Powerfully illuminating. . . . Almost every section of the book is fascinating in its own right, and together the chapters make a rich picture. . . . An arresting portrait of depravity.” —The New York Times Book Review

“This year’s most audacious work of nonfiction. . . . A white-knuckle mix of true-crime reporting and provocative history.” —New York Post

“Scrupulously reported and written with Krakauer’s usual exacting flair, Under the Banner of Heaven is both illuminating and thrilling. It is also the creepiest book anyone has written in a long time—and that’s meant as the highest possible praise.” —Newsweek

“Krakauer writes with almost astonishing narrative force. It is hard to stop reading.” —The Baltimore Sun

“Stunningly researched. . . . Elegant reportage. . . . An evenhanded inquiry into the nature of religious belief itself.” —Newsday

“Captivating. . . . Fascinating and appalling. . . . [Krakauer] should be applauded—and read.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune

“A great book. . . . Krakauer has found a fascinating story in plain sight, right in the heart of the American West, and told it with the narrative drive and unflinching honesty that marked his 1998 best seller, Into Thin Air.” —The Oregonian

“Jon Krakauer is at his provocative best.” —The New Orleans Times-Picayune

“A fascinating page-turner. . . . Engrossing. . . . Krakauer’s knack for crackling narrative and taut focus . . . drives this thought-provoking story.” —The Columbus Dispatch

“A hair-raising true-crimer.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Terrifying. . . . Startling. . . . Mov[es] deftly between past and present [and] provides a fascinating glimpse of the church today.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A powerful portrait of how two seemingly ordinary Americans became murderers.” —The Economist

“Illuminating . . . provocative. . . . Krakauer is an adept chronicler of extremists [and] the tour guide of choice for secular quests.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Marvelous. . . . A departure from Into Thin Air and Into the Wild . . . but every bit as engrossing.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Well-researched and evenhanded. . . . Thought-provoking.” —USA Today

“Startling. . . . Timely. . . . Krakauer uncovers a ghastly trail of forced marriage, polygamy, violence and mind control. . . . A chilling look at Mormon fundamentalism.” —The Charlotte Observer

“Horrific, gripping. . . . Soberly written and courageously reported.” —Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“Engrossing. . . . Incisive. . . . [Krakauer is] a very careful reporter. . . . His clear-headed, unbiased examination of the church—leavened with genuine respect—and his conclusions . . . are hard to argue with.” —Boulder Daily Camera

“One hell of a chilling read.” —Maxim

“Compelling. . . . Provocative. . . . Illuminating. . . . A gripping tale.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“A disturbing picture of Mormon fundamentalists. . . . Krakauer’s straightforward style and excellent storytelling ability make the book interesting.” —Rocky Mountain News

“A terrific read.” —Reader’s Digest

“Riveting. . . . Intriguing. . . . Breezy, smooth and vigorously written, this ambitious book is entertaining and informative. . . . Krakauer reconstructs the Lafferty brothers’ descent into fatal fanaticism magnificently, interweaving their story throughout the book and giving this wide-ranging work narrative coherence and emotional resonance. . . . [He is] a superb storyteller.” —The News & Observer

“A powerful look at how religious belief can cross the line into fanaticism.” —San Jose Mercury News

