Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Synopsis: A multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, polygamy, and unyielding faith. This is vintage Krakauer, an utterly compelling work of nonfiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behavior.

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.

Review: I read very few non fiction novels, but there are always topics that particulary interest me and that make it very easy for me to go to them. I must admit that this Mormons theme really intrigued me. It is a “religion” that I know very badly and I was very curious to learn more.

The author shares several facts, stories about the creation of this movement by Joseph Smith in the 1840s (if I’m not mistaken), but it also intersects with other stories more or less recent with testimonials. In these, he was mainly interested in the story of Ron and Dan Lafferty and the terrible murder they committed in the name of God. The author also discusses the problems of polygamy and the impact it has had on society as well as the consequences of such practices. It was terrible to see the place of the woman in all this, to see the problems of pedophilia, rape, and even incest. It certainly is not a generality, but it was very difficult to see what these women are going through and how much they are being used. I understand that the author deals with the most extreme Mormons, those who have been excommunicated since the church tried to modernize and change their practices. Indeed, it is now forbidden for them to be polygamous, but there remains a large population who refused this change and who remained determined to live the way that Joseph Smith had taught.

It was a very interesting book that taught me a lot about the formation and evolution of this cult.


17 thoughts on “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

  1. I read this one about 10 years ago but I still remember it vividly because it was so shocking what was done under the guise of religion. Multiple young wives? Boys treated poorly? UGH! Made me so mad. Plus, I love Krakauer’s writing. And he wrote a lot about the history of Mormonism, too, so I thought it was a fairly balanced story. I’ve known some true Mormons and they are all not like these wackos. Thank goodness! Awesome review!

  2. I haven’t read this one but I am mormon actually. And the mormon church hasn’t practiced polygamy since the 1800’s. And Joseph Smith intent was not was happened here. There were a lot of widows and children without protection and back then the church was being chased by mobs and killed and raped by those that hated the faith. But the FLDS church still practices polygamy and they aren’t part of the mormon church anymore. Many mormons are good people and don’t support such evil acts. There are good and evil in any group of people. Hope that helps understand the situation a bit more. And yes I think in any religion….bad things happen because they use the religion as an excuse. A good friend of mine, their family was mormon, and her father beat her cruelly in the name of the Mormon Church and what he did was WRONG and EVIL. But I think it happens in any faith, people use religion or a faith to justify the evil acts they do and its wrong. But the majority of people in the Mormon faith are some of the most hardworking and honest people you will meet.

    I am glad to see that you got something out of it though 🙂 Its good that books come out that helps us understand the good and the bad of humankind.

    • yes that’s why I said it’s the extreme ones and one book doesn’t allow me to say a lot of things because it’s a religion I don’t know about at all.

      Yes in any religion you always have big extreme.

      Thank you for your explanation, it’s really interesting.

  3. I haven’t heard of this author, but I don’t usually read nonfiction books! I prefer to lose myself in the fantastical and magical. Like you, there are a few nonfiction topics that catch my eye, and I’ll usually give those a try. It just depends on the book and my current mood!

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one — it sounds intense!
    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

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