Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

 
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In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged. The Mormon Church was founded, in part, on the idea that true believers could speak directly with God. But while the mainstream church attempted to be more palatable to the general public by rejecting the controversial tenet of polygamy, fundamentalist splinter groups saw this as apostasy and took to the hills to live what they believed to be a righteous life. When their beliefs are challenged or their patriarchal, cult-like order defied, these still-active groups, according to Krakauer, are capable of fighting back with tremendous violence. While Krakauer's research into the history of the church is admirably extensive, the real power of the book comes from present-day information, notably jailhouse interviews with Dan Lafferty. Far from being the brooding maniac one might expect, Lafferty is chillingly coherent, still insisting that his motive was merely to obey God's command. Krakauer's accounts of the actual murders are graphic and disturbing, but such detail makes the brothers' claim of divine instruction all the more horrifying. In an age where Westerners have trouble comprehending what drives Islamic fundamentalists to kill, Jon Krakauer advises us to look within America's own borders. --John Moe

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders. At the core of his book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this “divinely inspired” crime, Krakauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, polygamy, 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.

Krakauer takes readers inside isolated communities in the American West, Canada, and Mexico, where some forty-thousand Mormon Fundamentalists believe the mainstream Mormon Church went unforgivably astray when it renounced polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the leaders of these outlaw sects are zealots who answer only to God. Marrying prodigiously and with virtual impunity (the leader of the largest fundamentalist church took seventy-five “plural wives,” several of whom were wed to him when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties), fundamentalist prophets exercise absolute control over the lives of their followers, and preach that any day now the world will be swept clean in a hurricane of fire, sparing only their most obedient adherents.

Weaving the story of the Lafferty brothers and their fanatical brethren with a clear-eyed look at Mormonism’s violent past, Krakauer examines the underbelly of the most successful homegrown faith in the United States, and finds a distinctly American brand of religious extremism. The result is vintage Krakauer, an utterly compelling work of nonfiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behavior.


From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Childish examination
    The first half of the book discusses the personal lives of a couple psychotic men who happened to be Fundamentalist Mormons, to prove that the LDS religion breeds molesters.

    If that is true, then we can easily conclude that the Catholic religion breeds pedophiles.

    The author grossly misrepresents the theology of Mormonism, claiming that Lehi, the ancient Hebrew, discovered that we must "EARN GOD'S LOVE" through obedience. Mormons do not believe such drivel.

    Through obedience, one pleases God and "earns" His approval, but not His acceptance and love.

    ...more info
  • Spot on, Krakauer.
    This is a story of extremism. Two Fundamentalist Mormons murder their sister-in-law and her two-year old child for her bad influence on their brother. Extreme, right? Yes. But the importance and genius of this book is how Krakauer connects extremism to its foundation - mainstream Mormonism. His reporting of the Mormon culture was spot on, in fact, so precise and accurate that many mainstream members resented the intrusion. He got it absolutely right and made the connection with extreme behavior undeniable. Well done, Krakauer....more info
  • Scary Treatise on Religion Run Amok
    We are a religious lot, us Americans, and like our country is founded on teh belief of acceptance. It's the great melting pot after all? Jon Krakauer's book, "Under the Banner of heaven," isn't so much a personal attack on Mormonism, that truly unique American-born religion, but instead does something even nobler--it reveals something about our modern times and in doing so I fear about ourselves.

    Where is the line drawn between a strong personal belief in a higher power and the willingness to suspend moral human decency in the name of religion? I suggest that line is drawn in a place where truly devout and decent people leave off and fundamentalism begins. And the fundamentalism that Krakauer paints for us to read about in "Under the Banner of Heaven," is one that is remarkably terrifying causing unspeakable violence like the murder of innocent children or say, the tearing down of skyscrapers in NYC. Scary.

    Krakauer does a candid and bold job in personally summing up, what I think, is the book's main thrust. He says, "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 ached 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." Amen Brotha Jon, a true believer. It seems people arrive at a deeper faith through questioning and doubt. That I believe is the hallmark of a healthy relationship with God.

    Polemics aside, Krakauer's choice of topics here, fundamentalism branches of the Latter Day Saints, dotted across Southern Idaho, Southern Utah, parts of Nevada to me, I find very intriguing. Though it took me awhile to come to this book after it was written, it wasn't for lack of interest. All of Krakauer's works I place in my top 50 books list, so now you know the way I roll. The books are that good. "Into Thin Air," I read in one night, "Eiger Dreams," read in rapt attention, and haven't gotten to "Into the Wild," yet but saw the movie. I previously thought of Krakauer as a top of shelf outdoors mountaineering writer. Boy, was I wrong.

    "Under the Banner of Heaven," proves that Krakauer is more interested in extreme personalities populating the globe who sometimes cross over the borders of societal norms to devastatingly disastrous ends. Each of his books have these same characters and each of them you can't hardly turn away from as you read the horror that unfolds.

    If you are of the LDS faith, a faith I admire and respect mind you, you might not want to read this book if you are a person easily offended. All the rest of you Americans (and non-Americans for that matter), I'd say a case should be made for Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven," to be required reading for these times...a time when a certain mass of people have crossed over the thin thin line to religious extremism; religious extremism that has us killing one another in the name of God.

    In the global war on terrorism, we look in the face of the enemy and I fear we may be peering into a mirror more than we care to admit. Read this book, maybe you'll have some of the same thoughts. Maybe you won't --mmw...more info
  • Exeeded my expectations

    Before I read this book I had a number of friends tell me about it. Some loved it, some hated it, but they all agreed that it was a very negative portrayal of Mormons as a people and a religion.

    Even with that knowledge going in I was very disappointed in this book.

    After reading it I did a little research and found that almost all of Krakauer's cited sources are either ex-Mormons or members of polygamist sects. In other words: Not Mormons. How do you tell a people's history using only ex-members and fanatical splinter groups?
    Would I go to a Ford dealer to get an objective opinion on buying a Toyota truck?
    Would I get a fair depiction of Catholic history from a Protestant minister?
    Not likely.
    If you removed all the inaccuracies from this book you might have an interesting pamphlet about two brothers who commit a horrible, tragic murder.
    The more I read the more I was led to one of two conclusions...
    Either Krakauer's research was incredibly shoddy and one sided, Or he has revised and twisted information to support his own thin thesis as stated in the preface: "Any attempt to answer such questions [here he refers to why these two brothers would commit such a crime without remorse] must plumb those murky sectors of the heart and head that prompt most of us to believe in God-and compel an impassioned few, predictably, to carry that irrational belief to it's logical end."
    So according to John, any belief in God is irrational and the logical conclusion of such a belief will lead to murder... ? Really guy?

    The most truly objective history of Joseph Smith and the Mormons that I have read is Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. If you want a more accurate portrayal of that church's history or it's founder, read that book. This one is yellow journalism at best.
    ...more info
  • Scary and enlightening
    this book is applicable to all religions. It asks the disturbing question -- why do people kill other people for the benefit of their religion? the book also contains interesting history about the american southwest --- learn about the other american tragedy that occured on sept 11, but about 150 years ago....more info
  • Meticulously researched and well presented
    There are far better and longer reviews than mine posted here, so I hesitated to even attempt one. However, I've traveled to many of the places described in Jon's book, including Separation Canyon (within the Grand Canyon) and Colorado City, long before the Fundamentalist LDS Church became one of the latest media targets.

    Jon's book is very well researched, with first-person accounts, interviews, old letters and many other sources neatly pulled together. He had no intention of this book "bashing" the Mormon church, but the story he tells reveals much about the church, both good and bad.

    Jon has a habit of telling stories that need to be told. Here he does his usual good job of doing just that- giving the 21st-century reader a clearer understanding about why Joseph Smith and his followers were hated, why America went to war against the Mormon church and why that same church today continues to be at odds with the rest of America and the world.