The Washington Post
Under the Banner of Heaven is not likely to be popular in Utah or other LDS sanctuaries. Perhaps it will inspire backlash books highlighting the violent and tawdry details of Gentile (non-Mormon) faiths. None has a pristine history. This is a chilling book, slowed occasionally by the sheer number of names to recall and relationships to connect, and the somewhat awkward juxtaposition of current events and remote history -- not a beach book but rather a tour de force that must be read carefully and savored. — Ann Rule
NY Times Sunday Book Review
Dan and Ron Lafferty saw their quest for security and stature frustrated and then found someone to blame -- a description that, in one sense or another, applies to Mohamed Atta, Timothy McVeigh and the Columbine killers. Under the Banner of Heaven is an arresting portrait of depravity that may have broader relevance than the author intended. — Robert Wright
The New York Times
In collecting evidence, Mr. Krakauer ventures out to a lunatic fringe of polygamous self-appointed prophets, where the Mormons and the Martians are almost interchangeable. — Janet Maslin
USA Today
Heaven uses the murder of a young Mormon wife, Brenda Lafferty, and her 15-month-old daughter in 1984 as a launchpad to probe the roots of all religious faith and the extremes to which it can be taken. … In the hands of a less perceptive writer, the book would be just another lurid true-crime tale with superficial religious overtones. Instead, Krakauer … presents events in historical context. — Deirdre Donahue
The Los Angeles Times
The split between the Fundamentalists and the official Mormon church is the backdrop for Jon Krakauer's new book, Under the Banner of Heaven, in which he explores the fanatical fringe of Mormonism and the nexus between extremist faith and predatory violence through the story of a bone-chilling double murder committed in 1984 in the heart of Mormon country. — Emily Bazelon
Publishers Weekly
Using as a focal point the chilling story of offshoot Mormon fundamentalist brothers Dan and Ron Lafferty, who in 1984 brutally butchered their sister-in-law and 15-month-old niece in the name of a divine revelation, Krakauer explores what he sees as the nature of radical Mormon sects with Svengali-like leaders. Using mostly secondary historical texts and some contemporary primary sources, Krakauer compellingly details the history of the Mormon church from its early 19th-century creation by Joseph Smith (whom Krakauer describes as a convicted con man) to its violent journey from upstate New York to the Midwest and finally Utah, where, after the 1890 renunciation of the church's holy doctrine sanctioning multiple marriages, it transformed itself into one of the world's fastest-growing religions. Through interviews with family members and an unremorseful Dan Lafferty (who is currently serving a life sentence), Krakauer chronologically tracks what led to the double murder, from the brothers' theological misgivings about the Mormon church to starting their own fundamentalist sect that relies on their direct communications with God to guide their actions. According to Dan's chilling step-by-step account, when their new religion led to Ron's divorce and both men's excommunication from the Mormon church, the brothers followed divine revelations and sought to kill, starting with their sister-in-law, those who stood in the way of their new beliefs. Relying on his strong journalistic and storytelling skills, Krakauer peppers the book with an array of disturbing firsthand accounts and news stories (such as the recent kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart) of physical and sexual brutality, which he sees as an outgrowth of some fundamentalists' belief in polygamy and the notion that every male speaks to God and can do God's bidding. While Krakauer demonstrates that most nonfundamentalist Mormons are community oriented, industrious and law-abiding, he poses some striking questions about the closed-minded, closed-door policies of the religion-and many religions in general. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1984, Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter Erica were found murdered in their Utah home, victims of a "removal revelation" that her Mormon brother-in-law had supposedly received from God. Krakauer (Into Thin Air) aims to explain why and how this crime happened by recounting the history of Mormonism from its conception by Joseph Smith in the 19th century and tracing the origins of its extremist sects through to the present day. Using current examples, Krakauer reveals that there are fundamentalist communities throughout North America and that although these sects are not recognized by the accepted Latter-day Saints (LDS) church (mainly because they still practice polygamy), they are able to exist unchecked by both the church and the U.S. government. The author's chronicle of the Mormon religion and its extremist offshoot is tempered by the very real and tangible story of Lafferty and her baby, whose lives were, in effect, taken by a fundamentalist faith. Krakauer, admittedly just trying to get to the heart of religious extremism, remains as impartial as possible toward his elusive and controversial subject, but the result is still unnerving. A thoroughly engrossing and ultimately startling comment on all fundamentalist ideas; for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]-Rachel Collins "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The jarring story of a double murder committed by fundamentalist Mormons, told with raw narrative force and tight focus. Yet this is far more than just the retelling of a grisly murder, for Krakauer (Into Thin Air, 1997) would like to know what was going on in the heads of the men, Dan and Ron Lafferty, when they killed Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica (who happened to be their sister-in-law and niece, respectively), and why Dan, in particular, could be so equi-poised when talking of the event as to display an utter lack of remorse. Finding out requires an extended journey through the world of Mormonism, its history and schisms, and by extension the history of its expansion over the western half of the country. Fundamentalist Mormons differ from mainstream Latter-day Saints in many ways, but their practice of polygamy, notions of blood atonement (revenge), and belief in the importance of personal revelation-their listening to that "still small voice" of God, once a hallmark of Joseph Smith's religion, until he realized it would compromise his authority in matters of church doctrine-made them outlaws in the eyes of the establishment Mormons. Dan's "yearning to return to the mythical order and perfection of the original church," one that had been corrupted by the church hierarchy for years now, led him to fundamentalism, which in turn led him to believe his brother Ron's revelations: that Brenda and Erica must die for the good of the Lord's work (that Brenda encouraged Ron's wife to leave him may have played, let's say, a small role in the revelation). Krakauer worms deeply into the Mormon religious experience, its fractures, violence, and fight against the growing powerof the central government. At the moment "when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination," then "all bets are suddenly off." Krakauer lays the portent on beautifully, building his tales carefully from the ground up until they irresistibly, spookily combust. Agent: John Ware
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400032808
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/8/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 56,801
  • Lexile: 1350L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Krakauer is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air and is editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.
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Read an Excerpt

ONE

THE CITY OF THE SAINTS

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.
Deuteronomy 14:2

And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God.
The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 85
revealed to Joseph Smith on November 27, 1832

Balanced atop the highest spire of the Salt Lake Temple, gleaming in the Utah sun, a statue of the angel Moroni stands watch over downtown Salt Lake City with his golden trumpet raised. This massive granite edifice is the spiritual and temporal nexus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which presents itself as the world's only true religion. Temple Square is to Mormons what the Vatican is to Catholics, or the Kaaba in Mecca is to Muslims. At last count there were more than eleven million Saints the world over, and Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in the Western Hemisphere. At present in the United States there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians. On the planet as a whole, there are now more Mormons than Jews. Mormonism is considered in some sober academic circles to be well on its way to becoming a major world religion--the first such faith to emerge since Islam.

Next door to the temple, the 325 voices of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir swell to fill the tabernacle's vast interior with the robust, haunting chords of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the ensemble's trademark song: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . ."

To much of the world, this choir and its impeccably rendered harmonies are emblematic of the Mormons as a people: chaste, optimistic, outgoing, dutiful. When Dan Lafferty quotes Mormon scripture to justify murder, the juxtaposition is so incongruous as to seem surreal.

The affairs of Mormondom are directed by a cadre of elderly white males in dark suits who carry out their holy duties from a twenty-six-story office tower beside Temple Square.* To a man, the LDS leadership adamantly insists that Lafferty should under no circumstances be considered a Mormon. The faith that moved Lafferty to slay his niece and sister-in-law is a brand of religion known as Mormon Fundamentalism; LDS Church authorities bristle visibly when Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists are even mentioned in the same breath. As Gordon B. Hinckley, the then-eighty-eight-year-old LDS president and prophet, emphasized during a 1998 television interview on Larry King Live, "They have no connection with us whatever. They don't belong to the church. There are actually no Mormon Fundamentalists."

Nevertheless, Mormons and those who call themselves Mormon Fundamentalists (or FLDS) believe in the same holy texts and the same sacred history. Both believe that Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism in 1830, played a vital role in God's plan for mankind; both LDS and FLDS consider him to be a prophet comparable in stature to Moses and Isaiah. Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists are each convinced that God regards them, and them alone, as his favored children: "a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." But if both proudly refer to themselves as the Lord's chosen, they diverge on one especially inflammatory point of religious doctrine: unlike their present-day Mormon compatriots, Mormon Fundamentalists passionately believe that Saints have a divine obligation to take multiple wives. Followers of the FLDS faith engage in polygamy, they explain, as a matter of religious duty.

