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Under the Banner of Heaven | [Jon Krakauer]

Under the Banner of Heaven

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 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, 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

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (347 )
5 star
 (172)
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Overall
4.2 (51 )
5 star
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1 star
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Story
4.3 (50 )
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 (28)
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 (14)
3 star
 (5)
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  •  
    John Terryville, CT, USA 07-29-03
    John Terryville, CT, USA 07-29-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A little grass roots backlash?"

    This is a great, little, hypnotic book right up there with his other books. And in case you think I'm somehow biased, Entertainment Weekly gave it an A- review. Why then are there so many bad ratings here? Could it be that Fundamentalist Mormans come off as pedophiles in the book and that Fundamentalist Mormans also have internet access???

    88 of 119 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brandon Champaign, IL, USA 07-31-04
    Brandon Champaign, IL, USA 07-31-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Good story - poor conclusions"

    The story of the Lafferty killings needed to be told. This book provides a great narration of the events leading up to and following the murders. This book is certainly the best source to date on the details of this horrible crime.

    The book errs by trying to go beyond storytelling. The author attempts to link religious belief with violence. Though violence is often exercised in the name of religion, the act is driven by something more fundamental than religious belief. There is a selection problem here: people who have innate desires to commit certain types of violent acts also tend to be drawn into these types of fringe groups. Another thing we see is that religiously-linked crimes are much more newsworthy than plain old 'secular' crime. If a murder is committed, for example, we are much more likely to see it on the news if the criminal had a religious background. This leads us to incorrectly conclude that religion is a large factor in violence. The Lafferty brothers were lunatics for sure, but it wasn't religion that made them like that.

    The link between the Mormon church and the Mormon fundamentalists was also a little unfair (as well as the one-sided history of the Mormon church included in the text). Would he apply the same logic to link the behavior of modern Lutherans and Methodists to the history of the Catholic church?

    Despite the problems with some of the conclusions of the book, it is well written and a good read.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt Los Angeles, CA, USA 08-11-03
    Matt Los Angeles, CA, USA 08-11-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Uncommonly Good"

    Don't believe those who say that this book is simplistic, or merely lays the problem of violence at the door of the church. This is a fascinating, well researched book that wants to ask "what is the role of religion in these crimes." Anyone who looks at the world today and does not see a violent dimension to devout faith is not looking very carefully. Under the Banner of Heaven does look carefully and honestly at this subject. Indeed it's actually very kind to Mormonism, despite what the zealots say.

    But perhops no ammount of kindness would please them, a people who feel honesty should take a backseat to the promotion of faith.

    And to the person who said that these are simply fringe characters who would have been driven to violence in any setting, that's just foolish. The point is not whether they would have been violent athiests, the point is that they were violent Mormons and found support for their beliefs in Mormonism. This book is merely an analysis of that fact, and a very good one.

    When a whole history of violent actions coalesces around any set of ideas, it is worthy of scrutiny, be it The Book Of Mormon, or the Matrix.

    This book's scrutiny is riveting. You won't be able to put it down.

    17 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L New York, NY, United States 01-30-08
    L New York, NY, United States 01-30-08 Member Since 2005
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    "MUST 'READ'"

    1) it's a gripping and absolutely chilling story. 2) more importantly, it gives the history of one of the world's fastest growing religions. a very surprising and sometimes shocking history you haven't heard, and that you need to know.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Blacksburg, VA, USA 12-18-03
    John Blacksburg, VA, USA 12-18-03 Member Since 2003
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    "More about fundamentalism than murder"

    This is very well-written book is more than just a book about a couple of murderers -- to tell the story properly. JK goes to great lengths to put the murders in the context of the FLDS Church, and raises disturbing questions about how far the seperation of church and state can really be allowed to go. He certainly brings up some issues I had never considered.

    The narrator is very good, although the narrator is perhaps occasionally over-emphatic. For example, it would have been nice to hear the word "any" said a few times without emphasizing both syllables ("N-E").

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Edgewater, CO, United States 12-08-03
    Michael Edgewater, CO, United States 12-08-03 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Only one regret..."

    I only regret that I settled for the abridged audio version of the book (hence, a rating of four instead of five). Krakauer's rendition of the foundations of Mormonism and of a modern case of fundamentalism gone awry are equally compelling. It would be worth reading the complete, unabridged novel.

    Krakauer's question is not one of the legitimacy of all religious faith but of how religious faith is often twisted to justify heinous actions. Fundamental Mormonism provides an intriguing case to study because of the religion's relatively modern roots. Certainly, any conclusions the reader draws could be applied to any set of values taken to an extreme end. The combination of the fascinating history of a religion (albeit a brief and possibly biased one) combined with an interesting set of moral questions makes for a very entertaining and thoughtful read (or listen). Highly recommended.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wayne Rancho Cordova, CA, USA 10-27-03
    Wayne Rancho Cordova, CA, USA 10-27-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fuzzy distinction between LDS and FLDS"

    While the focus is historic Mormons and modern day Fundamentalists, this book helps show the way men use religion to control and act out their need to control. Could just as easily be the Middle East where honor killings take place. Could see how practicing Mormons could be offended. Seems a balanced fair look at links between nutty splinter groups and mainstream LDS. Yep I'm a non-Mormon.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Howard Burlingame, CA, USA 01-10-04
    Howard Burlingame, CA, USA 01-10-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Oops. I Take it Back."

    I wrote my first review after listening to an hour of the unabridged version of this audiobook. At that point, I made a snap judgement that the author, who was new to me, was simply presenting a shallow analysis of religious faith, and trying to sell books on the back of a lurid double murder and the titillation of describing the tawdry details of polygamist sects. But I had listened to all my other titles, so I stayed with the book. To my suprise, I got caught up with the fascinating history of the Mormons, presented with what seemed to be admirable objectivity. But when the author described the retrial of Ron Lafferty, the book's true payoff became clear. Through the words of the psychiatrists and psychologists mustered by the defense and prosecution, a devastating portrait of the puzzling, infuriating double murderer was painted. The real question is this: what is the difference between the defendant and personalities like Joseph Smith, described by William James as a "religious genius?" I found the answer provocative and compelling. I have never understood the workings of minds that conceive and carry out seemingly senseless actions like those described here. For the first time, this book gave me a glimmer of such an understanding. It also convinced me of the justice of the death sentence handed down in this case. I'm glad I kept listening!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Larry Hartsfield 09-08-03 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Under the Banner of Heaven"

    This is a fascinating examination of the dark side of fundamentalism in general and of mormonism in particular. I found the history of mormonism to be of special interest. It provides good insight into how this sort of twisted thinking can come to dominate a community and provide a rationale for such things as adultery, pedophilia, and child abuse. Listen to this one for yourself.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gene Agoura Hills, CA, USA 09-06-03
    Gene Agoura Hills, CA, USA 09-06-03
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating"

    Anyone who gives this less than four stars must have a hidden agenda. It would be interesting to see how many people who reviewed it actually listened to it, especially among those who gave it a low rating. I have been around Mormons all my life and really didn't know much about the religion. This gave me a good introduction as well as told a harrowing, unbelievable story. Superbly read by the author. Never a dull moment. I only give five stars to all-time classics, and this just falls short.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
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