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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith | [Jon Krakauer]

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

At the core of this 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. 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.
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Publisher's Summary

At the core of this 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.

©2003 Jon Krakauer; (P)2003 Books on Tape, Inc., Published by arrangement with Random House Audio Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Krakauer lays the portent on beautifully, building his tales carefully from the ground up until they irresistibly, spookily combust." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Krakauer presents details that indeed sound stranger than fiction." (The New York Times)

What Members Say

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  •  
    pixychild Marysville, WA USA 07-17-09
    pixychild Marysville, WA USA 07-17-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Interesting @ arm's length"

    As an outsider, it's often easy to make assumptions about a religion's morality and values. But looking beyond the inflamatory language that the author resorts to in certain areas of the book (indicating his biases), I found this book to be quite insightful and informative about the history behind the LDS and FLDS faiths, as well as the geographical and logistical aspects of their beliefs/practices. It is very evident that the author has done extensive research for this book, and does a good job providing historical background information to shed light on present practices/situations. From my own protestant christian upbringing, I had a very limited perspective/understanding of the LDS faith, and I think this book helped to clarify many points. I found other areas of the book quite disturbing and struggled to keep in mind that the actions of individuals within a religion do not necessarily reflect the morals of the whole. Written as a scholarly approach toward something like religion (which is ultimately "irrationally" based), I think the author does a pretty good job trying to be informative rather than judgemental. The one downfall of the audiobook is that it does not include the bibliography, footnotes, and appendecis that are contained in the hard-copy. Included in these was a letter from the head of the LDS with their assessment of the book, and a then a counter response from the author with clarifications/corrections and closing arguments.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ashley Scottsdale, AZ, USA 04-06-06
    Ashley Scottsdale, AZ, USA 04-06-06
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    "Makes you think"

    I loved this book, both the story and narration. Scott Brick is a very relaxed reader, and doesn't try too hard to pull off voices.

    I can understand why some would be offended by this book, and as a Christian there were some statements about religious people in general that bothered me. However, this book made me think, and is clearly not about mainstream mormons, but rather fundamentalists. The author isn't even "against" only mormon fundamentalists, but fundamentalists of all kinds.

    This is well worth a listen

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Justin Tallahassee, FL, USA 08-12-09
    Justin Tallahassee, FL, USA 08-12-09
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    "Amazing."

    I have this strange interest in the Mormon Faith. I was raised Christian and my mind boggles at how different the beliefs are from what I was taught. I have moved away from my religion as I've grown older and love to read about the other denominations of the Christian Faith that I wasn't exposed to. The writing and reading was just top notch with this one. I would recommend it to anyone. My fiance doesn't like listening to audiobooks so I bought her a hardcopy just so she would read it too. I am definitely going to look into other Krakauer books and anything read by Scott Brick.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian Windsor, CA, USA 04-17-08
    Brian Windsor, CA, USA 04-17-08
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    "Excellent read"

    I found Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven chilling and revealing, with an excellent attention to staying close to fact. While it is entertaining, it also confronts the issues of faith and belief, showing how detached from reason these concepts can become when people lean far towared fundamentalist belief systems without questioning that system with a modicum of logic. My best since Tracy Kidder's Mountain Beyond Mountains.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alison New Hope, PA, USA 10-06-04
    Alison New Hope, PA, USA 10-06-04
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    "Not just for people interested in Mormonism"

    This is a marvelously complex and fascinating book. On the surface it's a history of Mormon fundamentalism, which frankly isn't a topic that's important to most people. But the fascinating history of the Mormon Church is intensely interesting, especially as it reflects the political and social changes of the 19th and 20th centuries. Beyond history, the book addresses some of the basic issues in understanding religious fundamentalism in a pluralistic and supposedly tolerant society.

    I came away from this book with a lot of respect for the mainstream LDS church and the suffering of its pioneers and prophets. But the book also forces one to look into the face of the evil deeds that human beings who feel beleaguered and justified by a vengeful God will do to their fellow humans. Because we live in a world now where religious fundamentalism threatens our very existence, it's useful to confront these issues broadly.