There are more than thirty thousand FLDS polygamists living in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the American West. Some experts estimate there may be as many as one hundred thousand. Even this larger number amounts to less than 1 percent of the membership in the LDS Church worldwide, but all the same, leaders of the mainstream church are extremely discomfited by these legions of polygamous brethren. Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle--they try to keep the "polygs" hidden in the attic, safely out of sight, but the fundamentalists always seem to be sneaking out to appear in public at inopportune moments to create unsavory scenes, embarrassing the entire LDS clan.

The LDS Church happens to be exceedingly prickly about its short, uncommonly rich history--and no aspect of that history makes the church more defensive than "plural marriage." The LDS leadership has worked very hard to persuade both the modern church membership and the American public that polygamy was a quaint, long-abandoned idiosyncrasy practiced by a mere handful of nineteenth-century Mormons. The religious literature handed out by the earnest young missionaries in Temple Square makes no mention of the fact that Joseph Smith--still the religion's focal personage--married at least thirty-three women, and probably as many as forty-eight. Nor does it mention that the youngest of these wives was just fourteen years old when Joseph explained to her that God had commanded that she marry him or face eternal damnation.

Polygamy was, in fact, one of the most sacred credos of Joseph's church--a tenet important enough to be canonized for the ages as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants, one of Mormonism's primary scriptural texts.* The revered prophet described plural marriage as part of "the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth" and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the "fulness of exaltation" in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that "all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same . . . and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory."

Joseph was murdered in Illinois by a mob of Mormon haters in 1844. Brigham Young assumed leadership of the church and led the Saints to the barren wilds of the Great Basin, where in short order they established a remarkable empire and unabashedly embraced the covenant of "spiritual wifery." This both titillated and shocked the sensibilities of Victorian-era Americans, who tended to regard polygamy as a brutish practice on a par with slavery. In 1856, recognizing the strength of the anti-polygamy vote, Republican candidate John C. Frémont ran for president on a platform that pledged to "prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism--Polygamy and Slavery." Frémont lost the election, but a year later the man who did win, President James Buchanan, sent the U.S. Army to invade Utah, dismantle Brigham Young's theocracy, and eradicate polygamy.

The so-called Utah War, however, neither removed Brigham from power nor ended the doctrine of plural marriage, to the annoyance and bafflement of a whole series of American presidents. An escalating sequence of judicial and legislative challenges to polygamy ensued, culminating in the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which disincorporated the LDS Church and forfeited to the federal government all church property worth more than $50,000. With their feet held fast to the fire, the Saints ultimately had no choice but to renounce polygamy. But even as LDS leaders publicly claimed, in 1890, to have relinquished the practice, they quietly dispatched bands of Mormons to establish polygamous colonies in Mexico and Canada, and some of the highest-ranking LDS authorities secretly continued to take multiple wives and perform plural marriages well into the twentieth century.

Although LDS leaders were initially loath to abandon plural marriage, eventually they adopted a more pragmatic approach to American politics, emphatically rejected the practice, and actually began urging government agencies to prosecute polygamists. It was this single change in ecclesiastical policy, more than anything else, that transformed the LDS Church into its astonishingly successful present-day iteration. Having jettisoned polygamy, Mormons gradually ceased to be regarded as a crackpot sect. The LDS Church acquired the trappings of a conventional faith so successfully that it is now widely considered to be the quintessential American religion.

Mormon Fundamentalists, however, believe that acceptance into the American mainstream came at way too high a price. They contend that the Mormon leaders made an unforgivable compromise by capitulating to the U.S. government on polygamy over a century ago. They insist that the church sold them out--that the LDS leadership abandoned one of the religion's most crucial theological tenets for the sake of political expediency. These present-day polygamists therefore consider themselves to be the keepers of the flame--the only true and righteous Mormons. In forsaking Section 132--the sacred principle of plural marriage--the LDS Church has gone badly astray, they warn. Fundamentalist prophets bellow from their pulpits that the modern church has become "the wickedest whore of all the earth."

Mormon Fundamentalists probably cite Section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants more than any other piece of LDS scripture. Their second-most-popular citation is likely Section 85, in which it was revealed to Joseph that "I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong . . . to set in order the house of God." Many fundamentalists are convinced that the one mighty and strong is already here on earth among them, "holding the scepter of power in his hand," and that very soon now he will lead the Mormon Church back onto the right path and restore Joseph's "most holy and important doctrine."

TWO

SHORT CREEK

Extreme and bizarre religious ideas are so commonplace in American history that it is difficult to speak of them as fringe at all. To speak of a fringe implies a mainstream, but in terms of numbers, perhaps the largest component of the religious spectrum in contemporary America remains what it has been since colonial times: a fundamentalist evangelicalism with powerful millenarian strands. The doomsday theme has never been far from the center of American religious thought. The nation has always had believers who responded to this threat by a determination to flee from the wrath to come, to separate themselves from the City of Destruction, even if that meant putting themselves at odds with the law and with their communities or families. . . . We can throughout American history find select and separatist groups who looked to a prophetic individual claiming divine revelation, in a setting that repudiated conventional assumptions about property, family life, and sexuality. They were marginal groups, peculiar people, people set apart from the world: the Shakers and the Ephrata community, the communes of Oneida and Amana, the followers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
Philip Jenkins,
Mystics and Messiahs

Snaking diagonally across the top of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a stupendous, 277-mile rent in the planet's hide that functions as a formidable natural barrier, effectively cutting off the northwestern corner from the rest of the state. This isolated wedge of backcountry--almost as big as New Jersey, yet traversed by a single paved highway--is known as the Arizona Strip, and it has one of the lowest population densities in the forty-eight conterminous states.