    The book provided me with many "aha" moments- from the fate of John Wesley Powell's three men who left the expedition and who were "murdered" by Indians while in Mormon country to the reality of Elizabeth Smart's abduction and restoration....more info
  • Homicide amidst the honeybees
    Although the subtitle of Under the Banner of Heaven is "a story of violent faith," there is a lot more to it than that. Krakauer, author of one of my favorite adventure books, Into Thin Air, delves deep into the history of the Mormon Church, from its humble beginnings, to what it is today: one of the world's fastest growing religions. About his original plans for the book, Krakauer writes (p 337) "As initially conceived, it was going to focus on the uneasy, highly charged relationship between the LDS Church and its past." The resulting work contains a lot of fascinating information about the church; (p 69) an angel named Moroni handed off some gold plates to founder Joseph Smith, who (conveniently) returned them after translating them into what would become The Book of Mormon; the founder himself, who married (p 6) three to four dozen women in spite of his first wife's aversion to the practice; his successor, Brigham Young, (p 205) who had 20 to 57 wives; the murder, execution style, of 120 members of the Fancher party; the deceitful treatment of Native Americans by the early Mormon settlers; and much more. Both religions (p 5) "believe in the same holy texts and the same sacred history." The story of the murders, though grisly and tragic, and the murderers, who did away with their innocent victims supposedly based on a commandment from God, fill up more space than the historic parts, but in my mind are more of an accessory to the historic facts, from infancy to the present, about the Mormon church, both LDS, and FLDS, which by the way (p 5) "amounts to less than 1 percent of the membership in the LDS Church worldwide." The book definitely has its negatives, including trial testimony that seemed to go on forever and the overwhelmingly anti-FLDS (and LDS) tone. But as they say, you reap what you sow. The fundamentalists are still practicing one of the religion's original tenets: celestial marriage, plural marriage, spiritual wifery, polygamy-call it what you want-live and let live seems like a good policy-but not when it involves, to any extent, the forced marriage of underage girls. Under the Banner of Heaven is an anti-FLDS-toned, highly informative history of the Mormon religion, primarily concerned with the murder of a woman and her daughter by male relatives. The Anchor Books Edition has an interesting appendix containing an official response to the original edition by a church leader and Krakauer's rebuttal. Also good: Silence by Shusaku Endo, The Greatest Story Even Told by Fulton Oursler, and god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. ...more info
  • Good Fanaticism Warning
    This story is one of the best warnings of the dangers of fanaticism I've read. Religion can be helpful, but it can also take people in the wrong direction. Prophets hold great power those who choose to follow them, as the painful lesson of September 11th shows. Krakauer's book is not a criticism of Mormons or religion, it's a criticism of fanaticism. The desire to be right is at the root of fanaticism and is a pervasive problem in our modern world. The best lesson we can learn from Under the Banner of Heaven is how our need to be right can destroy our relationship with others as well as kill. This book give us an opportunity to to examine the daners of fanaticism right here in the USA, and in our own lives. ...more info
  • Religious Extremism Examined
    As a fan of Krakauer (read the excellent "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air"), I was interested in his bringing his reporter's style and thorough analysis to this topic. Those that criticise the book as "anti-Mormon" do not get the point - it is an analysis of religious extremism in any form. He uses Mormonism as the protagonist to tell the story. The book could easily be about Islam, Catholicism, or another major religion. Mr. Krakauer goes into detail about aspects of mainstream Mormon history that the LDS church would rather he not get into such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, for example. As a non-Mormon, I was not put off by his book, and found his thourough and thoughtful forays into the history of the LDS church to be fascinating. I had never read an account of Joseph Smith, the founding of the church, the persecutions they suffered and the migration to the Salt Lake Valley from any other source, including from any member of the LDS church.

    Mr. Krakauer's point is that you cannot tie fundamentalism any more to mainline Mormonism than you can to mainline Islam. But, they are related in their origins, and he describes portions of LDS history which demonstrate that the religion was born out of violence, both directed towards the church and in some cases, perpetrated by it.

    The examples of a small minority of those involved in the strict fundamentalism of the Mormon faith are not representative of the LDS church as a whole. The official reaction from the LDS church I felt was unfortunate. Instead of attacking and discrediting Mr. Krakauer, I rather think they missed a great opportuntiy to communicate the stark differences between the LDS church's substansive role in modern American life vs those fundamentalists that have twisted the teachings of the church to serve their own cause.

    At times, Mr. Krakauer examines the Mountain Meadows Massacre as well as the deaths of three of explorer Powell's men a bit too closely, which gave me the impression he was "piling on" a bit in making his point. In the case of Powell's men, he goes into great detail of the circumstance of their deaths, but merely repeats scholarship that has already been written. Perhaps the detail of these accounts cannot be found in many other places.

    As he points out, however, these are parts of Mormon history that the church should address rather than trying to shove, along with Mr. Krakauer, under the rug....more info
  • An Exciting but Ultimately Disappointing Read
    This book was thrilling and engrossing to read, but at the same time I didn't like it.

    Let me explain. It was a fascinating book, but there's a strong undercurrent of condescension in Krakauer's tone -- there are little asides that imply (or state right out) that religious people are just plain crazy, and that this (the murders that are the focal point of the book) was just the natural course that religion -- all religion -- takes.

    He's an outsider, yes, and that fact alone doesn't mean he can't write about the FLDS, but he scrutinizes his subjects in a way he fails to scrutinize himself, and in sensationalizing the FLDS he treats them as not quite human. It's like he's an old-school British explorer venturing into the quaint little village of some savage tribe.

    It's not that I don't have problems myself with the FLDS, but Krakauer can't seem to separate the people he writes about -- several of whom are deeply disturbed -- from the concept of religious faith.

    Ultimately, it's an interesting and indulgent read, but just remember to take Krakauer's slant and commentary with a grain of salt. ...more info
  • Excellent book, difficult subject matter
    I'm not a fan of crime literature and I wasn't excited about reading this book. I'd devoured everything else of Krakauer's since "Into Thin Air" and his writing does not disappoint here, even when the going gets thick and rough and you almost need a program to figure out which Mormon is murdering whom on direct orders from God.

    I'd never given Mormonism much thought, they seem like nice people, but I'd never heard of "fundamental" Mormonism, which was just about as creepy as anything I'd ever read about any other group or religion or cult. The idea of "celestial marriage" seems like a loony idea dreamt up by a horny old goat, it's laughable, yet it exists.

    It's a fascinating history overall, and it is a Jon Krakauer book, so it's worth reading, but it is work to read about a couple of lunatics who conveniently receive instruction from God to murder an "uppity wife" of one of their own flesh-and-blood brothers. Certainly religious mania is stretched to transparency when a God-ordered killing plainly serves one's own interests.

    Absent is the sense of a doomed but inspired hero as in "Into Thin Air" and "Into The Wild" -- the perpetrators deserve no sympathy and some sections of the book detail such heinous crimes that I wanted to put it down and go bathe in live steam to try and erase what I'd read. It's not an easy read and I'm glad I'm done with it.

    Fascinating history, however. Worth reading....more info
  • A Well-Researched, Exciting Read
    John Krakauer has written a well-researched, narratively compelling account of the history of the Mormon church, and its influence on the modern-day Mormon Fundamentalists. The focus of the book is on the Fundamentalists, not the mainstream church.

    Contrary to what other Amazon reviewers here have tried to suggest, Krakauer's book relies on a wide range of highly credible sources--both previous histories and primary source material. True, he does use sources that have over the years been venomously denounced by the Mormon church--such as Fawn Brodie's famous biography of Joseph Smith, and D. Michael Quinn's (who was excommunicated for publishing unsanitized critiques of the church) work--but he also uses Mormon sources as well.

