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. 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.
Everything you always wanted to know about Mormonism, but were afraid to ask... I wrapped up Jon Krakauer's 2003 book, Under the Banner of Heaven, earlier this year, and whole-heartedly recommend it. Krakauer's read is incredibly interesting, well-written, and paces really well. It reminds me of those long, absorbing pieces in the Sunday New York Times; the ones you phone your mom halfway through to tell her to read it.
There are two interweaving plot lines in Under the Banner of Heaven: the first is the story of the Mormon-raised Lafferty brothers who end up murdering their younger brother's wife and daughter (claiming that a revelation told them to carry out these killings); and the second is the history of Mormonism and how Joseph Smith cultivated and developed this religion from the 1830's on.
Krakauer does an awesome job putting the reader in both the minds of the Lafferty brothers, as well as Joseph Smith and other influential Mormons. You really feel like you're along for the ride in both the murder story, and the history of Mormonism, and you find yourself tearing through the chapters to uncover the next significant event.
I also enjoyed how Krakauer detailed the drive and determination by Joseph Smith to create a new religion in more modern times. Smith's creation was a miracle in itself, and the fact that Mormonism is alive and thriving today is a real testament to Smith and the early believers of this religion.
While Krakauer does mention both positive and negative tenets to Mormonism, it's pretty clear his slant is more negative. Though I sense some people may be upset by Krakauer's imbalance (i.e., Mormons who may read this book), I kind of wished he would have taken an ever harder line to put down some of Mormonism's (alleged) practices of racism, polygamy and statutory rape -- especially in the wake of the recent raid on a West Texas Church of Latter Day Saints' ranch, where over 400 children were seized by the authorities.
I'm embarrassed to say I haven't yet read Krakuer's Into Thin Air or Into the Wild. But after reading Under the Banner of Heaven, I'll certainly need to dive into these predecessors sooner rather than later....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
My kingdom for a point... Much like the Mormon faith, Under the Banner of Heaven has an infrastructure of oatmeal. This book, at best, strengthens the resolve of those who love and those who loathe the LDS movement. ...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
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
You Won't be able to put it down! Incredible this is going on in America!! Greta book well written! Please write more on this subject! Especially liked the unbiased historical overview of morman religion!...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
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
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
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
Good Primer on Mormonism and Fundamentalism Any time a book is written on the subject of religion, controversy is bound to ensue. Extend the subject to religious extremism and/or fundamentalism and you can ratchet it up a notch. When the book is written by a "non-believer", you can bet that it will come under vicious attack by proponents of the religion in question. Such is the case with Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer's expose on Mormonism and Mormon fundamentalism.
I read Krakauer's Into Thin Air and was riveted by his writing on the subject of Mt. Everest. I would not place this work in that category, but found it be a very instructive primer on the origins and background of the Mormon religion and its various fundamentalist offshoots.
The book essentially tells two stories, the threads of which alternate throughout the book. In one thread, Krakauer tells the story of Joseph Smith, the founding of the Mormon religion and its evolution to the present day. In the other thread, he explores the various fundamentalist offshoots of Mormonism through the prism of a vicious double murder committed by a pair of its proponents.
It is difficult to argue with most of the facts presented in relation to the founding and evolution of Mormonism. As Krakauer points out, it is a religion of such recent vintage that the historical record is quite clear. He does make a few assumptions and extensions which have earned him the ire of the official church. In those cases, however, he states his grounds for doing so quite well. It is doubtful that anyone except a true believer in Mormonism would ever write a history to the liking of the church.
The beliefs and practices of some of the fundamentalists profiled in the book are scary in their level of extremism, however, they take their beliefs directly from the pages of Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion. Polygamy, or plural marriage, was one of the chief tenets of his church, and one that was stubbornly clung to for many years by the leaders of the church. It can hardly be argued that many heinous instances of statutory rape and sexual child abuse have resulted and continue to occur.
While Mormonism has come under attack throughout its history, both for some of its practices and the highly dubious circumstances surrounding its founding (Joseph Smith was likely no more than a charlatan and a fraud who concocted a religion that guaranteed him access to a never ending cache of nubile virgins), very few of the world's religions have better legs to stand on. Old Testament Christianity is filled with barbarous practices and outlandish fables (Noah's Ark, parting the Red Sea, burning bushes). Islam, ditto. I'm not even going to mention Scientology.
So, before anyone tears off on a rant concerning Mormonism, just make sure your own house is in order. If you want a quick and dirty outline on Mormon beliefs and foundations, this is a good place to start. If you want a good example of the effects of extremism (not limited to Mormonism) this is also a good example....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
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
Understanding a modern tragedy by revisiting the past I really couldn't put this one down. The mix of history and its effect on modern, tragic events, is brilliantly written. Some here have complained of Krakauer writing "two books", but I think they miss the point. The gruesome Lafferty story is told at the same time history is retold to show how one influenced the other. The stories are intertwined with great precision, so that as the reader sees the modern events unfold, he is able to project them on the backdrop of history.