There is, however, one relatively large municipality here. Colorado City, home to some nine thousand souls, is more than five times as populous as any other town in the district. Motorists driving west on Highway 389 across the parched barrens of the Uinkaret Plateau are apt to be surprised when, twenty-eight miles past Fredonia (population 1,036, the second-largest town on the Strip), Colorado City suddenly materializes in the middle of nowhere: a sprawl of small businesses and unusually large homes squatting beneath a towering escarpment of vermilion sandstone called Canaan Mountain. All but a handful of the town's residents are Mormon Fundamentalists. They live in this patch of desert in the hope of being left alone to follow the sacred principle of plural marriage without interference from government authorities or the LDS Church.

Straddling the Utah-Arizona border, Colorado City is home to at least three Mormon Fundamentalist sects, including the world's largest: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. More commonly known as the United Effort Plan, or UEP, it requires its members live in strict accordance with the commandments of a frail, ninety-two-year-old tax accountant-turned-prophet named Rulon T. Jeffs.* "Uncle Rulon," as he is known to his followers, traces his divinely ordained leadership in an unbroken chain that leads directly back to Joseph Smith himself. Although his feeble bearing would seem to make him poorly cast for the role, the residents of Colorado City believe that Uncle Rulon is the "one mighty and strong" whose coming was prophesied by Joseph in 1832.

"A lot of people here are convinced Uncle Rulon is going to live forever," says DeLoy Bateman, a forty-eight-year-old science teacher at Colorado City High School. Not only was DeLoy born and raised in this faith, but his forebears were some of the religion's most illustrious figures: his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were among the thirteen founding members of the Mormon Fundamentalist Church, and his adoptive grandfather, LeRoy Johnson, was the prophet who immediately preceded Uncle Rulon as the leader of Colorado City. At the moment, DeLoy is driving his thirdhand Chevy van on a dirt road on the outskirts of town. One of his two wives and eight of his seventeen children are riding in the back. Suddenly he hits the brakes, and the van lurches to a stop on the shoulder. "Now there's an interesting sight," DeLoy declares, sizing up the wreckage of a television satellite dish behind some sagebrush off the side of the road. "Looks like somebody had to get rid of their television. Hauled it out of town and dumped it."

Members of the religion, he explains, are forbidden to watch television or read magazines or newspapers. The temptations of the outside world loom large, however, and some members of the faith inevitably succumb. "As soon as you ban something," DeLoy observes, "you make it incredibly attractive. People will sneak into St. George or Cedar City and buy themselves a dish, put it up where it can't easily be seen, and secretly watch TV during every free moment. Then one Sunday Uncle Rulon will give one of his sermons about the evils of television. He'll announce that he knows exactly who has one, and warn that everyone who does is putting their eternal souls in serious jeopardy.

"Every time he does that, a bunch of satellite dishes immediately get dumped in the desert, like this one here. For two or three years afterward there won't be any televisions in town, but then, gradually, the dishes start secretly going up again, until the next crackdown. People try to do the right thing, but they're only human."

As the TV prohibition suggests, life in Colorado City under Rulon Jeffs bears more than a passing resemblance to life in Kabul under the Taliban. Uncle Rulon's word carries the weight of law. The mayor and every other city employee answers to him, as do the entire police force and the superintendent of public schools. Even animals are subject to his whim. Two years ago a Rottweiler killed a child in town. An edict went out that dogs would no longer be allowed within the city limits. A posse of young men was dispatched to round up all the canines, after which the unsuspecting pets were taken into a dry wash and shot.

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Introduction

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Fantastic. . . . Right up there with In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song.” —San Francisco Chronicle

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Jon Krakauer’s deeply unsettling new book, Under the Banner of Heaven.
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Foreword

1. In his prologue, Jon Krakauer writes that the aim of his book is to “cast some light on Lafferty and his ilk,” which he concedes is a daunting but useful task for what it may tell us “about the roots of brutality, perhaps, but even more for what might be learned about the nature of faith” [p. XXIII]. What does the book reveal about fanatics such as Ron and Dan Lafferty? What does it reveal about brutality and faith and the connections between them?

2. Why does Krakauer move back and forth between Mormon history and contemporary events? What are the connections between the beliefs and practices of Joseph Smith and his followers in the nineteenth century and the behavior of people like Dan and Ron Lafferty, Brian David Mitchell, and others in the twentieth?

3. Prosecutor David Leavitt argued that “People in the state of Utah simply do not understand, and have not understood for fifty years, the devastating effect that the practice of polygamy has on young girls in our society” [p. 24]. How does polygamy affect young girls? Is it, as Leavitt claims, pedophilia plain and simple?

4. Joseph Smith claimed that the doctrine of polygamy was divinely inspired. What earthly reasons might also explain Smith’s attraction to having plural wives?

5. When Krakauer asks Dan Lafferty if he has considered the parallels between himself and Osama bin Laden, Dan asserts that bin Laden is a “child of the Devil” and that the hijackers were “following a false prophet,” whereas he is following a true prophet [p. 321]. No doubt, bin Laden would say much the same of Lafferty. How are Dan Lafferty and Osama bin Ladenalike? In what ways are all religious fundamentalists alike?

6. Krakauer asks: “if Ron Lafferty were deemed mentally ill because he obeyed the voice of God, isn’t everyone who believes in God and seeks guidance through prayer mentally ill as well?” [p. 297] Given the nature of, and motive for, the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her child, should Ron Lafferty be considered mentally ill? If so, should all others who “talk to God” or receive revelations—a central tenant of Mormonism—also be considered mentally ill? What would the legal ramifications be of such a shift in thought?

7. Krakauer begins part III with a quote from Bertrand Russell, who asserts that “every single bit of progress
in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world” [p. 191]. Is this a fair and accurate statement? What historical examples support it? What improvements in humane feeling and social justice has the Mormon church opposed?