    The book is also very well read by Krakauer. I was very sorry when it ended. Even though I listened to the unabridged edition, I wanted it to be longer.

    15 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Megan DublinIreland 05-28-05
    Megan DublinIreland 05-28-05
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    "More History than Murder Mystery"

    This book is written as a historical account of how the mormon chuch came about. It explains how the American government interfered in mormon ideals. The clash caused a split in the base of mormon faith and the result was mormon fundamentalism. Persecuted by non-believers(gentiles) across the United States to Utah, Brigham Young encouraged the fundamentalist faction in secret from members opposed to extremist ideas after Joseph Smith was murdered for his outspoken conviction. The Lafferty brothers were fundamentalists. This book tries to clarify the reasoning behing the murders by exposing the psychology behind this fervent faith.
    I can understand how mormon church members will be outraged by this title, even though Jon Krakauer's references and documentation of history are unarguable. I learned a lot from this book and grew up quite familiar with the LDS church. The fundamentalist mormon is uncommon and a minority when compared to the membership of the general church. They are not recognized as true members by those who practice present-day guidelines.
    Krakauer ties history in well with personal interviews and contemporary news of the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby and the kidnapping account of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City. He gives good insight into the mind of someone who's ideals are utterly possessed or controlled by certainty of doctrine. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in historical or religious fact.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary A Godfrey, IL, USA 05-20-09
    Mary A Godfrey, IL, USA 05-20-09 Member Since 2007
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    "Books like this are why I prefer non-fiction!"

    I like a really good novel or literature for relaxation and escape. But real life stories like this are far more interesting. Everyone looking for truth in religion should read this book. The details about the short history of such a popular and fast-growing sect are fascinating, and you find yourself wondering how anyone can buy into the beliefs of the LDS faith, and questioning the basis of any religion, for that matter. The blood-curdling description of the murders done in the name of God are gripping. The long history of child-rape, incest, and brutality is incredible. The description in the killer's own words of the murder of a helpless child were almost more than I could take. I chose this book because Scott Brick is my favorite narrarator. It will be on my list of favorites for a very long time.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S Houston, TX, USA 04-18-05
    S Houston, TX, USA 04-18-05
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    "Fundamental Questions"

    Some reviewers have taken offense to 'The Banner' likely because of their religious views, but if this book had used similar examples from Islam I doubt the same people would have complained. Although it does have a wealth of material about the history of Mormonism and its offspring, the book is not about 'Mormonism' per se. Any unbiased reader will clearly understand it is a book about the dangers of absolute religious fundamentalism in a general sense, no matter the religion. Although most Mormons and Muslims and Jews and Catholics, etc., are fine people, there are questions to be answered regarding the actions of some Semetic descendants who use relgion to suit their own sadistic purposes. The Banner is a psychological and historical study of religion as a whole and it is hard to imagine how anything more than that could be read into it.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Leila WuppertalGermany 07-23-04
    Leila WuppertalGermany 07-23-04
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    "interesting"

    I read this book. While it was not as enthralling as 'Into Thin Air' or 'Into the Wild' I found it to be a good book nonetheless. Krakauer devoted most of the book to the history of mormonism and (mormon) fundamentalism. As was the case in 'Into the Wild', the author seems to be interested in extremes in psychology and especially the border between eccentric behavior -such as positive human traits carried to negative extremes- and psychopathology. I felt I understood the psychology of the murders better at the end, which was the goal of the book. Considering the nature of the crime they committed, it was no small achievement for Krakauer to explain these brothers' thinking to his audience. I look forward to Krakauer's next book. A word of warning: this is not bedtime reading/listening. It is very disturbing. Therefore, I reccomend that you listen to it in the car rather than read it in bed. That said, I am glad I read it, and I hope it will be worth your while too.

    18 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Louisville, CO, United States 09-14-05
    Mark Louisville, CO, United States 09-14-05 Member Since 2005
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    "A master storyteller tells us . . . a master story"

    Jon Krakauer is like my mother-in-law. Both are engaging storytellers with a gift for keeping the listener riveted on the subject, even if we are already familiar with it. But like my mother-in-law, Krakauer is not above coloring the facts to make them fit the story he wants to tell.

