Karen's Reviews > Under The Banner Of Heaven

Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
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's review
Jul 16, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: didn-t-finish
Read in February, 2008

This book makes a lot of big promises, but it suffers from several serious flaws:

1. Lack of focus.
2. Too long.
3. Preposterous claim.
4. Boring

This is a true crime novel--maybe--set against the history of the Mormon Church--but not really--trying to tie in a couple of murders committed by a couple of sickos--all too common--into an historical and political climate of post-terrorist, millennial religious revival--unsuccessfully.

For true crime, it's shockingly dull, and the crime is committed by the middle of the book, but you already know it's going to happen because it's committed in the prologue, too. The characters aren't interesting, their motivations are the ordinary motivations of religious sickos, and the detail is presented tediously.

The Mormon Church is presented as entirely to blame for the murderers' thoughts and the victims, and for Elizabeth Smart's abduction and captivity. It's crammed full of historical detail that might be interesting but it's presented in such a snide, disrespectful tone that it's just a rip on the Church. At one point the author grudgingly admits that Mormonism is no stranger or objectively odd than any other religion (once you get right down to it) but he nonetheless mocks it and its adherents. He continually harps on its sexism, as if every other religion in the Western World were a paragon of equality and political fairness. Odder still is the fact that his murderers and enablers aren't even Mormon. They invented a religion based on Mormonism, but it's taken to such an extreme that the Mormon Church has disassociated itself with them and is cited frequently by the author as denying that what these guys practice is the same religion.

I made it to page 175 where the murders happened, and then the book jumped to another overly detailed of the history of Joseph Smith and friends and I was only halfway through the book. I guess the rest of it is how the Mormons got to Utah and the court case, but considering everyone knew who committed the murder--they'd told maybe ten people they were going to do it and they confessed immediately and you knew this already from the book--there was no suspense about that. The psychological profile of a religious killer is known already. I can't imagine what you would need to keep writing about.

There are also too many footnotes, on diverse and vaguely interesting tidbits, some of them half a page long. It adds to the lack of focus. It's just a scrambled book about a tragedy.

Everything seems to be coming up polygamy of late, down to the HBO series, Big Love. So perhaps this was shocking and provocative and informative a few years ago, but the fundamentalist polygamist sects are very much in the public consciousness now and this book doesn't give any new information. What I found most interesting were the similarities to some of the characters in that television show to some of the fundamentalist profiles in the book. None of them were similar to the point of being "inspired by," I don't think, but things like the Romanian immigrant becoming a plural wife reminded me of Ana, and the daughters of prophets all over the place reminded me of Nikki, and the Mormon wives of Mormon men who adopt polygamy reminded me of Barb. Of course, this is in circumstance only. Bill Paxton's family makes me wish I had a sister wife sometimes. I'd certainly get a lot more done.
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-26 of 26) </span> <span class="smallText">(26 new)</span>

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Lynn I think your problem was that you viewed this as a "true-crime" book. It does address a murder committed by Mormons, but it was never meant to be a true-crime novel. Jon Krakauer writes as an investigative reporter. See his other books and you will get the same format - something that happened that spurs him to investigate further into a more generalized topic. Into the Wild, for example.

Karen The problem is the chaotic structure of the book. I do agree that Jon Krakauer is an excellent writer. I think that INTO THE WILD and INTO THIN AIR are better books because he was writing about environments he knew very well and could readily identify and dramatize the stories of a young man on a quest in the wilderness and a bunch of people trying to conquer a mountain. Expertise goes a long way toward being able to focus on important details and cull the static, however interesting the static might be as isolated tidbits. Krakauer just couldn't find the story to tell in this one and it shows. Is it about a crime? Is it about a church? Is it about a history? I expect published non-fiction works to rise above the level of exploratory research. This one didn't.

Lynn Good points. I am only halfway through UNDER THE BANNER and I agree that Krakauer is definitely more in his element with the other two books you mentioned. It is interesting to read some of the history of the Mormon church and the major issues they have had over time. I think I just set aside early on that the murder mentioned in the beginning of the book was not going to be the main focus, so it wasn't as distracting to me that the book rambled on to many other things.

Karen I think the key phrase in your comment is "rambled on." I sent the book back to the library, so I can't check the pages, but I read through the murder, and then maybe some present-day stuff, but when I turned the page and another chapter started about the history I just couldn't take it anymore. I read to about page 171. I think he should have just dropped the murder altogether. It wasn't even a very interesting murder, just a sad, sad story.

Lynn Yes - he should have stayed with the idea of a book about the troublesome history of the Mormon faith and not thrown a murder in there for people to focus on. The murder could have been an example of some of the issues with the fundamentalist group, but left as just that.

Still - I like his writing style - quick and easy to read. Definitely not as good as INTO THE WILD - I have not read INTO THIN AIR yet - it is next on my list.

Karen It. Is. Awesome.

I am glad it turns out we agree after all. Air kisses and hugs for everyone!

Lynn Back at ya!