8. How are mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons likely to react to Krakauer’s book?

9. Much of Under the Banner of Heaven explores the tensions between freedom of religion and governmental authority. How should these tensions be resolved? How can the state allow religious freedom to those who place obedience to God’s will above obedience to secular laws?

10. Joseph Smith called himself “a second Mohammed,” and Krakauer quotes George Arbaugh who suggests that Mormonism’s “aggressive theocratic claims, political aspirations, and use of force, make it akin to Islam” [p. 102]. What other similarities exist between the Mormon and Islamic faiths?

11. How should Joseph Smith be understood: as a delusional narcissist, a con man, or “an authentic religious genius” [p. 55], as Harold Bloom claims?

12. Krakauer suggests that much of John Wesley Powell’s book, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, particularly his account of his dealings with the Shivwit Indians, should be regarded with a “healthy dose of skepticism,” and that it embellishes and omits important facts [p. 245]. Is Krakauer himself a trustworthy guide to the events he describes in Under the Banner of Heaven? Are his writing and his judgments fair and reasonable? What makes them so?

13. What patterns emerge from looking at Mormon history? What do events like the Mountain Meadow massacre and the violence between Mormons and gentiles in Missouri and Illinois suggest about the nature of Mormonism? Have Mormons been more often the perpetrators or the victims of violence?

14. At the very end of the book, former Mormon fundamentalist DeLoy Bateman says that while the Mormon fundamentalists who live within Colorado City may be happier than those who live outside it, he believes that “some things in life are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself” [p. 334]. Why does Krakauer end the book this way? In what ways are Mormons not free to think for themselves? Is such freedom more important than happiness?

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Reading Group Guide

1. In his prologue, Jon Krakauer writes that the aim of his book is to “cast some light on Lafferty and his ilk,” which he concedes is a daunting but useful task for what it may tell us “about the roots of brutality, perhaps, but even more for what might be learned about the nature of faith” [p. XXIII]. What does the book reveal about fanatics such as Ron and Dan Lafferty? What does it reveal about brutality and faith and the connections between them?

2. Why does Krakauer move back and forth between Mormon history and contemporary events? What are the connections between the beliefs and practices of Joseph Smith and his followers in the nineteenth century and the behavior of people like Dan and Ron Lafferty, Brian David Mitchell, and others in the twentieth?

3. Prosecutor David Leavitt argued that “People in the state of Utah simply do not understand, and have not understood for fifty years, the devastating effect that the practice of polygamy has on young girls in our society” [p. 24]. How does polygamy affect young girls? Is it, as Leavitt claims, pedophilia plain and simple?

4. Joseph Smith claimed that the doctrine of polygamy was divinely inspired. What earthly reasons might also explain Smith’s attraction to having plural wives?

5. When Krakauer asks Dan Lafferty if he has considered the parallels between himself and Osama bin Laden, Dan asserts that bin Laden is a “child of the Devil” and that the hijackers were “following a false prophet,” whereas he is following a true prophet [p. 321]. No doubt, bin Laden would say much the same of Lafferty. How are Dan Lafferty and Osama bin Laden alike? In what ways are all religious fundamentalists alike?

6. Krakauer asks: “if Ron Lafferty were deemed mentally ill because he obeyed the voice of God, isn’t everyone who believes in God and seeks guidance through prayer mentally ill as well?” [p. 297] Given the nature of, and motive for, the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her child, should Ron Lafferty be considered mentally ill? If so, should all others who “talk to God” or receive revelations—a central tenant of Mormonism—also be considered mentally ill? What would the legal ramifications be of such a shift in thought?

7. Krakauer begins part III with a quote from Bertrand Russell, who asserts that “every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world” [p. 191]. Is this a fair and accurate statement? What historical examples support it? What improvements in humane feeling and social justice has the Mormon church opposed?

8. How are mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons likely to react to Krakauer’s book?

9. Much of Under the Banner of Heaven explores the tensions between freedom of religion and governmental authority. How should these tensions be resolved? How can the state allow religious freedom to those who place obedience to God’s will above obedience to secular laws?

10. Joseph Smith called himself “a second Mohammed,” and Krakauer quotes George Arbaugh who suggests that Mormonism’s “aggressive theocratic claims, political aspirations, and use of force, make it akin to Islam” [p. 102]. What other similarities exist between the Mormon and Islamic faiths?

11. How should Joseph Smith be understood: as a delusional narcissist, a con man, or “an authentic religious genius” [p. 55], as Harold Bloom claims?

12. Krakauer suggests that much of John Wesley Powell’s book, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, particularly his account of his dealings with the Shivwit Indians, should be regarded with a “healthy dose of skepticism,” and that it embellishes and omits important facts [p. 245]. Is Krakauer himself a trustworthy guide to the events he describes in Under the Banner of Heaven? Are his writing and his judgments fair and reasonable? What makes them so?

13. What patterns emerge from looking at Mormon history? What do events like the Mountain Meadow massacre and the violence between Mormons and gentiles in Missouri and Illinois suggest about the nature of Mormonism? Have Mormons been more often the perpetrators or the victims of violence?

