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Under the Banner of Heaven
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Veteran reporter Krakauer's insider look at the Mormon church translates well to audio thanks to his clean, by-the-book delivery. In 1984, brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty killed the wife and infant daughter of their brother Allen. Ron and Dan are fundamentalist Mormons, and their views-particularly their belief in the divine importance of polygamy-conflicted with those of their outspoken sister-in-law; accordingly, Dan received a revelation from God that he was to 'remove' them for the greater good of His Kingdom. Dan, who was interviewed from prison, has no remorse for what he has done; after all, he maintains, why should he apologize for doing God's will? This segment is particularly chilling, as is Krakauer's unemotional delivery. Krakauer wisely eschews character voices and instead narrates the details of the crime and the history of the Mormon church in a no-nonsense fashion. The fascinating historical segments, though lengthy at times, serve a dual purpose: they explore the cultures that can give rise to religious fundamentalism and serve as a welcome reprieve in this highly emotional story." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"As Krakauer points out, the problem with a religion founded on the idea that its leaders get their marching orders straight from the Almighty is that members who quarrel with how things are being run have a tendency to start receiving their own contradictory commandments....The guys to fear aren't just the ones who believe in a god, but the ones who think they're entitled to act like one." Laura Miller, Salon.com (read the entire Salon review)
"[T]old with raw narrative force and tight focus....Krakauer lays the portent on beautifully, building his tales carefully from the ground up until they irresistibly, spookily combust." Kirkus Reviews
"[Krakauer] poses some striking questions about the closed-minded, closed-door policies of the [Mormon] religion — and many religions in general." Publishers Weekly
"A fascinating page-turner....Engrossing....Krakauer's knack for crackling narrative and taut focus...drives this thought-provoking story." The Columbus Dispatch
"[A] probing narrative....[Krakauer's] insightful book brings readers closer to an understanding of [the Mormon] religion....[A] first-rate work of nonfiction from one of our most intrepid reporters." Edward Morris, BookPage
"In collecting evidence, Mr. Krakauer ventures out to a lunatic fringe of polygamous self-appointed prophets....[T]his book provides more voyeuristic astonishment than curiosity or understanding." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Krakauer is an adept chronicler of extremists....Under the Banner of Heaven is illuminating rather than sordid, more provocative than sensational." Emily Bazelon, The Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Jon Krakauer is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air and is editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.
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