• Under the Banner of Heaven

  • A Story of Violent Faith
  • By: Jon Krakauer
  • Narrated by: Jon Krakauer
  • Length: 5 hrs and 24 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (733 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In Under the Banner of Heaven, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders.  

At the core of his audiobook 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 listeners inside isolated communities in the American West, Canada, and Mexico, where some 40,000 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.

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)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Probably too true for the God fearing

As an individual with solid Mormon ancestry on both sides, I believe that this is first book that seamlessly combines a starkly realistic and accurate account of Mormon history and militant Mormon fundamentalism. In the process, it demonstrates the relationship between the two and exposes the inevitable consequences of strongly held religious beliefs, consequences that are strewn through out history, but are here etched into dramatic relief by a religion conjured up only 170 years ago.

55 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Unfortunate misstep for otherwise competent writer

One wonders if Mr. Krakauer did any research from actual historical documents and newspapers or if he relied entirely on secondhand accounts, in this unfortunately error-laden book.

Even on the story that is the focus of the book, he fails to get the town the murders took place in instead placing them nearly 50 miles away. That is only one of many many factual errors, and if he is that sloppy and or misinformed about the murder case that is his centerpiece how many more lapses may be found with serious research.

While the premise sounds interesting, he fails to support his thesis. By using highly unusual cases of people who are on the fringe of their religious communities, Krakauer completely undercuts his argument that religion causes this kind of violence. The people that are highlighted would be just as likely to wreak violence in an athiest community as a devoutly religious one. In fact, by their very acts they reject the religious communities that they nominally do come from.

I wanted to like this book as I have enjoyed other of Krakauers work but I was unable to find much that was redeeming. Unless you simply want to believe that religion causes violence I suggest you look elsewhere, this book certainly won't change any minds.

52 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Not bad, but a bit biased

Krakauer's UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN is interesting and well researched. His examination of the origins of the Mormon church were eye-opening as was his breakdown on the origin of the fundamentalist sect of the LDS church.

I am not a Mormon but one flaw I found here was a disturbingly anti-religious bias on the part of the author. Although he claims toward the end to be fascinated by the "culture" and "faith" of Mormons and other religious folks, it comes off as a bit disingenuous after many statements throughout the book which belittle people of faith or cast all people of faith in the same light.

Again, I'm not a Mormon and my personal opinion of Mormonism is not entirely favorable from a theological point of view; however, I am a person of faith myself and hate to see any group of people painted with the same broad brush.

Yes, the murders detailed in this book are deeply disturbing and some of the history of the LDS church past and present gives one the impression that it's a bit cultic in nature. But to say all Mormons are exactly alike, that they're all just like the two murderers in this book, is patently unfair to mainstream Mormons. To go further and suggest that ALL people of ANY faith are equally corrupt, as he does suggest in more than one spot, is even less fair-minded and betrays the author's admitted agnostic bias; that bias makes the book as a whole a bit suspect.

That said, there's a lot of good information and a fascinating "read/listen" to be had. Just go in knowing the author's bias and you'll be fine.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Subjective, lopsided depiction of religion

I think that Mr. Krakauer has over-extending himself on this one, doing only cursory research from the most biased and subjective sources, obviously hoping to drum up an interesting novel, but not necessarily an accurate depiction of the facts. Just as we saw after "Into Thin Air" came out (where Jon's portrayal of the story was criticized by those who knew the facts) this book is so lop-sided and full of historical conjecture that it is a shame to see it placed in the "Non-fiction" section. (In the paper text there are suspiciously few source materials referenced.) In addition, the fundamental premise that authoritative religion has caused submissiveness and thus led to horrible acts such as murders clashes with:
1. The main story of the book about the Lafferty brothers. Brenda Lafferty was clearly thinking for herself and standing up to the fundamentalist fanatics in her family, contrary to the author's depiction of most LDS members.
2. The most fundamental Christian teachings of the LDS church to love one another, not kill, not steal, etc.

Using historical anomalies and fundamentalist heretics is no way to depict a specific religion, or a religion in general. Once again, Jon Krakauer is twisting the facts and making a profit at the expense of others. Does that sound like someone qualified to be writing about religion?

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Under the Banner of Bias & Biogtry

Laffertys were excommunicated from the Mormon Church before their horrific crimes were committed. Calling Lafferty a "Fundamentalist Mormon" is like calling Charles Manson a "Fundamentalist Catholic" or a "Born-Again Baptist." Hmmmm, why is it those labels are never used to described psychopathic murderers who used to go to Sunday School when they were growing up? To sell books by smearing an entire religious people through sensationalistic half-truths and misleading or misinformed story-telling is ludicrous at best and ugly biogtry at worst. Hatred and prejudice are alive and well. This book just proves it and fuels it.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Should be classified under Fiction

This book completely misses the mark. It seems the only way the author could claim some legitimacy to his novel is to loosely associate it with Mormonism. Writing a book about polygamy is fine, there are thousands of them already penned, however, the only ones that get any publicity try to link the practice with Mormons. The fact is that polygamy is against the law in the US and has been banned by the Mormon church since Utah became part of the union.

Pass on this book, don't waste your time.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Best book I've downloaded all year

Here are the good things about John Krakauer’s amazing “Under the Banner of Heaven”: It’ll blow your mind about the Mormon church, with a revealing history of the Joseph Smith days and riveting tales of present-day latter-day sait looniness — the Lafferty murders, Elizabeth Smart. The book will get you thinking about how maybe, just maybe, Islamic fundamentalists aren’t all that different from our own homegown Christian fundamentalists. And the author is incredibly talented at weaving history, narrative, and interviews to create a swift weekend read.

Now the bad part: During and after reading the book, you’ll want to talk about it with just about everyone. And on occassion, one of those people will turn out to be a practicing Mormon. And if you’re being really dense, like me, you’ll probably end up making a huge ass of yourself.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Riveting

I have read and enjoyed all of this author's books, but find this one to be my favorite so far. Although not without bias, I thought his investigation of the history of Mormon fundamentalism both interesting and insightful. For those outside the faith, the Mormons inherent secrecy and exclusion of gentiles perpetrates an almost insatiable curiosity. Krakauers look at past and present events is riveting reading. I listened to the book nearly without interruption. My only complaint is that an unabridged copy was not available.

9 people found this helpful

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