14. At the very end of the book, former Mormon fundamentalist DeLoy Bateman says that while the Mormon fundamentalists who live within Colorado City may be happier than those who live outside it, he believes that “some things in life are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself” [p. 334]. Why does Krakauer end the book this way? In what ways are Mormons not free to think for themselves? Is such freedom more important than happiness?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 388 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 391 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 18, 2009

    WOW!!!! FABULOUS READING! FASCINATING! HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

    I have been in a reading slump with not too much interest in books for the last few years, well after reading this I am a total reader again! After my ski trip to Utah this winter I was a bit fascinated with the culture there...so this book was immediately appealing. It reads like an in depth newspaper article or nat. geo. article, but 1000x cooler! The layers are intense and complicated, but the author does an excellent job going back and forth. I was easily able to remember names and relationships combined with the history. To the Mormons who freak out that this book portrays the Church in a bad light- I don't think it does. The Mormon histroy is a more recent history, more memorable because of that. Last time I checked the Catholic Church has just as violent and cultish history! But we forget because it was at least 200 years to 2000 years back. Religion evolves; the Mormons evolved waaay faster than the Catholics did! The uniqueness of this book is the position that Mormonism is a inherently American religion; the philosophies are so uniquely American, that concept is an amazing exploration into what it means to be an American. The stories of the Mormons and the old west are sooo flippin cool! To an agnostic who was raised with no Christian background or belief- All the biblical stuff, book of mormon, old new test., saints, prophets, etc. are all meaningless to my frame of reference. At the end of this book Mormonism was no less legitamate or illegitamate than any other form of religion. It's funny when people say false religion and false prophets, because to someone who knows nothing of real prophets or "faith"...it just plays about as a fascinating invention of man. There is a chap. that decribes the murders, and I couldnt read it; it was extremely sad and gruesome. If youre a history buff with a short attention span this book is awesome!

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    "Under The Banner Of Heaven"

    A thought provoking look into the world of the lives of those living within the extreme Mormon sects. The book includes interviews with those who have lived in these sects, some as victims and some who were convicted of crimes. The book goes back and forth from the founding of the Mormon Church and it's history and that of the fanatical sects that left the official church. A powerfully moving book with a wealth of information pertaining to the Mormon Church and of the leaders and lives of those living within the fringe sects. This book will astonish you on many levels. It will be disturbing at times. I feel this book was well written and extremely informative. A book to read if you are interested in a part of our society that most people might not even know of.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2008

    Well written OBJECTIVE book!

    As a native Utahn I am very familiar with the teachings of the LDS faith, have lived among Mormons'with little confrontation' most of my life, and do understand how members of the Mormon faith can easily take this book out of context and be offended by its theory. But one has to understand that the author clearly explains that the FLDS and the LDS are in fact very different, and he simply gives a general 'and well researched' history of how the FLDS church evolved from the mainline Mormon church, to supplement the story of the Lafferty Murders. If one'particularly LDS members' dive into this book with an agenda already in mind, I guarantee you will not like it one bit. But if one is purely interested in history and fact with an OBJECTIVE point of view, this will be an exceptional read.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    Typical Krakauer - Well researched and spellbinding

    Great book. I have read every Krakauer book to date and am a real fan. I am still not sure why he. an admitted agnostic, wrote a book critical of the Mormom faith rather than his normal on-the-edge adventures. Even though, the book is atypical for Krakauer, it was a great read interweaving the history of the Morman religion with the recent fundamentalist break-off sects. Krakauer's research is impeccable and he presents his information in a very interesting, easily understood and enjoyable fashion. We read the book for our Book Club and had a great discussion of all of the issues. I look forward to reading Krakauer's next book with ledgendary Pat Tillman as the primary subject.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2008

    Latter Day Saints

    Under the Banner of Heaven is a great read and well written. It clears up many conceptions about Latter Day Saints and the ruefulness of the fundamentalist. The writer tells us how the religion got started, by whom, and why. What I enjoyed was learning the history of the LDS without being bogged down with technical-speak and statistics. It¿s written like a fiction novel and is fast paced with twists and turns and mystery. I highly recommend Under the Banner of Heaven not only for the ability of its author to write about a challenging subject but for the ability of keeping me glued to his words page after page after page. Don¿t start this book unless you have time to devote to it because if you enjoy it as much as I did you won¿t want to put it down until you read the words `The End.¿

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2011

    What a great book. Highly recommended.

    This is perhaps one of the best books that I have read in the last few years. Truly informative, appears to have been well researched, and captivating. Dare I say, 'a page turner.'

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2005

    An honest look at Mormonism

    While I enjoyed many of Krakauer's other books, UTBOH was the most researched and well-documented of them all. Wake up Mormons, this is not a battle royal against your religion, rather a look into the beginnings of a religion that has begun to shape an entire region of America. How can you even say that Krakauer is biased against Mormoms? Not once did he come out and say that all Mormons were evil or try to distort facts. Also the conclusion makes one realize that Krakauer realizes he does not have all the answers the the Mormon religion or any other religion. He ends by saying that he does not yet know what he thinks. This book is written by a man who wanted to explore his own beliefs and the beliefs of everyone around when he was growing up in Corvellais, Oregon. Obviously there is some skepticism in the book, and how can there not be from a man who is not sure of what he believes? Also how can there not be when you look at the Mormon faith, a faith that believes God had sex with Mary, a faith that believes we can become God, a faith that originated with a man who coerced a 14 year old to have sex with him, a faith that is run by leaders who receive revelations directly from God. Read you Bibles please Mormons and realize that God says he is unchangeable from beginning to end (Hebrews 13:8). Realize Mormons that it is difficult for a nonbeliever to swallow all these things and not look on with some disbelief. Jon just lays out the incongruencies he saw all around as a child and reports them. He is not the anti-Christ, trying to rip apart your faith. Give such a confused spirit some room to write.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2008

    A reviewer

    Jon Krakauer's most recent offering may be his most ambitious yet. Krakauer examines the grizzly murders committed by Ron and Dan Lafferty, supposedly as the result of a divine revelation. The Lafferty brothers were both members of a splinter sect that broke away from the mainstream Mormon religion, taking a fundamentalist view that the Mormon Church went astray when they relented to pressure from the federal government and abandoned the practice of polygamy. Krakauer bites off a pretty large bit trying to make sense of the bloody history of the Mormon Church (although probably no more bloody than the history of most religions), the nature of fundamentalism, and the fine line separating religious inspiration from insanity. The book is a fascinating read, and to Krakauer's credit he offers more questions than answers. The book does stray at times into areas that seemed to particularly interest Krakauer yet don't serve the narrative, and perhaps he should have presented more of the Mormon point of view (although there is a lengthy appendix in which Krakauer answers criticisms leveled by Mormon officials and scholars), but overall is an interesting examination of the complicated topic of murder in the name of God.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2003