    I don't see how any reasonable person can in good conscience give this a one-star review. It simply is not a one-star book. It is well-written, with a compelling and credibly argued thesis. I suspect the one-star tirades are mostly written by Mormons unhappy with what this book brings to light about the church's past, and the peculiar practices and predilections of its prophets, especially Joseph Smith (whose revelation regarding the holiness of polygamy seems to have been preceded by adulterous affairs with multiple females, including at least one young teenage girl). Krakauer is, after all, a widely-read author, and not one of the bible-thumping anti-Mormon whackjobs who publish crazy tracts against the church. This information will reach lots of people.

    When the book came out, Mormons were outraged, and the church issued an official refutation of the book, written by Robert Turley. In the paperback edition of this book, Krakauer includes Turley's 5-page argument, and responds to it. Elder Turley points out some minor factual errors (which Krakauer readily admits and corrects) that are not germane to the book's central argument, and uses them to try to undermine the credibility of the author--unsuccessfully. Most of the most damning evidence Turley just ignores.

    Krakauer responds to Turley's accusations carefully, revealing Turley's own less-than-complete (and less-than-honest) appraisal of source material, and documenting the Mormon church's long history of suppressing unsavory details about its past. (For instance, the church still denies any involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre--although through some strange logic it admits that Mormons were culpable.)

    Mormon readers seem to take particular offense at the book's attention to the massacre, and to its exploring the likelihood of Brigham Young's complicity. The evidence against Young is circumstantial, but there is evidence against him. At the very least, he deliberately incited hatred against "Gentiles" in the months leading up to the massacre that contributed to the blood lust of the killers. Turley doesn't address this at all. Nor does he mention the church's (now-renounced) tenet of Blood Atonement, the belief that some offenses against the church were so great they could not be forgiven without the sinner's blood being spilled--and there were those in the church happy to spill that blood.

    Krakauer's book details all this and more. There is not much new history here, although he did do much of his own research. Krakauer doesn't whitewash the church, but in reading this book you can see that he admires the early Mormons--regardless of their faults--and sympathizes with them. He details the prolonged and brutal persecution they endured before moving to Utah....more info
  • Absolutely terrifying!
    This book is Jon Krakauer's nonfiction account of the difficulty the justice system has ensuring freedom of religion while dealing with lawbreakers who were, in their words, following God's commands to them. A cornerstone of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints is that God reveals His will personally to His followers. Men only. The book is very complicated to follow moving through the history of the church to the present day and through the stories of many crimes committed in the name of God. I was reading this book and finding it amazing and terrifying just when the Texas FLDS polygamy case began. It gave me insight I never would have had. I had never recognized the vast gulf between the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. The power of the elders in FLDS groups is complete. Their ability to ignore laws and get away with it is outrageous. Their growing numbers, growing power, and growing violence is more than scarey. ...more info
  • A
    Asserting that America's "homegrown religion" is one steeped in and ultimately defined by persecution and violence, Krakauer's extensively researched book about Mormon fundamentalism is an informative look at an aspect of life that people are not always willing to see. Centering around a double murder in 1984, Krakauer deftly blends the beginnings of Mormonism, and the eventual splitting of the religion into Mainstream Mormonism and FLDS (the fundamentalist sect) with character portraits of those affected by the faith. The threads all merge into an outstanding picture that is not even close to boring - the entire narrative is endlessly interesting, and no one chapter brings down the whole. Each compliments the other and the flow is brilliant. Some may be bothered by the noticeable slant the author takes, but otherwise the tome that winningly combines the thriller with the non-fiction genres raises essential ethical and moral questions that every person should at least ponder - even if they themselves cannot answer them....more info
  • One-sided but interesting...
    I read this book when I was still a member of the LDS Church and although it did not make me leave this religion, it made me question what I believed. Now that I have a more neutral viewpoint, I feel that this book is very interesting from a historical/true-crime perspective, but it does not really give both sides of the story. I don't think Krakauer intended to smear the LDS Church with this book, but he kind of did anyway. This of course angered many of the Mormons around me, but a little criticism isn't bad so I think Mormons should just take this in stride and get over it. However, in the future, Krakauer should investigate multiple sides for the stories he writes to ensure more accuracy....more info
  • Compelling
    While not as enjoyable as Krakauer's other works, UTBOH is a compelling read. Insightful, giving the outsider a view of the FLDS church that is seldom seen and even less understood. Some of the passages are disturbing and violent. The book sometimes has a feel of anti-religious propaganda, but give credit to Krakauer for being someone who attempts to deliver the facts as best he can. I am sure this was a very difficult book to research due to the "closed" nature of the society he was investigating. Great read for those interested in the topic. The casual reader, however, will be lost in the confusing morass that is the FLDS church....more info
  • Fascinating expose of the reality of religious fringe-dwellers
    As one who is infatuated with the so-called religious extreme, ie, cults, isolated religious groups and off-shoots of the larger world religions, this book was an eye-opener.

    I've been a fan of every one of Krakauer's books, but this one was my favorite to date. He deftly weaves together the story of the murders with a streamlined history of the Mormon faith and how the FLDS emerged from it.

    His work, and particularly "Under the Banner," is what compelling nonfiction is all about....more info
  • Religion Gone Too Far
    Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

    I read this book in shock and awe BEFORE the news of the raid on the YFZ ranch in Texas. At times it was tough reading because I found myself being heartsick and angry that such atrocities are condoned in the United States today.

    Jon Krakauer has turned from extreme adventure to extreme religion in this inside look at a fundamentalist Mormon cult, now about 40,000 strong and worth hundreds of millions of dollars, operating in Canada, Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Texas.

    While he details the lives of many of it's members and their practice of middle-aged men marrying multiple, often underage girls, to produce as many children as possible, the main focus of this story is the 1984 slaying of a mother/wife and her daughter. Brothers Dan and Ron Lafferty claiming direct orders from God, brutally murdered their brother Allen's wife and infant daughter.

    Jailhouse interviews with Dan Lafferty are chillingly horrific when one is told by a seemingly coherent man that he had direct inspiration from God and he believes he was justified in perpetrating the murders.

    Krakauer gives a history of Mormonism, the decision to renounce polygamy to gain statehood and the splitting off by various fundamentalist sects that felt this move amounted to apostasy. Is is also a history of denial - of mainstream Mormonism's denial to acknowledge the damage done to young women forced into marriage to men old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers, of this country's denial to believe that a cult as dangerous as the Taliban exists right here on American soil and their brushing aside the fact that in Arizona and Utah, hundreds of women and children, the offspring of these non-legal "spiritual marriages", are supported at the taxpayers' expense.

    Read this book and be prepared to be outraged.
    ...more info
  • fascinating story, which raises lots of questions

    i've read a couple of krakauer's books (into thin air, into the wild), and have mostly loved them. i say "mostly", because, while i think he's a great writer and storyteller, and meticulous in his research, there's occasionally a hint of arrogance or smugness that i don't find appealing. that said, i found under the banner of heaven to be exceptionally fascinating.

    if you're not familiar with krakauer's work, his books all have the same general approach: he tells a particular story, but places it within the context of its larger setting. in this case, the particular story is of a double murder, carried out by two fundamentalist mormon brothers (of their sister-in-law and her daughter) based on an alleged prophetic message from god. but the larger context is a thorough history of mainstream mormonism, and a much more detailed history and current-day description of the various fundamentalist mormon sects that have split off from the main lds faith.

    of course, this book was published before the news-swirl earlier this year of the raid on a polygamous fundie compound in texas, and all the fall-out from that; but those characters play into this book (specifically, warren jeffs, the de facto leader of the particular splinter group that raided compound rolled up to). i learned a lot about mormonism, and even more about fundamentalist mormons (who, i have to add, krakauer treats with as much empathy and fairness as is possible).

    all that said: what was really intriguing to me were the broader questions the book occasionally asks, but were regularly percolating in my mind, about religion. questions about civil disobedience, and how to respond when one's faith and government are at odds with each other. questions about hearing the voice of god. questions about authoritarian structures and communal discernment. even questions about marriage, fidelity, and intimacy. at one point, i jokingly said to my wife, "hey, maybe we should consider polygamy." she was at a particularly weary moment, and quickly responded, "could the other wife do all the cooking and cleaning?"

    at the bottom line, under the banner of heaven bubbles up the danger of any one person saying he or she is speaking for god....more info
  • Gripping story while you're getting a history lesson
    I have read a lot of books on Mormonism that this is one of the best. That's because the author choose to wrap the story of Mormonism around some of it's best known and most gripping triumphs, tragedies, atrocities, and scandals.

