Dave's Reviews > Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
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's review
Aug 04, 2007

really liked it
Read in August, 2007

This is a great, well-researched book on fundamentalist Mormons that will freak you out. Half the book is true-crime drama and the other half is an excellent history of LDS and the many fundamentalist sects that splintered off in order to practice Mormonism Joseph Smith-style (which included polygamy as a key principle).

I learned a lot about Mormonism from this book, however I initially felt that Krakauer was a little unfair to mainstream Mormons. In his discussion of the history of both LDS and FLDS, he at times blurs the line between the two very different groups.

On the other hand, LDS is a less than 180 years old, meaning its entire history--a bloody, hate-filled, and bizarre one at that--has been documented. (Note: "bloody, hate-filled, and bizarre" could be used to describe just about any religion, in my opinion.) Thus, Krakauer was not maliciously criticizing the Mormon church; he was simply relaying publicly available, historical information, information that was necessary for understanding the bizarre FLDS world. Joseph Smith, LDS founder, was a con-artist and a womanizer. Brigham Young, who moved the Mormons to the American West, condoned violence and was complicit in a mass slaughter of 140 innocent people (the Mountain Meadows massacre). Present-day Mormons no longer practice polygamy (and ills such as racism are less institutionalized within the church), but they cannot escape some very harsh (and fairly recent) truths regarding the founding of their religion. The antics of Smith and Young alone are enough to make me wonder how the religion could have possibly lived on, let alone become the fastest-growing religion in the world.

The book skips around a bit and you get the sense that Krakauer wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to focus on, but it's definitely worth the read.
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