    Ignorance and bias limit this misleading 'history'

    Mr. Krakauer, in this error ridden diatribe against religion, makes so many errors of fact and logic that serious questions are raised regarding his competence and sincerity. As Prof T. Givens noted, 'To blame Judaism for Son of Sam would be anti-Semitic. To blame Mormonism for Dan Lafferty is no less an act of naked bigotry masquerading as journalistic investigation.' As Jane Lampman has noted in the The Christian Science Monitor, Krakauer's book 'delivers a skewed and misleading picture of a faith now practiced by 11 million people worldwide.' Perhaps Naomi Schaefer, in her review for the The Wall Street Journal put it best, when she wrote that Krakauer's book 'is all quite misleading.' Neurophysiologists may note that Mr. Krakauer's best excuse for producing this incompetently researched, deceptive and misleading book is that he spent so many weeks at high altitude with insufficient oxygen. One can only hope he beats a hasty retreat from subjects like history and religion -- subjects apparently far beyond his abilities. R. Chris Barden, Ph.D., J.D. Sun Valley, Idaho

    4 out of 31 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2011

    Interesting read

    This is a great book. A very interesting story and well written. I couldn't put it down.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2007

    Under the Banner of Heaven Underperforms

    The jacket of Under the Banner of Heaven describes Jon Krakauer's book about Mormon Fundamentalism as, 'vintage Krakauer, an utterly compelling work of nonfiction.' And I agree that it's vintage Krakauer, which is why can't rave about it. Krakauer has never delivered the gripping story I expect from him, despite the fascinating topics he chooses. Under the Banner of Heaven is a fluid, well-researched narrative that isn't captivating. The polygamous family tree of Mormon Fundamentalism is as confusing as the first 100 pages of a science fiction novel. I couldn't keep straight who was who or how they were connected, and I felt dragged through a history book in a jump-around 'let me show you this, then let me show you this' fashion. I didn't enjoy the book because I'm not sure what it was supposed to be. Krakauer confessed that the book as it turned out wasn't the book he set out to write (pg. 334). He intended 'to explore the inner trials of spiritual thinkers,' to analyze how intelligent people reconcile the contradictions between scientific and historical truth with faith in God. That book was to be called History and Belief, which is a rather academic title, and suggests why Under the Banner of Heaven read as stiff as a tradition-bound history department, belying the book's evocative title. I applaud Krakauer's talent and his honesty. In his remarks, he admits, 'I don't know what God is . . . In fact, I don't know if God even exists, although I confess that I sometimes find myself praying in times of great fear, or despair, or astonishment at a display of unexpected beauty . . . And if I remain in the dark about our purpose here, and the meaning of eternity, I have nevertheless arrived at an understanding of a few more modest truths: Most of us fear death. Most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why - which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator. And we will no doubt feel that ache, most of us, for as long as we happen to be alive.' I connect with the ache he mentions and with the questions that underpin his books, which is why I expect I'll read more of his books despite my disappointment with Under the Banner of Heaven.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2006

    Thought-provoking

    I've lived in a densly LDS population near all my life. My friends and neighbors are all LDS and I am dating a mormon boy. I've taken discussions, I've been to a ton of sacrement meetings and two EFYs. My bus drives by the temple each day! Needless to say, I am interested (and quite knowlegable) about the Mainstream LDS chuch and I'm curious about the FLDS) One morning in the library at school, this book just fell off the shelf and onto my head. Upon reading the subject, I was quite interested, so I checked it out and began to read. This is a captivating book and I reccomend it to everyone. The man isn't bashing the mormon church, he's revealing its roots. This book mainly focuses on the FLDS and it's practices, not the LDS. If you're not a member and you're interested in the church, then make Under the Banner of Heaven one of your sources of research. Krakauer spent a good 3 years of his life in the church and lives in Utah, he knows his stuff.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2005

    Great book

    Although all religions are faith based and there is little actual 'proof' to support any of them, Mormonism is the worst culprit. The 1830's wasn't that long ago and it shouldn't have been too hard to keep the golden plates from Moroni from getting lost if they did in fact exist. If all mormons believe american indians are descedents of the jews and that upstate New York is the holy land, then there are a lot of naive and gullible people in this world. Doesn't mean I think they're bad people,and are crazy murderers like the Lafferty's, just dumb. If the book was wrong about these assertions about the mormon faith, then I digress. All the mormons who criticize the book says he distorts the facts about mormonism. Fine, tell us which ones.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2013

    Eh, Not Bad, But. . .

    I had to read this book for school, and as of right now I'm about halfway through. Because it was assigned reading, there were times I nodded off reading or got distracted, but it wasn't the book's fault; I'm easily distracted xD it has taken me longer to read this book than others, perhaps due to annotations or grasping the concept, but it's still a decent read.