    I listened to the Audiobook and, frankly, I could hardly wait to drive to work so I could get through just another chapter. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

    Other Audio Books on Mormonism that I have enjoyed include:

    Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

    Secret Ceremonies

    Other books on Mormonism that I recommend include:

    Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

    An Insider's View of Mormon Origins

    In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith

    Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon?: The Spalding Enigma

    The Pattern of The Double-Bind in Mormonism

    No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith

    The Mountain Meadows Massacre

    Mormonism, Mama & Me...more info
  • Parsing Mormon/American faith
    Perhaps the only thing stranger than what Mormons believe is how little Americans understand what Mormons believe.

    Much to the chagrin of this uniquely-American sect, Mormons only bubble to the surface of public consciousness when they're doing something weird: killing people, having sex with little kids, threatening to secede from the Union, etc.

    Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (Doubleday, 2003) could be fairly criticized as contributing to such a skewed perception of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Krakauer starts off with the 1984 murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by two Mormon fundamentalists who claimed to have received a revelation from Heavenly Father to kill their brother's wife and infant daughter.

    Krakauer then jumps back to the history of the Church's charismatic prophet, Joseph Smith, and intersperses a more-or-less chronological Mormon history in and around the case histories of individual Mormon nutballs.

    The Church's reaction was swift and predictable. As soon as the book hit the streets, the LDS Office of Media Relations (who usually maintain a policy of silence in response to non-Mormon scholarship or pop culture references to Mormonism) issued an immediate press release denouncing Krakauer as "no historian...a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good."

    Which might be understandable (no group likes to be associated with its members who go off the rails), except the Church's denunciation - often followed by brisk excommunication - of even its own historians and intellectuals is doing far more to keep Mormons in the kook fringe than the rich history of the Saints themselves. This doth-protest-too-much secrecy is bound to appear to outsiders like insularity, rigidity, and fundamentalism.

    Krakauer's admiration for LDS culture and its influence on American history is evident to anyone who doesn't approach the book defensively from the start and he adequately justifies the need to understand high-profile anomalies like the Laffertys through the lens of Mormon history. The Church's insistence upon mainstream ignorance of everything from their formation to their temple rituals has been backfiring on the Saints since 1830.

    More importantly, Under the Banner of Heaven is far more interesting when considered in reverse of the way it's usually interpreted: as a vehicle for understanding America through the Mormons rather than examining the Mormons under the microscope of their own highly readable narrative.

    Americans already fetishize religion only in terms of the devout - whether the devoutly mainstream or the devoutly fundamentalist. This may be somewhat more true of Mormons. The Church itself extends the mantle of Mormondom solely to its mainstream devotees, the late LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley once declaring, "There are actually no Mormon fundamentalists."

    But if Krakauer is guilty of overemphasis on Mormonism's craziest adherents, it only reflects the degree to which Americans already minimize or ignore the many shades of grey that exist among the culturally religious or among non-practicing believers. We Yanks so admire the doctrinaire purity of belief that it's perhaps surprising we don't have more practitioners of "violent faith" well beyond the mountain-ringed Zion of Salt Lake City. (Incidentally, according to federal crime statistics, Utah is on the lower end of violent crime rates per capita, though they have an unusually high rate of stolen vehicles. But "Under the Banner of Car Theft" wouldn't be nearly as interesting.)

    The tension in Mormonism between obedience and anarchy (begun when Smith encouraged his followers to receive their own revelations from Heavenly Father, only to find that such a policy usurped his own authority) Krakauer identifies as the source of a constant fundamentalist undertow that tugs at mainstream Mormons. But that same tension exists throughout American culture and trying to determine which preceded the other may be a chicken-egg question.

    Mormon culture values obedience to authority while Mormon theology is a freewheeling blend of revelation and "faith-promoting" folklore - a combination Krakauer suggests leaves disillusioned Saints with little option but to abandon the official Church and seek their own revelations for restoring Smith's original vision, sometimes with dangerously blood-soaked results.

    However, this same cycle of conformity and rebellion reveals itself throughout American history, as the Union swerves between seeking a unifying culture and staunchly - sometimes neurotically - maintaining the right of its individual citizens to do more or less whatever they please, seeking to live their lives free of federal intrusion, even if doing so involves living outside the law whose supremacy is embodied in the Constitution itself.

    For those disinclined to regard Joseph Smith as an emissary of God, he fits right in with America's long history of traveling charlatans and charismatic hucksters, convincing hundreds of the earliest Mormons that he had discovered a set of golden plates on New York's Hill Cumorah - which he alone could translate, which he alone had ever seen, and which could not be reproduced when his assistant, Martin Harris, lost 116 pages of the original manuscript.

    (It's widely believed, though unconfirmed, that Harris' wife hid the missing pages in frustration over her husband's obsession with Smith and his visions. Lucy Harris eventually left him when Martin sold their farm and gave Smith every penny they had to print the first translations.)

    The golden plates became The Book of Mormon, the bedrock of LDS scripture. Criticized for its shoddy attempt at archaic language (the phrase "and it came to pass" is repeated over 2,000 times), its story is extraordinarily complex and purports to be a history of Jesus and the Israelites in North America.

    To non-Mormons, the story is startling for its unapologetic racism. Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, Lehi left Jerusalem for the Americas. His two sons, Nephi and Laman, split the Hebrew tribe into two warring factions and the Lamanites were cursed by God with dark skin as punishment for their disobedience.

    After his resurrection, Jesus visited North America to share the gospel with these tribes, uniting them for 400 years, until the Lamanites rebelled and slaughtered all the Nephites (except Mormon, whose son, Moroni, returned to tell Smith of the existence of the golden plates).

    The Lamanites, now the dark-skinned American Indians, forgot their Jewish heritage and this, according to Mormonism, is why European settlers found no white people when they arrived in the New World a thousand years later.

    To non-Mormons, this story is not only viciously racist (until the 1970s, it was used to prohibit all but white men from holding the Mormon priesthood), but clearly insane - referring to inventions that didn't yet exist at the time these events supposedly transpired and DNA research has conclusively dismissed that American Indians are descendants of the Jews.

    But setting aside that all scripture is a matter of faith by definition (nothing in The Book of Mormon is any crazier than talking snakes, virgin births, or ritualistic bathing before 5-times daily prayers facing Mecca), Krakauer's history forces an anthropological question that he never quite addresses head-on.

    To be fair, it's outside the scope of his project in Banner, but all religions could be fairly described as merely giving a divine stamp of approval on the battles between ethic tribes over the course of world history. Mormonism only seems uniquely racist because the tribes in question (European settlers versus the indigenous people of North America) are still races we recognize and whose tensions are still felt in contemporary society.

    Whatever animosity may exist among them now, the battles that originally shaped Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are lost to the mists of ancient history. Mormonism is no more racist than any of these; it suffers this reputation simply for being modern enough that the effects of its early history are still visible in America today.

    The point here isn't that Mormons aren't kooks; it's that they're no kookier than the deepest elements of American culture itself. The apocalyptic streak of LDS theology perfectly mirrors our historical flirtation with scientism, our spasms of religious revival (from which Mormonism itself was born), and our current fascination with the disaster scenarios of Y2K or global warming.

    Mormon obedience to authority is a microcosm of our security in conformity; their fierce protection of freedom from government intrusion little different than the "Wild West" mentality that has shaped American identity since before the Declaration of Independence.

