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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.

Critic Reviews

"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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  • Overall
  • Ashley
  • Scottsdale, AZ, USA
  • 04-06-06

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

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

43 of 47 people found this review helpful

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  • Leila
  • WuppertalGermany
  • 07-23-04


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.

26 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • S
  • Houston, TX, USA
  • 04-18-05

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.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Megan
  • DublinIreland
  • 05-28-05

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.

23 of 26 people found this review helpful

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All Religions
I first read this in 2003 after it first came out. I talked about it so much, that my wife asked to listen to it. Writing about religion has got to be one of the hardest things to do without upsetting someone. Krakauer does occasionally call the Mormon religion, strange or something similar. You would think a good editor would have omitted that. I also had to keep in mind that most religions can be easily made to look strange. I remember teaching a middle school class at my Methodist Church and talking about the Resurrection, when one of the kids, said "Yuck,Jesus was a Zombie". Than of course the sacrament, where we supposedly eat of Jesus's body and drink his blood.

That Being Said
I have always been one to let people do as they want as long as they don't hurt others. That is were the break apart Fundamentalist's of this religion become a problem. Here in America, girls as young as twelve are being raped and made pregnant. Women are beaten and abused. Freedom of religion is one thing, freedom to rape and abuse children must be stopped. Sam Brower has written a follow up book called Prophet's Prey, which is even more revealing and discusses the abandoning of little boys, so as to have more girls to rape.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary A
  • Godfrey, IL, USA
  • 05-20-09

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.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Alison
  • New Hope, PA, USA
  • 10-06-04

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.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Justin
  • Tallahassee, FL, USA
  • 08-12-09


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.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Narration emphasizes EVERYTHING

like a breathless tabloid TV show. At one relatively unimportant point he says, "A MILLION dollars" and all I could think of was Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. I could not finish the book. Maybe I'll read it in print but my impressions is that Krakauer too amps everything up unecessarily - the story and the history of the Church and these offshoots is interesting (and bizarre and ugly) without selective information, hyperbole or reader-dragging.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Miss K L Mugridge
  • 12-28-16

Not for me

It became a bit of a chore to listen to and I didn't complete the book in the end. I have learnt more about Mormons than I ever thought I would, but as I'd primarily downloaded the story for the true crime aspect, the book was not for me.

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  • iris
  • 06-19-14

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.

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  • 08-15-13

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.

  • Overall
  • sonia
  • 09-19-12

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

  • Overall
  • Joseph
  • 06-01-07

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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  • Alex H
  • 03-11-16

Gripping and Addictive

This Audiobook was just plain amazing. The story was so interesting! I really like the story. It switched to different things throughout the book which kept things fresh. It explored the lives of many polygamous Mormon communities and the experiences of many of their adherents. It explored the foundations of Mormonism in general as well.

Although Polygamous Mormonism & Mainstream Mormonism have diverged over a century ago, the events played out in this book still informs the LDS Church today. The foundations of their religious beliefs, the lives of their prophets, as well as the early church's deeds and misdeeds are explored. Mormonism is quite a fascinating religion, very strange to any Christian who believes in the Bible (the Mormons believe in the Bible "as far as it is translated correctly" - translation: if it disagrees with the Book of Mormon & D&C then it hasn't been translated correctly). This book is very candid and the author is very honest about his opinion but he is also fair to both sides. This book is a necessary exploration into their history that many of the top brass would have buried if they had their way. I have a great respect for Mormons in general as valuable members of society, this book certainly doesn't give me any indication that Mormons and Fundamentalists are the same, but it does show the potential pitfalls of many of their articles of their faith and the possible consequences...

Jon is brilliant, a great writer - but, he is critical of religion in general (he should stick with the subject matter at hand I think - he makes backhanded and gross generalisations toward religious belief in general). The Narrator was good too, he did a good job - very natural delivery and he spoke in a conversational way when he was quoting interviews.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Monique
  • 08-31-17

Boring as Bats@&$

The first few chapters were interesting. The rest is just boring propaganda. Read by the author. Perhaps that needs a re-think !! Gave up after chapter 8.

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  • Przemyslaw
  • 07-21-17

Krakauer has done a splendid job.

Hear how a religion is born, takes hold, is persecuted, morphs, is normalised and gives birth to fundamental wackos.

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  • sonya
  • 01-18-17


Would you listen to Under the Banner of Heaven again? Why?

I found the history in the book about the Mormon religion very interesting and would listen to it again.

What did you like best about this story?

the history of the Mormons and the characters

Which scene did you most enjoy?

the history of the Mormons and the characters

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It was a very interesting read and the narrator added to the quality of the story

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  • Sarah
  • 08-31-16


Well written and well read. Very interesting and compelling. Nothing boring about this work, it is underpinned by solid research and presents many twists and turns through time and history. I loved it.