Beth F.'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
Dec 21, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, religion, 2009, abuse, tnbbc-winter-2008

This book was intense. I’m a sucker for religious studies anyway, especially those different from my own, and this book has been on my radar for awhile now because Mormonism (in general) and fundamentalists (of all kinds) have always interested me, so when I found out this book was about Mormon fundamentalists, there was never any doubt that I’d read it eventually. But what I was expecting from this book and what I got were two totally different beasts. My expectation was to walk away thinking, “hm, yes, Mormon fundamentalists are interesting, hm.” But instead, I feel like this book magically sprouted a pair of legs, donned a pair of wicked shitkickers and promptly nailed me in the gut. Thank you Jon Krakauer, your organizational management and storytelling abilities have just earned you another fan.

In the prologue of the book, Krakauer makes some important statements about fundamentalists, hoping to impress upon his readers that the bizarre story he is about to share is not characteristic of the entire Mormon faith but that it goes to show that religious fundamentalism can be a very bad thing that can sprout from any religion or school of thought, and I appreciated that he stated that straight off the bat.

For most Americans, the thought of polygamy is truly scandalous. We can laugh about Victorians who thought it was shameful for a woman to bare her ankle to a man and crack jokes about the hullabaloo that resulted from the Brady Bunch parents, Mike and Carol, being filmed lying in a bed together wearing pajamas and discussing the antics of their kids at the end of the day. But the thought of one man with more than one woman is outrageously wicked in the eyes of most. The same could likely be said of those who practice open relationships or engage in a swinger lifestyle or polyamorism. Our youth can usually get away with screwing around without too much concern but eventually, the social expectation is that each of us will eventually settle down with one partner at a time and quietly live out the rest of our lives.

And then you have many Mormon fundamentalists who strongly believe that God wants them to have plural wives. For those of us who disagree with their claim to live this sort of lifestyle, Krakauer has showcased a number of deeply disturbing stories that confirm for the rest of us (Mormons and non-Mormons alike) why it is illegal and why that should not change.

The main story surrounds the ritualistic murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty, a young Mormon wife and her 15-month-old daughter. Krakauer highlights some details of the murder early-on, but it isn’t until the middle section of the book that the full retelling of the murder takes place. So those hoping for a gutsy true crime story may find themselves disappointed and there was a reason this book is shelved in the “religion” section of the bookstore. Krakauer also highlights a number of other infamous polygamous families, towns and talks about the ramifications of sects closing out the influence of the outside world. He also talks about taxes and welfare and what this means for polygamists and Mormon fundamentalists. Most importantly, he talks about historical events that occurred centuries ago as well as more modern events that have happened in the decades that preceded the crime that may have established a basis for why the Lafferty brothers killed their sister-in-law and baby niece.

In the authors remarks at the end of the book, Krakauer admits that when he struck out to write this book, his intent had been to write about the syncretism between the roots of Mormonism and the current practices and beliefs of the Latter Day Saints. But then the book morphed itself into a study of acts of violence at the hands of religious fundamentalists. If he ever writes the book he intended to write, I’d love to read it. And in the meantime, will gladly read some of the other things he’s written because even though I’m not a huge fan of the nonfiction, Krakauer has had some major success in reminding me that truth is stranger than fiction.
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Reading Progress

December 21, 2008 – Shelved
February 10, 2009 – Shelved as: nonfiction
February 10, 2009 –
page 3
February 11, 2009 –
page 57
February 11, 2009 –
page 85
21.3% "Very odd..."
February 11, 2009 – Shelved as: religion
February 12, 2009 –
page 171
February 12, 2009 –
page 226
February 12, 2009 –
page 226
Started Reading
February 13, 2009 –
page 372
February 13, 2009 – Shelved as: 2009
February 13, 2009 – Finished Reading
February 14, 2009 – Shelved as: abuse
February 23, 2011 – Shelved as: tnbbc-winter-2008

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger I've been meaning to read this for awhile now. I read Escape by Carolyn Jessup late last year and have since been stock piling all polygamy and cult related books. I'm going to read them all- eventually. I heard this was one not to miss so I ran out and got it and haven't read it yet...of course. Have you read any others like this?

Beth F. Never have. But after finishing this one I'm very interested to seek more out. I could hardly put this one down.

I just added the one you read by Jessup to my "to read" shelf. Thanks for mentioning sounds really good.

message 3: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger Escape is VERY good. I picked it up on a whim one day at a store and fell in love with the whole subject.
I have some others that look REALLY good that I need to get to as soon as possible. I'm hoping to fit some (somehow! LOL) into the spring challenge because I want to try to finish this one. During the winter challenge I was reading about two, on average, non challenge books for every one I used for the challenge.
I'd have killed it if I had only read challenge "worthy" books. LOL

message 4: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger Here are some of the ones I actually have so I've been able to read the back and at least look through them a bit-
God's Brothel The Extortion of Sex for Salvation in Contemporary Mormon and Christian Fundamentalist Polygamy and the Stories of 18

His Favorite Wife Trapped in Polygamy

Daughter of the Saints Growing Up in Polygamy

Heaven's Harlots My Fifteen Years As a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God Cult

Not all of them are actually polygamy based, one or two are about a different cult but they all look very good and I'm itching to start them all.
I recently order Seductive Poison A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple and have been dying to start that and haven't had time. That's about Jim Jones which I've never read anything on yet somehow.
I hope you see some you like!

message 5: by Eastofoz (new)

Eastofoz Beth is this one all narrative prose or is it broken up in different writing styles? Have you read Krakauer's Into Thin Air A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster? If you have, would you say that this religion one is as much of a page turner? I really liked the Everest one.

Erica Beth,

This is an old post but I was wondering what other religious books you have enjoyed? I like learning about different religions and thought you may have some recommendations?


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