    Mormon "revelations" are nothing more than the logical extension of Protestantism's democratic ideals of removing intermediaries between God and man; Smith's Doctrines and Covenants are Luther's 99 Theses for a new era. Their love of gurus, reflected in the anticipation of "the one mighty and strong," is simply a more earnest incarnation of America's love of PT Barnum, traveling faith healers, and The Power of Positive Thinking.

    The book's title isn't misleading, only perhaps incomplete. The "banner of heaven" is the star-spangled banner itself and the "story of violent faith" is the story of our own national history. For, in America, as in Mormonism, if we act upon what we say we truly believe, anything is possible - from the Revolutionary War to the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty in the name of God.



    From "All About Mormons," South Park, Episode 7.12 (which, despite its clearly satirical spin and some relatively minor inaccuracies, contains a remarkably good summary of Smith's story, when Gary - a preternaturally friendly and talented Mormon boy - moves to South Park and is regarded as a freak by the local townspeople):

    Gary: Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense. And maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up. But I have a great life and a great family and I have The Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up. Because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice, and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls....more info
  • I Had No Idea!
    I bought this book on the premise of it being a true crime novel. Boy was I surprised! I knew very little about the Mormon church, but Jon Krakauer lays out the entire history of the LDS and the FLDS in an easy to read, but hard to put down way that only he can do.

    Five stars and highly recommended!...more info
  • Interesting topic, too many details
    I wanted to love this book, but I wound up just liking it. Krakauer is a great writer, the topic was impeccably researched, and the subject is fascinating. But, I feel like for the non-historian reader, many of the details could have been left out. There are hundreds of names, places, and small events that don't add much to the story other than increased difficulty.

    Another small complaint is about the footnotes. This is just a personal preference, but I find frequent large footnotes to be distracting. I feel obligated to read them, but that breaks up the continuity of the main text. I much prefer when writers incorporate the info into the main text or just put the notes at the end of the book.

    That said, anyone interested in a more detailed view of the history of Mormonism will be satisfied by this exposition. There are some shocking tidbits about the origins of Mormonism as well as some profound tie-ins with religion in general....more info
  • Very timely, given TX events
    Although I am only 30 pages into this book, which takes place primarily in Arizona, the details of previous raids on FLDS compounds are shockingly similar to what is currently happening in Eldorado, TX--including how the press is presenting this group as being persecuted for their religion when in fact, the FDLS is guilty of heinous crimes against its female members, who are little more than breeding stock. What FLDS members present to the networks and media may not be at all what goes on behind those locked and closed doors. Read this book....more info
  • Mind-Boggling Historical Account
    This book is a must read for anyone interested in reading a non-biased historical account of the Latter Day Saints. The parallel of events which occurred in the development of Mormanism as compared to the development of Islam are of a striking similarity.

    Jon Krakauer is truly an amazing author and story teller.

    ...more info
  • Good, but beware the political and anti-religious agenda
    Full disclosure up front: I'm a conservative Christian. Krakauer, on the other hand, does not disclose that he's an agnostic until the very end of the book. It seems likely that he is a liberal as well, but he does not disclose that at all.

    Conservative Christians have reason to be upset with some of Krakauer's narrative. In an early section where he's describing Mormons, he points out that the overwhelming majority are "obviously" Republican, and he continues mentioning it throughout the book. This is analogous to writing a book about African Americans living on welfare in Baltimore's crack houses and noting that they are "obviously" mostly Democrats. Both statements are "obviously" true, but Krakauer's use of this non sequitur reveals something about his agenda. Dr. Bruce Ivins, the anthrax killer, was a registered Democrat, but does that really help explain the mindset that motivated him to mail those poisoned letters?

    Krakauer also repeatedly makes the point that belief in God is irrational. On this I would strenuously disagree, as would the likes of respected physicist Dr. John Polkinghorne and DNA scientist Dr. Francis Collins. Unlike Krakauer, whose degree is in environmental studies from a liberal arts college, I have a very extensive education and background in science and engineering. I find it difficult to believe that the vast complexity of the universe (see "anthropic fine-tuning"), and the complexity of life itself, could happen by random chance, fighting the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) the entire way. For many other engineers and scientists I know, believing in a creator seems statistically more likely than believing in the arguments supporting creation through random events. In fact, a recent study showed that two-thirds of scientists believe in God and seventy six percent of doctors believe in God.

    Krakauer rightfully points out that all religions have spilled blood. What he doesn't point out is that some religions, historically, have spilled much more than others. He also fails to point out that, in the past century, fervent belief in non-religious ideologies has led to the killing of far more people. (See Fascism/Nazism with its ties to Darwinism/Eugenics, as well as Communism.)

    Near the end of the book, Krakauer takes a moment to connect the Christian beliefs of George W. Bush and John Ashcroft to the insanity defense. I see no reason to do this other than to score a cheap political point. He could have just as easily drawn the parallel with any famous scientist who believes in God, or even a well-respected evangelist such as Billy Graham.

    With all of these caveats, I would still highly recommend the book. Conservative Christians are accustomed to being bashed by the news and entertainment industries anyway - far worse than what Krakauer deals out.

    This is the fourth book I've read by Krakauer. Like the others, it was well-researched and fascinating. It should be a cautionary tale for anyone who dives too deeply into any belief, religious or otherwise, without maintaining a critical eye....more info
  • There but for" the Grace of God "(?) go you and I
    I loved this book. Krakauer (as Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster) manages to give an even-handed account of a quintessentially controversial topic. This book delivers a detailed but never boring, account of Mormon history, and its relevance to today's America and world. It's the story of the Mormon Church in America, and its division into mainstream and fundamentalist strains. In this story, he provides a rich context through which we can appreciate how it is possible for a religion to be a force for both "good" and "evil". Krakauer gives due credit to the sources of Mormons' amazing and praiseworthy industriousness and indeed countless works of true charity, alongside a formidably well-documented account of Mormonism's power to subvert the minds of Americans who in the end, possess the very same humanity and capacity for "good and evil", and the same freedoms (to leave their faith or remain as reformers within it) as you and me. It shows how young women can find themselves vehement defenders, or vocal critics, either mothers of five by age 28, (with neglected health, and on welfare, living in remote backwater compounds, and married to male elders who convince themselves they have a direct line to God in serial dream "revelations" to add more and more wives), or apostates.
    As others write, this book has salience to any students of fundamentalism, in its protean incarnations (e.g. that of the Islamic fascism of Wahabi Muslim jihadists), and students of how racism can be legitimized and rationalized by theological decree(by examining Mormon dogma that elevates Anti Semitism, labels African-Americans as inferior humans, and hypocritically legitimizes self-serving violence against Native Americans--in spite of Joseph Smith's proclamation that American Indians are favored by God).
    For me, Krakauer's key achivement is his recounting of HOW EXACTLY, a dogmatic faith works its way into minds of men psychologically, by showing how one's position in the pecking order can blend with his internalization of peer-pressure, sermons, threats, incentives, and disincentives, to render him either beholden to, or transcending, the subversive in his culture. He does this by showing how a believer can apply (or not) his faith's more elevating and virtuous values, and interweave these with an embrace of the best in the broader, shared American culture beyond, to reach a place of personal "goodness" and integrity.
    ...more info
  • Frightening and Interesting
    First, I could not put the book down, the story is provocative and the author is a gripping storyteller.