Audra Although I do agree with you about the jumping around of subject matter I don't agree with you about how you think he attacks the Mormon church. What he did or tried to do was lay the foundation of The Mormon church & then begins to tell you where these 2 men along with many others as well have taken this religion & sort of mutated it into something that justifies their actions. Which also happens with any person who decides to make their own religion. These men are clearly disturbed, but it's very interesting to read about the beginning of the Mormon church & how Mormons have become a powerhouse of religion all because of Joespeh Smith & then Brigam Young catapulted it to an entirely new level. It's also interesting to see that Joseph Smith is more of the center of this religion then Christ is as well as how this man could influence so many people to do what he wished! I think that the purpose of this book is to show what man is capable of doing anything they wish & back it up with God. Anyone is capable of doing this & Joseph Smith is very much an example of it. As well as these men.

message 9: by Brian (new)

Brian I think you misunderstood why the murders were in the book. I didn't take it as a "real crime" novel. Instead, I think he concentrated on the murders because he was trying to underscore that a belief system like Mormonism could lead to such a brutal crimes.

"Into the Wild" is one of my favorite books, but it's an entirely different kind of book than "Banner". To compare the two is unfair. "Banner" is still a great book.

message 10: by Karen (new) - rated it 1 star

Karen A belief system in anything can lead to brutal crimes. Those guys explained what they did via this brand of Mormonism, but it's not why they did it. It was the way that the murders were portrayed in the book that put it (in my mind) in the "true crime" category. The author followed all the standards of the genre for those parts of the book, but then not very well. Putting that kind of story inside an expose book, I mean a history book... it's just too scrambled. The structure of the book doesn't hold together.

I'm not sure why you think I am comparing the book to "Into the Wild" or why it is unfair to compare two non-fiction books by the same author. "Into the Wild" had a clear theme and it fit into its genre (rugged individualist) very well. The author was also writing about a milieu he actually knew something about firsthand. Same with "Into thin Air." Krakauer is a good writer, but his personal insight is why those books are so good.

Sally Duros as usual a meticulous job of researching, but I felt this book lacked a heart. I didn't finish it. It got boring. Krakauer's best book is Into Thin Air because he lived the horror of it and his inner conflict between being an observer and a participant haunted him. He is a through researcher and skilled story teller, but automatic in his writing in my opinion.

Emily ahahah, this is great. I agree with this
I'm not that far into the book, it's so hard to sit and read.

message 13: by MAP (new) - rated it 1 star

MAP Dead. on. This book was a MESS.

Darlene Moak Are you all uncomfortable with the idea that the murder might (might) just have had something to do with the troubled history of the Mormon church?? In my opinion, Jon did a terrific, amazing job of tying together a lot of information into a narrative that led inevitably to a horrific crime. At the same time, he was fair & balanced (a lot more so than the Fox network) in exposing the crimes that were committed against the Mormon church. All I can say is: the truth hurts.

message 15: by MAP (new) - rated it 1 star

MAP I don't think it's discomfort with the religion and violence, so much as a differing of an opinion with yours...I think "Jon" did a TERRIBLE job at following any string showing how anything led to anything else. It seemed, to me, that it was all just vomited onto way way way too many pages.

message 16: by AL (new) - rated it 5 stars

AL The author of this review seems to have been expecting a really long version of The National Enquirer. I'm sure it was indeed very disappointing to find good writing and real journalism instead.

Meagan Schwieder Religion and Violence have to e hand in hand since....always, really. I thought it was great. I also think that there is one reviewer on here that is taking the book personally, probably a Mormon herself. Yes it is abookabout violence and Mormonism, there are also many books about Islam and violence, Christianity and violence, Catholicism and violence. This was a great book, don't knock it because you feel defensive About the view of your church.

message 18: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Crowe Is that a picture of Annette Funnicello?

message 19: by Karen (new) - rated it 1 star

Karen Oh, no! My cover is blown!

message 20: by Stacey (new) - added it

Stacey I haven't read this book yet but it's on my list. I just wanted o say that, when you pull up the title of this book a TON of other suggested titles pop up along the same line: Crazy church murders & religious mind control. In fact, I found THIS book while searching for Miscavige's book about escaping the Church of Scientology. I wouldn't be afraid if I were Mormon. Most of the titles popping up were about the goings-on in OTHER churches so none of this is exclusive to LDS or its offshoots!

Ashley I agree that it is much longer than it needs to be, but I don't see this as an attack on Mormonism. It is reportage. And it really paints a damning portrait of Mormon fundamentalism, not mainstream Mormons. He also is at pains to indicate that we had fundamentalists of another stripe in the White House at the time. A flawed book to be sure, but not because of his reportage of the history of Mormon fundamentalism.

Michael Perkins "Shockingly dull?" This is language suggests a preconceived attitude of condemning the book no matter what, like fundamentalist Christians reacting to "Zealot." What Krakauer has done here is brilliant. He's used modern Mormon cults as a way of illuminating the beginnings of Mormonism in the 19th century. Joseph Smith, a charismatic leader by all accounts, decides he wants to sleep with other women. He has a "revelation" that gives him divine permission. Understandably, his wife Brenda objects. In the original Doctrines and Covenants formulation, the first part is supposed to be a direct exhortation from God to Brenda herself to allow her husband to do what he wants. This pattern continues in today's Mormon cults.

Christa JoAnna You should be permanently banned from reviewing books on this site, Karen.

Nordo How many sister wives do you have Karen?

Aubrie As a practicing Mormon this book was terribly inaccurate. Since when do "Mormons" frown on contraception?? This was news to me.


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