Summary and book reviews of Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven

A Story of Violent Faith

By Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2003,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2004,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, 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.

Chapter One
THE CITY OF THE SAINTS

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

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

Balanced atop the highest spire of the Salt Lake Temple, gleaming in the Utah sun, a statue of the angel Moroni stands watch over downtown Salt Lake City with his golden trumpet raised. This massive granite edifice is the spiritual and temporal nexus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which presents itself as the world's only true religion. Temple Square is to ...

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About This Book

In his bestselling books Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer explored the extreme ambitions of men who tested themselves against Mount Everest and the Alaskan wilderness. In Under the Banner of Heaven, he turns to a different kind of extremism: religious fanaticism and the violence it spawns.

In the prologue to Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer asks of the brutal murders committed by Ron and Dan Lafferty: "How could an apparently sane, avowedly pious man kill a blameless woman and her baby so viciously, without the barest flicker of emotion? Whence did he derive the moral justification? What filled him with such certitude? Any attempt to answer such questions must plumb those sectors of the heart and ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Los Angeles Times - Emily Bazelon

The split between the Fundamentalists and the official Mormon church is the backdrop for Jon Krakauer's new book, Under the Banner of Heaven, in which he explores the fanatical fringe of Mormonism and the nexus between extremist faith and predatory violence through the story of a bone-chilling double murder committed in 1984 in the heart of Mormon country.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

In collecting evidence, Mr. Krakauer ventures out to a lunatic fringe of polygamous self-appointed prophets, where the Mormons and the Martians are almost interchangeable.

USA Today - Deirdre Donahue

Heaven uses the murder of a young Mormon wife, Brenda Lafferty, and her 15-month-old daughter in 1984 as a launchpad to probe the roots of all religious faith and the extremes to which it can be taken. … In the hands of a less perceptive writer, the book would be just another lurid true-crime tale with superficial religious overtones. Instead, Krakauer … presents events in historical context.

USA Today - Deirdre Donahue

For many readers, including this one, the most anticipated day [of the summer] is July 15, when Krakauer's latest arrives in stores.

BookPage

Under the Banner of Heaven is a first-rate work of non-fiction from one of our most intrepid reporters.

The Washington Post - Ann Rule

Under the Banner of Heaven is not likely to be popular in Utah or other LDS sanctuaries. Perhaps it will inspire backlash books highlighting the violent and tawdry details of Gentile (non-Mormon) faiths. None has a pristine history. This is a chilling book, slowed occasionally by the sheer number of names to recall and relationships to connect, and the somewhat awkward juxtaposition of current events and remote history -- not a beach book but rather a tour de force that must be read carefully and savored.

New York Times Sunday Book Review - Robert Wright

Dan and Ron Lafferty saw their quest for security and stature frustrated and then found someone to blame -- a description that, in one sense or another, applies to Mohamed Atta, Timothy McVeigh and the Columbine killers. Under the Banner of Heaven is an arresting portrait of depravity that may have broader relevance than the author intended.

Publishers Weekly

While Krakauer demonstrates that most non-fundamentalist Mormons are community oriented, industrious and law-abiding, he poses some striking questions about the closed-minded, closed-door policies of the religion-and many religions in general.

Booklist - Benjamin Segedin

Krakauer's account is gripping yet deeply disturbing.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The jarring story of a double murder committed by fundamentalist Mormons, told with raw narrative force and tight focus. Yet this is far more than just the retelling of a grisly murder ... Krakauer worms deeply into the Mormon religious experience, its fractures, violence, and fight against the growing power of central government. . . . . [He] lays the portent on beautifully, building his tales carefully from the ground up until they irresistibly, spookily combust.

Book Magazine

[Krakauer's] study of faith and violence in Mormonism, by far the most successful American-grown religion, is not only provocative but also convincing. It reminds us of the power of the most pernicious form of evil-evil in the name of God.

Library Journal - Rachel Collins

A thoroughly engrossing and ultimately startling comment on all fundamentalist ideas.

Author Blurb Citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, upon awarding Krakauer an Academy Award in Literature
Jon Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer. His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind.

Reader Reviews
Georgia

Under the Banner of Heaven
Jon Krakauer's book was exciting and hard to put down. Coming from a Mormon background drew me in because I appreciated another perspective on the Church that I had not focused on before. Our family was active in my growing up years and no longer are...   Read More

Pat

Interesting Reviews
I suspect the reviewers who gave this book a "1" are fundamentalist Mormons. One of which does not even understand that the concept of fundamentalism can apply to any religion. Excellent, insightful read.

Maralie

Stunning and Frightening
An engaging and well-written historical analysis of the Mormon Church and its tenets as well as an exploration of religious fanaticism generally. I heard about the book from a friend and not being a fan of "adventure' writing, might not have ...   Read More

Pam Haws

should be classed as "fiction" book
Wrong facts and wrong assumptions in this "nonfiction" book. "fundamentalists" are not and never have been "MORMONS". They are a separate identity, just as Jehovah's Witnesses are a separate sect. So what does the ...   Read More

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