    Today's Mormon church does a lot of good but it is interesting that a modern day religion can grow out of such a sorted and wierd history. Last time I was in Southern Utah I was at a grocery store and a group of women came in dressed in pioneer dresses, the young ones never looked up or made any eye contact with others but sheepishly hung their heads low. I had just finished Under the Banner of Heaven and my first instinct was to reach out to these women especially the young ones. Jon raises many questions about the Mormon religion. He is a great reseacher and fabulous writer. He gives interesting insight about this relatively new religion and the role it played in the history of the wild west. The fact that Mormon fundamentalist still thrive in this country today is frightening. The fact that today's Mormon church continues to discount their history of violence, strange origins, and past sinful actions toward women is interesting....more info
  • morbid and fascinating
    I love Jon Krakauer's mountaineering writing; this was different but no less fascinating. Highly recommended if you can stomach both the violence and the religious weirdness....more info
  • The perils of extreme faith
    Recently, the Mormon faith has been spotlighted a bit in the media, the result of the ill-fated presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Romney's run for high office was derailed for a number of reasons and certainly his faith didn't help. Mormonism is the most popular faith that is native to the United States, but it is regarded with suspicion, particularly by Christians. Despite being reasonably objective - and often praising the Mormon faith - Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven is not likely to win many converts to the Church of Latter Day Saints.

    Superficially, this is a true crime book, focusing on the brutal murders of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter Erica at the hands of her brothers-in-law Ron and Dan. Followers of a fundamentalist branch of Mormonism, Ron and Dan felt they were on a mission from God when they killed the pair: Brenda had the gall to speak out against their beliefs in polygamy, the complete subjugation of their wives and daughters and their tolerance of domestic violence.

    To understand the behavior of Ron and Dan Lafferty, Krakauer gives a history of Mormonism that understandably is not one the modern Mormon church likes. Joseph Smith - the religion's founder - is portrayed as a con man who seemed mostly interested in polygamy to justify his roving eye (and despite his many wives, he'd still patronize prostitutes). Brigham Young, Smith's successor, comes off even worse with his implicit involvement in the Mountain Meadow Massacre which resulted in the murders of over 120 people.

    Despite his flaws, Smith was also brilliant and charismatic, and with his death, the Mormons would break into schisms (like in many dictatorships or oligarchies - which is how the faith is structured - chaos and civil wars can result when a leader dies). Although the bulk of the Mormons would follow Young, others wouldn't and other splits would occur at decisive times such as when the Mormons ended polygamy. The result would be deeply fundamentalist sects that would dwell in isolated communities and indulge in not only polygamy but the forcible marriage of girls in their early teens. Indeed, most of the women in this book seem to be victims, cowed into multiple marriages because they never have any alternatives (no real education and raised in a closed environment which allowed no non-Mormon media); on the other hand, the few heroes in this book are also all women, though some, like Brenda, would be killed or hurt for their resistance (even Brenda's husband, Allen, comes off as bad, both abusive and unwilling to warn his wife she could be a target for murder).

    Though Krakauer makes a distinction between mainstream Mormons and the fundamentalists, even the mainstream comes off somewhat unfavorably. The book, however, is not really anti-Mormon; instead, it is anti-religious extremism. Although the Latter Day Saints are the center of this book, the extreme behavior can be found in other faiths: although Islam seems to get the most press (because of 9/11 in particular), Christianity and other faiths also bear the onus of their most fanatical members.

    For those familiar with the HBO show Big Love, much of what is in Under the Banner of Heaven will seem recognizable, though the book makes the TV show seem tame in comparison. Krakauer's book is disturbing and highly informative; more importantly, it is an engrossing page-turner. To understand the dangers of religious extremism - and no matter the faith, it is always bad news - this is a must-read.
    ...more info
  • Absolutely brutal, but very informative.
    This book really struck home for me. The story of the Lafferty family is one that reminds me greatly of how religion can completely blind somebody from logic and reason. Living in the heart of Mormon Utah, I can see where fundamentalists such as Rulon and Warren Jeffs, developed the base of their beliefs. Krakauer makes an excellent point about how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints can take progressive steps towards worldwide acceptance if they just open up their archives and history and allow people to study them. Enough secrecy, enough cover ups, just be honest and tell us about the history of your religion. I agree with Krakauer that they can make a better name for themselves if they just open up a little. Overall, this book was one i'm glad I picked up. Although absolutely brutal at moments, it was very informative and deep. Great read!...more info
  • Personal Revelation: the potential for good and evil
    Under the Banner of Heaven is a very interesting and informative book. Parts of it are creepy, but overall I do not look at it as particularly anti-Mormon. It deals with some of the unfortunate bits in the history of the LDS, and with many of the unsavory current practices of the FLDS. My impression is that most religions (and governments) have these homicidal episodes in their pasts, and the LDS history is recent enough to be documented. Note that all the really nasty stuff attributed to the LDS in this book were before 1890, the Mormons as a group were certainly provoked. The Fundamentalist LDS, on the other hand, come off as seriously scary dudes. Others have discussed this topics ad nauseum. I would like to bring up two newer points.

    Personal revelation plays an important role in the narrative and by implication in the FLDS church. Krakauer nicely points out the problem with ongoing personal revelation: who gets to decide what is valid? It clearly leads to schisms. I am interested in the topic because personal revelation can be found in other Christian denominations, including the one with which I am aligned. The story of the Lafferty boys is a scary cautionary tale about how to analyze personal revelation--when should one take it seriously and when should it be dismissed as lunacy. The book implies that there is serious wish fulfillment going on with some personal revelation. Discernment is the catch phrase I hear bandied about, but perhaps the more obvious filter is "who will be hurt?" In one of the quotes, William James suggests that a religion without ongoing revelation is a dead religion. The corollary is that religion with ongoing revelation is powerful and scary and the practitioners need to be concerned with the potential for evil.

    I have not read much about Joseph Smith previous to this book. He is a very impressive man. He grew up poor but was very intelligent, hard working and had charisma in spades. He was certainly a self-made man and one of the great leaders of the 19th century. He was a polarizing figure that people loved or hated. He had a weakness for women. Ultimately, his enemies cornered him and lynched him. Given the current significance of his Latter Day Saints Church, he was one of the most important Americans to ever live. The parallels to a contemporary figure in America are striking. Who? Why Bill Clinton of course!...more info
  • Excellent Account of America's Subculture!
    Jon Krakauer has climbed Mount Everest and lived to write and tell about it. Now, he writes about the subculture of America's polygamous culture. He writes about the FLDS and UEP who are both discommunicated by the official Mormon Church who stopped the practice of polygamy in 1890s. Remember, the official Mormon Church does not condone or condemen enough of the polygamous practice of their discommunicated members of the FLDS. Krakauer writes about the growth and the secrecy for obvious reasons. Most escapees refuse to return to their compounds and former lives. They might dress like the Amish but they are not Amish at all. They are taught to fear the outside world and outsiders or gentiles which includes Jews and other Mormons. The FLDS and UEP believe that the Mormon Church has sold the practice of polygamy out as a way for acceptance in America. THe Mormons have grown and flourished in the world despite the polygamous monkey on their back. Not all polygamous families are like the ones depicted in the fictional cable show, Big Love. Not all are functioning. Women are treated like cattle and breed babies. The girls are brought up to be mothers and wives at young ages. The boys who are seen as a threat to the older men in the community as competition are often sent to exile to live on their own in the streets. There are hundreds of lost boys whose only crime was to be teenagers, like girls, catch a movie or television show. In the polygamous communities of FLDS and UEP in Colorado City, ARizona; Hildale Utah; El Dorado, Texas; Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada; there are taught to live without television, radios, or read newspapers. The education system is flawed with edited books and manuals. The children are not taught properly about science or sexuality in general. Sexuality is seen as a necessary evil in order to reproduce more. They are expected to wear long skirts, long pants, long sleeved shirts, and the women's hair is not supposed to be cut but styled like in a braid or like Little House on the Prairie. Even the men must endure heat with long pants and long-sleeved shirts, life is hard enough for both men and women. I don't support the idea of polygamy but I am concerned about the women and the children. The women are mostly mothers and are often victimized by the men if they leave and return. The crimes are numerous and unspoken outside the compound until now. The women who are polygamous wives are almost all born into it. They know of no other life and they have never had the opportunities that other women outside the community. The polygamous wives from outside the communities might have the opportunity and choice after generations of polygamy within their families to make that fateful decision. Not so in the FLDS and UEP, women are assigned husbands at an early age by the head prophet....more info
  • Very Enlightening!
    This is a great book! It tells the story of a religion that has many followers, with factual history. It is not one-sided, it says wonderful things about the religion, but it also tells the other side...the side the church doesn't necessarily want people to know. The book gave me a better understanding of the religion and I'm happy that I read it....more info
  • Well-Researched and Well-Written
    This is a superb book. The author created a dispassionate work of what can happen when prideful people use religion to create an alternate history.