    I'm a practicing Mormon with an interest in the history of the Church. I am aware that the Church is imperfect and that current Church leadership tends to gloss over less desirable points of its history.

    Krakauer has a fascinating story to tell in the Lafferty murders. But he tries too hard to reconcile the Laffertys, modern Mormon fundamentalism and religious extremism generally with early Church history and the mainstream Mormon church. To make the story fit, he uses exaggeration (such as the "unconditional obedience" supposedly demanded of modern latter-day Saints), patently untrue generalizations (e.g., the statement that "most Mormons" will eventually travel to New York for the Hill Cumorah Pageant), and silly anecdotes apparently fabricated from whole cloth (like the bizzare allegation that "Mormons the world over" have committed 5:16 p.m., the time of Joseph Smith's death, to memory). Similarly amusing is his claim that Mormons refer to non-Mormons as "gentiles," a word that passed out of favor among mainstream Mormons 40 years ago and that is literally never heard in the modern church.

    Most disturbing is Krakauer's willingness to present his hypotheses about historical controversies as truth. He even attributes feelings and motivations manufactured by him to figures such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, apparently to help the story flow.

    The narration is bad. ApPROXimately EVery THIRD SYLLable is EMPHasized.

    The book is enjoyable despite its faults. I don't recommend against it, but do take it with a grain of salt. This is not a history, but a historical miniseries in print. The story is great, but the truth remains firmly in second place.

    23 of 27 people found this review helpful
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  • iris
    Paris, France
    6/19/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Fascinating Read"

    I really enjoyed this book as the author discussses the origins of the Mormons and explains many facts about this faith that I for one was ignorant of. The story ostensibly is about a particularly brutal murder perpetrated by a break-away Saint on his own brother's wife and child. This serves as a lead in to a book which is so much more than a 'true-crime' novel. I also liked the fact that the author although critical of the fundamental Mormons and their practice of polygamy he does not have any particular axe to grind against the Mormons and he gives a balanced and objective examination of this very American phenomenon. The crime took place around the start of the present century so some things may be dated but the more general discussion is still pertinent. I thought the narrator did a very good job. My only reproach is that the book seemd slightly disorganised and jumped around from subject to subject but it did not impair my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • PETER
    LONDON, United Kingdom
    8/15/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "History religion and violence"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I would recommend this book. It is a very interesting discussion of relationship between religion and violence. It particularly focuses on Mormonism, which was very interesting as it not a religion I knew much of.


    What did you like best about this story?

    There were two things I really enjoyed while listening to this book. Firstly, that while it is critical of organised religion, the author brings objectivity to the book. It is not a god delusion type polemic, but rather a discussion how certain types of rationalisations can lead people to set aside their concepts of right and wrong and do heinous acts without the slightest sense of guilt.

    Secondly, I really enjoyed listening to the history of the Mormon church. It is fast becoming one of the major religions in the world, but it is rare in so far as that it's entire history is documented.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • sonia
    Manor Park, United Kingdom
    9/19/12
    Overall
    "Took too long to get to the point."

    Don't get me wrong it was interesting but far too much background and history for what was essentially a tale of a horrific murder of a wife and child due to the beliefs of a religious zealot of a brother in law who appears to have no remorse for his crime. I stuck with it in the hope it would speed along but it didn't. I found myself drifting and losing interest in some parts and just when i'm about to put it down it became interesting before drifting off again. I did find myself fast forwarding it just to get to the end. I haven't listened to it since. Maybe I should have bought the abridged version it may have kept my attention more

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Joseph
    Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom
    6/1/07
    Overall
    "A slow start but ultimately riveting"

    A work of genius. Current events and issues cleverly interwoven with their historical context, and yet the story stays an interesting pleasure to follow. It also leaves some very serious questions to be answered about the whole idea of ?Religious Freedom? and a few people who see it as a perfect vehicle to behave in horrific ways. A good read and sadly I fear a One Off.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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