I cannot give credence to the LDS-faithful's charge of anti-Mormon bias in Krakauer. What was presented did not cause me to look negatively at the Mormon's I know (none of which are FLDS, however). In fact, Krakauer does not even implicitly condemn the FLDS, just states the facts and let's the reader draw conclusions. Only in his Appendiceal response to the official LDS leadership's retort of his book does any negative light fall on the modern LDS, but even that rests solely upon the high-ranking leadership for all its secrecy and desire to conceal the past, not the day-to-day members....more info
It definitely changed my idea about Mormons I new very little about Mormons before reading this book and I did not know at all that they often practice polygamy.
Besides, it was not clear to me which implications the polygamy can bring in mixing up the women's role in that large families. At least when it is practiced by taking and leaving wives as they do.
While reading this book I discovered a new and shocking world I never imagined.
The writing style of Jon Krakauer is the same fascinating mixture of Into Thin Air: novel and investigation, more novel and historical background.
Very, very effective.
I already mentioned this book to many friends: absolutely worth reading.
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
Compelling This book really left me marveling at the situation Mormons find themselves in - there is so much to recommend the culture that has grown up around the religion, and yet it's based on what is, to an outsider, silly stuff. I didn't understand until reading this the dynamics around the Smart kidnapping. The sexism which is inherent in LDS (fundamental or not) is invidious....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.
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
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
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
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
GREAT BUSINESS EXPERIENCE
I received the book in just a few days and it was in great shape! I would definitely do business with this seller again!...more info
Just chilling! Never before have I had to actually turn my eyes from the page because the text/truth was too horrific to read. This book takes you into the lives of the FDLS. It should scare the bejeezus out of anyone that this sort of thing is going on right here in our country. Not to mention the predicted effect the FDLS may have on the way our country is run in under a century.
I found the book to be a fasinating read and eye opening experience.
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
Compelling Non-Fiction This is the most compelling non-fiction book I have read. This is a true crime told stunningly, a great weave of the history of the Mormon church, amazingly well-researched. Krakauer is a true authority on his subject. What he does best is stay out of the way of the narrative, letting his interest drive the book, and allow him to tell the most important and crucial parts of the stories....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
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.
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
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
not anti-Mormon This is a fantastic book. Krakauer does an incredible job of merging history lesson with compelling narrative with probing inquiry into the sometimes contentious balance between sanity and religious belief.
Krakauer does NOT equate the Laffertys with mainstream LDS; rather, he details the history (and let's face it, it's a nasty, violent history) of LDS to show that the originators of religions-- those heterodox souls who claim direct revelatory experience (whether they be Laffertys, Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Jesus, Jim Jones-- you name it)-- ALWAYS live on the razor's edge between the keenest perception and sheer lunacy. Can't we all, relgious and non-religious alike, just admit this?...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
Charles Manson vs. the Lafferty brothers; cut from the same cloth Both cowards, psychos, willing and able to kill innocent women and babies/children in the most violent way possible. Both believing that they got direct revelation from God to kill. I read the book; I agree with most of what I've read thus far; I'm not going to waste bandwidth repeating the same thing. I am po'd right now that a 24 year-old wife and mother and a 15 month old baby got their life snuffed out by cowardly weasels who were afraid of a young woman and a dear innocent baby. Death is too good for these murderers. The most heinous form of torture is too easy/good for them. Beating them to a pulp, electrocuting them - just a few degrees from death is what's appropriate here. The trouble is that they'd find reason to like it and would attribute their pain and suffering to God's revelation or something. Living in the gutter eating trash out of dumpsters would be 100% better than living with these types of psycho cowards. ...more info
Interesting read This was a very easy and very informative read. I know there is always two sides to every story but I have been always curious about the Mormon religion. I felt this book would give more information on the controversial side of plural marriage. This book was almost like reading a long article from a newspaper. I felt that the writer used a lot of facts, tried to give as many sides to the same story and gave complete backgrounds so, the reader felt well educated on the information given. Very well done. ...more info
Thought provoking Under the Banner of Heaven is an in depth and eye opening historical account of the Mormon church. I am looking at the Church of LDS in a different perspective. It has made me question my own religious beliefs....more info
Insight To LDS Church This read goes fast and is a very interesting book. The insight into the Mormon Faith is accurate and concise. If anyone has any interest in the evolution of the Mormon faith this book is a very good referance to get started with....more info
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
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.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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