    This book will open your eyes. It is a model of good writing that weaves history and current events into a very readable work....more info
  • An enthralling narrative that non-fiction seldom offers
    Although I have to admit that I haven't finished the book yet (at page 240), I would highly recommend this to anyone who has the slightest interest in history or religion. Although this book tells a very engaging story about the history of the Mormon religion and some of the low lights that were present through its founding and the violence which fundamentalist Mormons have practice as there is a view that it is divinely required to 'spill the blood' of the guilty... this is a very telling view of general religion and fundamentalism. I believe that we see this same type of fanatacism in the violence of Muslim fundamentalism and we also saw the same thing centuries ago in the purges of non-Catholics by the Inquisition.

    In short, this is a very well written book that draws you in and casts a not-so-flattering light on the history of the LDS church. It is not a biased hack job, but a peek behind the covers at the history of the fastest growing religion in North America. It is a good read and very highly recommended!...more info
  • A history of polygamy in the US
    John Krakauer's account of the history of polygamy in the US is both well researched and enthralling. He simultaneously spins two tales, one of modern day fundamentalists driven to horrifying actions by their faith, and the other of the founding of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. He begins at the beginning with Joseph Smith and tracks he new faith from it's roots. It is an adventure as only true history can provide and the elements of modern day true crime will keep you turning pages. To a resident of the Southwest it provides some local historical information of the area, especially the Arizona Strip and Colorado City, home to the now infamous Warren Jeffs, who is pointed out as an up and coming leader of the polygamists who reside there. This book provides a step by step explanation of major events that have shaped the mindsets of not only the Mormon Church, but also the breakaway fundamentalist sects that have formed and Krakauer makes a clear contrast between the two groups. This book will not disappoint....more info
  • Interesting history of the Mormon Church. Unfair to paint today's followers with the brush of the past.
    I am fascinated with different religious sects and I must admit that the Mormon Church has always seemed to be founded on bizarre circumstances by some questionable characters. This book kept my interest and the history of the founders was interesting and disturbing. I soon became confused with the geneology of the family members of the FLDS in Colorado and Utah. No wonder genealogy is so important to the Mormon's how else could the keep up with their blood lines.

    I don't think that it is fair to paint todays LDS members with the same brush as the FLDS and the early "church" which I think the author is attempting to do. Unfortunately, the majority who are good citizens with a strong (admirable) sense of family are tainted by the few whackos who make all the news. ...more info
  • One of my favorite Krakauer books
    This is one of my favorite books by Jon Krakauer, right beside Into the Wild. Krakauer takes extreme care to be as impartial as possible, and repeats over and over again that he does not mean this book to be an attack on all people of Mormon faith, but rather a summary what led some very disturbed people to do commit some very despicable actions.

    Of course, many people of Mormon faith have attacked Krakauer and the book itself, and he addresses and discredits each of their claims one by one at the end of the book.

    Overall, a very intense, gripping, hard-to-put-down true story. Highly recommended....more info
  • Way Too Much Background Information
    A horrific crime is put into the context of religious fanaticism. Fanatics are generally uninteresting characters, as they were in this book. A fundamentalist had a revelation that he should kill various people. He follows God's will.
    The history of Mormonism is given in excruciating detail, providing no more insight into what happened than could be gleaned from understanding that in Mormonism, people are encouraged to communicate directly with God. And of course, those communications can't be empirically verified. And sometimes wacky people serve their own needs by claiming divine blessings.
    Krakauer is a thorough researcher. However, his subject matter bored me. And his writing style is choppy. He has many footnotes that should have been incorporated into his text....more info
  • Saints March on in America
    "Every day people are straying from the church and going back to God." (Lenny Bruce, 1972)

    Jon Krakauer began this book with the murder of Brenda Lafferty, a Mormon wife and her 15 month old daughter, Erica, in American Fork, Utah in 1984. It was quickly established that Brenda and her daughter were killed by her brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty. Ron was a mainstream Mormon but was converted to Fundamentalist Mormonism by Dan shortly before the murder. From this story, Krakauer traces the origin and development of the Mormon Church and the splinter fundamentalist wing. This is a book with two stories connected to each other by religion. It is an informative book about one of America's home spun religions, Mormonism; the others include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Southern Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostalism (Sarah Palin's Christianity), and various others (see: Harold Bloom, The American Religion, 2006 Chu Harley Publishers). Many of them, including the Mormons, arose in the mid 19th century. They seem to have a fascinating history. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church sprang from the early movement started by William Miller, who might have had a greater reputation had his prediction that Christ's second coming was due on 22 October 1844 come to pass.

    Joseph Smith was a charismatic young man who started his career as a crystal gazer using "peep stones" to tell fortunes. In 1823, when he was 17 years old, an angel called Moroni visited him and told him that a sacred text written on gold plates and in an ancient Egyptian language would be revealed to him. The plates had been buried for more than a hundred years. Smith enlisted the help of his (future) wife Emma (whom he persuaded to elope with him because her father didn't trust him) to get the plates from Moroni. After several attempts and much praying, Smith was finally given the plates which he duly translated with the help of the "divinely endowed spectacles" called "interpreters", given to him by Moroni. Smith lent the transcribed text to his neighbour Martin Harris (to show his family). Harris, who worked on this project as Smith's scribe lost the entire transcript so Smith had to re-transcribe the plates which Moroni handed him again after much praying and pleading by Smith. The plates were returned to Moroni after the second transcription was completed. The local press approached by Smith to print the completed book demanded $3,000. It was too large a sum for Smith to raise. He prayed and received a direction from God that Harris had to sell his farm and use the money to print the book. Harris found himself unable to reject this direction from God did as directed and the book was published. Soon after that, on 6 April 1830, Smith incorporated the Church of the Latter Day Saints - and Mormonism was created. Harris, meanwhile, was divorced by his wife.

    This book contains the major practices and beliefs peculiar to Mormonism. Polygamy is one of them. The Mormons, however, refer to it as "plural marriages". This practice among the early Mormons and still practiced surreptitiously by present day fundamentalists created a great deal of bizarre relationships. One of these was exemplified by the case of Debbie Palmer who, by her being married to a Blackmore as his sixth wife, established her as a stepmother to her stepmother. The entanglements proved too much even for Krakauer who admitted that many of the relationships can't be explained without a flow-chart. Mormons also believed that there should be no sex with the wives if unless they were ovulating; and there must be no sexual intercourse with a pregnant woman. The head of the Mormon Church is called "Prophet", and God revealed many of his intentions and directions through them. Joseph Smith the original prophet had no less than 133 revelations which were canonized as "doctrines and covenants" ("D & C"). D & C #132 was the covenant revealed by God concerning plural marriages - it has not been abrogated, and has become the springboard for fundamentalist Mormons. Another interesting belief was that an ancient Hebrew tribe emigrated to America and subsequently gave rise to two branches - the dark skinned Nephi (who descended into native American Indians) and the light skinned Laban. Eventually, the Nephites slaughtered the Labanites and that explained why Columbus met no Caucasians when he landed in America. It was also believed that prior to the extermination of the Labanites, Jesus visited America and tried to get the two warring tribes to cease hostility.