    Going through some other not-so-fabulous reviews here has driven me to address some things. . . First off, reading this book (which does go into great--and sometimes overbearing--detail in the formation and later history of Mormonism) is very educational. Take it from someone who has a good friend who is Mormon. He also read this book with us, and found it accurate and, if not helpful, enlightening.
    Second of all, reading a biased history of something will only increase your chances of not getting the whole truth. In my opinion, the "finding" of the tablets and their convenient disappearance seem ridiculous, but then again, all religions have major holes in their beliefs.
    My point is, this is a book about a murder, and to understand the reasons they murdered the mother and daughter, one must understand from where their reasons came.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2013

    Under the Banner of Heaven By Jon Krakauer

    4 Stars<

    Under the Banner of Heaven By Jon Krakauer<br />
    <br />
    4 Stars<br />
    <br />
    Let me preface this by saying that this is a difficult review for me. At first I said I wasn't going to review it at all. It's just such intense subject matter. But, if ever I wanted my reviews to have any worth, then there will be tough matter to tackle. That is why I read to be challenged and to have my thoughts, belief and very essense shaken and changed.<br />
    <br />
    This is my third novel by Krakauer and I have devoured them all. Into the Wild was sad, inspiring, intense and made me question myself. Into Thin Air, while not a subject I knew anything about made me appreciate it so much throughout.<br />
    <br />
    Under the Banner of Heaven was no different. I love history, particularly religious history. The Mormon faith was one that I hate to admit I knew next to nothing about. True to form Krakauer intensely researched the subject and passed that knowledge on to me, the reader. <br />
    <br />
    Do I believe this was a absolute as to the foundation of the faith and it's people. No, it's one perspective and I'd have to read much more to have enough knowledge to form an opinion. Which is what I have done with any other aspect of history and religion. I have read numerous accounts of European history and the Catholic faith, one that I do not prescribe to either. Depending on the book the events can vastly change for the same historical occurence.<br />
    <br />
    I have always prided myself on the power of knowledge and open-mindedness. This book challenged that and made me step back and assess myself while reading about practices that are not something I can understand or see how others can live by. But why do I feel that way? Is it any different then events I have read about before. Catholics killing Protestants, witches being burned and the overall power of religious belief and oftentimes fanatacism? Is the story of Jesus on the cross any less vial? No, they're not. The only difference is that these events occurred many hundreds of years ago whereas the Morman faith is relatively new in that respect. My mind can more easily disconnect with something so far in the past.<br />
    <br />
    In the end, I appreciate the Morman faith whether the LDS or funamentalists. I appreciate this book and what it has taught me about religion and humankind. I have a lot more to learn and will continue that. I appreciate Krakauer's devotion to human life and bringing such intensity to us. <br />
    <br />
    I also found it commendable that in the back of my addition he added as an appendix the response to the book from the LDS church. He conceded to falsehoods that were found within and responded in kind to other's he could not agree with. Right or wrong I appreciated that he was willing to do that as an author.<br />

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2013

    Under the Banner of Heaven begins with a gripping account of a m

    Under the Banner of Heaven begins with a gripping account of a modern-day murder by a group of zealots and expands into the tumultuous past of the Mormon Church. Krakauer’s reporting is as keen as his crisp writing and the book presents a fair analysis of Joseph Smith and the church that spawned from his teachings. He details everything from the birth of the religion, to its persecution and its misdeeds, all the way to its modern incarnation. Many of these facts may be difficult for the church’s members to digest, but Krakauer is neither malicious nor manipulative in his reporting. There are no cheap shots, only a complex story that mirrors the multifaceted history of this new American religion. And what a fascinating tale it is, from its charismatic founder to the sober and dogmatic leaders that came later. A must-read for anyone interested in Mormon history and American fundamentalism.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven Under the Banner of Hea

    Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven

    Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer is a fast-paced book that details the murder of a young woman and child by two fundamentalist Mormons, Dan and Ron Lafferty and how their faith affected their actions then and thereafter. The book also details the history of the church, breezing through the childhood of the founder and anachronisms within the books.

    Krakauer manages to place together neat tidbits of information, a reader-friendly syntax and personal stories to really create a fast-growing picture about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a.k.a. the FLDS. The portrayal of the FLDS as a group of bloodthirsty, callous killers (specifically in parts of the book with Native Americans involved) also gives a very visceral feel to the book. Although a more nonbiased observer might disagree, I found the portrayal quite cathartic.

    However, there are major organization problems inherent in the book. One of the most frustrating parts of the book was that it jumps back and forth between the murder in modern times and the history of the church. The murder detailed briefly in the prologue, then focuses on it in Part 2 through to Part 3, where the narrative is brought to a sudden halt and teleported over from the scene of the murder to the death of the founder of the church, Joseph Smith. This ruined a large part of the book for me because I simply could not track where the author would go next - great in a detective thriller; not so much in an informative book on such a controversial topic. On another topic, the usage of the term &lsquo;Indians&rsquo; to describe the Shivwit Native American group does the book no favors, even if it is a historically accurate portrayal of terms used at the time.

    Overall, however, the book was interesting to say the least and I enjoyed it despite its shortcomings. As with any book of its quality, I was pleased to chance upon it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2012

    fair-maybe borrow it from someone or "share" it from your Nook

    The information is interesting but he tends to wander around a lot in my opinion. It is a lot of information with LOTS of players so it is difficult to keep up with who is who and how they are all related. But-I did learn a lot about the Mormon religion.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2012

    Don't waste your time on this book

    Krakauer has only written this book to make a buck. The same reason he is now going to make it into a sensationalized movie.
    The reasearch he did is so flawed concerning the LDS church, leaves me to believe that what he puts forth as fact through- out the book concerning the FLDS is also only half truths and hearsay. The false history he states about Joseph Smith and his testimony of what happened to him is so blatant that I decided to stop reading it at page 93. If you want to read the true history of the LDS church, The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith go to the source; the preface of The Book of Mormon. Krakauer must have only read anti-mormon literature to present a comparison of the two churches. The LDS have nothing to do with the FLDS. Their only link being the original church before polygamy was abolished. To compare the two churches today is like comparing Christ and Satan. By their fruits ye shall know them.

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2011

    Wow

    This book was good on several levels. It gives a nice historical overview of the Mormon church while being for the most part fair to them. It delves into the disturbing areas of Mormon fundamentalism which most people don't even realize exist as well. I do have to warn the reader that the murders which the author uses to tie this book together with are incredibly disturbing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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