    Plural marriage was one of the practices that gave rise to much hatred by "gentiles" against the Mormons. Krakauer described vividly the persecution the Mormons faced at the hands of the "gentiles". It was a horrifying account of the way the Mormons were driven out, first, from Missouri, than Illinois. The eventual arrest and assassination of Joseph Smith during his incarceration pending trial (notwithstanding an undertaking from harm) had an air of excitement more commonly found in works of fiction. The murder of Brenda Lafferty was linked to the practice of plural marriage. Brenda was a bright and stubborn woman who prevented her husband, Allen Lafferty from following his brothers' fundamentalist inclination to plural marriage. One day, Dan and Ron Lafferty received the word from God that Brenda had to be killed. Her baby daughter had to go too because, as Ron declared, she might otherwise grow up to be "a bitch like her mother." Her throat was slashed so deeply she was virtually decapitated.

    One interesting facet which would not have escaped the reader is just how many such "special ones" God had anointed in the history of the Judeo-Christian faiths; the prophets that God had chosen to reveal Himself and his intentions. More importantly, how does one reconcile the contradictory revelations? The followers of each group will, no doubt, declare that the others were false prophets. How one tells a true prophet from a false one is not entirely clear. Perhaps God works in mischievous ways.

    The Mormon Church, through its senior officer Richard Turley issued a long rebuttal two weeks before Krakauer's book was first published, citing a list of errors. Krakauer reviewed his sources and admitted five of them which he explained in his 2004 edition. Turley's complaints and Krakauer's reply are included in this edition. One of these being the reference to the Laban in the Old Testament as the same Laban referred to in the Book of Mormons when they were not the same person.
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  • Interesting History
    This is an interesting book and contains a lot of history. I recommend those who are active in the LDS Church avoid this book, because it will likely offend you. Two of the things that bothered me were how he claims that belief in God is irrational and also that people who support the Constitution are radical. It was also misleading of him to claim that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are on a equal footing when it comes to history and validity.

    He mentioned something from the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping that I was not aware of. I think it is fascinating that one of the Lafferty brothers is a cellmate to Mark Hoffman, whose nephew is my friend. I was raised LDS and was especially active during high school. I never felt satisfied with the faith and noticed too many inconsistencies. I went through a gradual and frustrating journey in leaving the church. Several of my ancestors practiced polygamy and one my relatives is mentioned in the book. His portrayal of the man is more negative than I had previously heard. One thing I found slightly irritating was how he mentions moral topics with a matter-of-fact approach without really commenting on the implications of it....more info
  • One of my favorite Krakauer books
    I found this book to be a fascinating journey into the world of Fundamental Mormonism and the point where religious fanaticism actually becomes dangerous. This book is a factual history of Mormonism and an objective explanation of the doctrine of Blood Atonement, a long abandoned tenant of Mormonism. Mainstream Mormons often mistakenly try to describe these fundamentalists as not being Mormon. Not true! These people take Mormonism very seriously. The fact that they may or may not be active members of the mainstream LDS Church is immaterial. They believe that they are Mormons and that is what matters.

    I am a Mormon and can honestly say that any active Mormon who reads this book will come away with a better understanding of their own faith. You will not read any of this stuff in "The Work and the Glory" . I realize that many will call this "anti-Mormon". It is not. Just because you may not agree with something dosen't make it "anti" or make it false.

    I have read all of his books and found them all to be honest and forthright. I appreciate that he did point out and correct some errors that he made in the first printing. Any student of Mormonism will truly enjoy this book....more info
  • Into the Mormons.
    This book regardless of how people feel certain leaders were portrayed, was very informational. I didn't know much about that religion besides what the media wanted me to know. Now I know more about who Joseph Smith was and what he accomplished, the difference between the LDS and FLDS, and even a little geography. Krakauer made the history of the LDS easy to follow, and I could trace their steps from the east coast all the way west. There's also (which I don't believe but was interesting to know) is how they thought the world was created.
    This is all just a background to the major piece of the book, which is a gruesome murder of a mother and a baby. Thanks to the information on the history and practices of the LDS/FLDS, I'm more able to make an educated opinion on what the media puts out and can now tell the difference between the extremists and the Mormons who just want to make the world a little nicer. ...more info
  • Krakuer takes a different direction
    I truly enjoyed Into Thin Air. Under the Banner of Heaven was completely different subject matter. I found this no less engaging, Krakuer again draws you in with nothing more than what it is, a great story needing to be told....more info
  • Enlightening and a great read!
    I am of Mormon heritage and no longer belong to that church. This book was extremely enlightening, well-written, and answered a lot of questions I have had. ...more info
  • At times it needs a little more focus
    A very well intentioned book with one main problem Krakauer can never decide where exactly to place the Lafferty Murders in the narrative therefore whatever issue about the nature of Mormonism is being discussed is always cut short and refocused to some kind of vague tie in that relates to these gruesome murders at least in the mind of the author.

    So the narrative will be clipping along and you will be very interested in a particular aspect the Golden Plates, The Sons of Ham, plural marriage or the fact that in spite of the LDS's claim to the contrary there have always been competing factions within Mormonism and all of the sudden you will be back on the murders with no idea of how exactly the author bought you to that point. This is at times tragic because while it is a very well researched book at times its subject matter was so broad it felt like it was two or three books in one. This leads on my part to both feelings of confusion and a desire to hear more.
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  • Captivating tale
    Krakauer again works his magic to tell a very interesting tale. The book is full of history and is very educational, but at the same time entertaining--in a captivating way. The book explores the FLDS sects and what the members are willing to do in order to fulfill what they perceive to be "God's will." It's eye-opening and shocking. ...more info
  • LDS church history is years of material for Saturday Night Live
    I am serious that the History of the Mormon church is years of material for Saturday Night Live.
    Couple of ideas for skits:
    Joseph Smith (founder of the LDS) is married and after a few years his eyes start wandering, so he tells his wife God has told him to take on more wives. The wife is mad and threatens to take on more husbands, Joe doesn't like that, so he tells his wife that God told him that if a wife takes on another man she will go to hell for ever ! Nice.

    The locals don't like Joes unfaithfull ways, and drag him out of his bed, into the woods at night with the plan to castarate him - they even had a doctor along. Once Joe is stripped naked, and spread eagle the doctor can't go thru with it, and instead they beat Joe up badly and then tar and feather him.

    Currently, various Fundemnetalist mormon church off shoots all have a leader that claim to be ' the mighty and strong one' - that is the guy who is immortal and will be present during the second coming ( or something like that) - well the followers all flip out when their annoited immortal leader dies.

    The book covers a double homicide that took place in 1984. The two brothers that commited the crime are arrested, and after one beats the other one while in the same cell, they are put in adjacent cells. some days pass and one brother tells the other brother that God told him that he needs to kill him. So they discuss the best way to do the killing, and decide to have the one to die back up to the bars while the other one strangles him to death. They then proceed to follow thru the plan.

    Mormons might feel picked on by this book, but I see it as a book about religion, and what it does to people. There are Mormons that are completely nuts, just like the 9/11 moslem bombers.

    Krakauer writes this book in a similar style to Into the Wild. He mentions a couple other books about the LDS which I plan on reading....more info
  • Interesting Book on LDS and FLDS beliefs.
    I am enjoying reading this book, but I can only read a little at a time. It is a huge amount to process on each page. And, nearly every page has footnotes. I believe that the descriptions are very interesting and make me understand where my LDS friends come from on certain subjects. I also believe that the purpose of this book is to inform people outside the LDS faith and not to make judgement on FLDS or LDS beliefs. I recommend this book to those who are curious about the Morman religion and those who are already in the Mormon religion. I believe that there are a great deal of Mormons out there that have never taken the time to fully understand their beliefs and where they came from (ie faith in the word of the Elders and Prophets - the LDS church discourages members to research other faiths or viewpoints). I recommend this book just as I would recommend a book about Catholicism to a Catholic or non-Catholic alike....more info