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on 18 October 2004
...although nominally about Mormonism (with a handy picture of a mountain on the cover, just to tempt in Krakauer fans who liked'Into Thin Air'), 'Under the Banner of Heaven' is really about how fundamentalism distorts everyone who touches it.
There's a wonderful scene near the end where he asks Ron Lafferty, who's spent half his adult life in prison for his part in a 'religious' murder of a woman and a baby whether he sees any similiarities between himself and Osama bin Laden... and for just a second, he almost does.
Unusual and utterly engrossing, this book is wonderful reading for almost anyone: it's beautifully written (if often harrowing), and if Krakauer rarely conceals his own prejudices, without his passion, it wouldn't be nearly so intense and fascinating.
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on 30 August 2004
This book no doubt has its detractors. In typical fashion they will try to defend themselves which of course is completely justified. However, if one reads Jon Krakauer's book with an open mind (I know of no other way to properly read a book) then you will appreciate the sheer enormity of the challenges this book poses in trying to understand the human condition. This book is about way more than religious fundamentalism, it's an inquiry into the extent that we justify our thoughts, rituals, beliefs, actions and even the 'justification of our justifications' in an effort to find our appropriate place in this infinitely complex human 'order'. It's a powerful book dedicated to the ever-elusive pursuit of truth. To come away from this book unchallenged means only one thing, ignorance. Well done Jon. A masterpiece.
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on 29 September 2012
Well, just finished this, and its a riveting read, deconstructing the murder of a woman and her young child by fundamentalist Mormon Ron Lafferty in 1984, because "God told me to".

'Under the Banner of Heaven' tracks the history of Mormonism, and the growth of its fundamentalist wing, from the 19thC to the present day. All those wives! All that need for 'blood atonement'! As Krakauer says, though Mormonism is now accepted as part of the American mainstream, it "usually hugs the right edge of the flow", articulating reactionary - and usually offensive - views on race, gender, and sexuality.

If you were sceptical about the worth of organised religion of any creed, this book will confirm and reinforce your view that, though religion may have some minor social benefits, its tendency to exclude (and 'damn') non-believers (with varying degrees of social exclusion or physical harm) in the name of 'god' tends to negate any intrinsic worth it may bring.

Currently (as at September 2012), Mitt Romney - Mormon - is Republican candidate for US President. I doubt he'll win, but the LDS must be delighted he's got so far, and take it as evidence that the Final Day (second coming) is near...
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on 31 January 2011
I read this book because I enjoyed Into the Wild, both book and film, and because I read in the February issue of Vogue that Kristen Stewart was reading it. She has good taste in my opinion and so I followed. Anyway, being from the UK and so having never had first hand experience with the Mormon religion I was very interested in finding out what the truth was amongst all the media driven ideas that are fed to us. The book reads like a long newspaper article, wonderfully intertwined stories, mixing politics, history and culture of a people and of a religion. Although parts of the book shock, parts also make you understand what, on the surface, you think impossible to understand. Would more then recommend this book, quick to read and highly addictive, one of the best things I have read in a long time!
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'Under The Banner Of Heaven' is written with Jon Krakauer's usual easily read and digested style and tells the story not only of the Mormon fundamentalist murder of a mother and baby in the early 1980's, but also the history of the Mormon faith. Knowing nothing about Mormons, this historical aspect of the book really added to my overall understanding of the murders (and what may have lead to them) and the two aspects of this book are weaved together perfectly. The parts about the murders are shocking and a touch distressing to read in places and the origins and development of the Mormon faith is hard to believe at times. Jon Krakauer seems to write in a measured way and doesn't seem excessively biased. A great deal of the points he makes are backed up by various Mormon texts and interviews. The extent of Mormon fundamentalism is unnerving to discover and read about and casts their self proclaimed religious superiority in a rather dubious light. This is a clear and readable account of some horrific murders and the history of the Mormon faith and it kept me engrossed the whole way through. It's not Krakauer's usual outdoor adventure type book, but it is a fascinating read never-the-less. Worth a read.

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on 3 June 2007
This is quite simply one of the most breathtaking books I have ever laid hands on.

It is extremely revealing educationally, but also contains the power to shock and surprise, as its author John Krakauer deftly and compellingly interweaves Mormon history with the current LDS church situation, and the more fundamentalist modern disciples of Joseph Smith. He received death threats for this work, and considering how it exposes the shameful and disturbing roots and beliefs of Mormonism, it is hardly surprising. Joseph Smith's claims to revelation lack any credibility in their historical, scientific and logical foundations; they make no sense whatsoever and are easily proven false. While they are indeed laughable, the deception that he has brought to millions, is not.

Krakauer has a scintillating writing style and is to be applauded for bravely bringing all this to light. I borrowed this book from a friend, but I have just purchased it from Amazon as it is well worth another read. Get this, and be gripped.
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If a murderer truly believes that he was instructed by God to kill, does this make him insane?

In 1984, Brenda Lafferty and her little daughter, Erica, were murdered in a particularly brutal fashion by her brother-in-law, Dan Lafferty, after his brother Ron had a 'revelation' from God instructing him to 'remove' them. The Lafferty brothers were both Mormon Fundamentalists ~ that is, Mormons who live by the rules laid down by the originator of the faith, Joseph Smith, which includes polygamy.

The book starts off with details about the crime, then goes back to explain how Mormonism started, the history of the religion, the general population's reaction to the movement, and the changes that have occured through over the years since its inception, mostly the division between the LDS and the Fundamentalists. The purpose of this is to explain the psychology behind fundamentalism in this religion, and to show what led the Lafferty brothers to do what they did.

I loved the clever structure of the book, the way it moved from present to past to build up a complete picture of of this 'violent faith'. I didn't know much about Mormonism before reading this; my knowledge came only from the scarily plastic, smiling faces of the Osmond brothers in the 1970s and the more recent, hilarious (and accurate) take on it by South Park. Jon Krakauer's book gives what I consider to be a balanced view, some of which details frightening scenarios ~ murder (and massacre), paedophilia, narcissistic delusions, mind control, hypocrisy, false representation of facts. I read that he took three years to research the book, not only using a variety of written sources, but also interviewing those currently in the faith, those who have left it, been harmed by it ~ and Dan Lafferty himself.

Under the Banner of Heaven considers the psychology of fundamentalism in all religions, not just Mormonism, and makes for fascinating reading. I love the way Krakauer writes, never using twenty words where ten will do, giving an objective point of view at all times (though so cleverly that you can often feel his opinion whispering through the sentences!). Normally, I would be only mildly interested in reading a book about cults or religions, but this had me gripped.

I loved the observation at the end (I hope this isn't a 'spoiler'!) from ex Mormon DeLoy Bateman who said that although he thought that people within the religion were probably happier than those on the outside, "some things are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself."
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on 21 November 2007
Another substantial nail in the coffin of religious fundamentalism. Gives the reader another perspective on those smart "elders" in black suits and ties knocking on doors. Utterly compelling and anger inducing.
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on 30 September 2008
Brilliant account of a religion and how it lead to the murder of innocents by people carrying out what they thought was God's work. Sound familiar?

This is a stunning book. It so incredibly well researched and written that despite the amount of details you don't ever lose your way. It describes everything so richly that you almost feel part of events. A warning though - it makes the retelling of the actual murders all the more harrowing and almost unreadable at one point.

I'd like to think it's for everyone but I think you need more than a casual interest in religion (more so atheists! Anyone whose read God Delusion or Sam Harris MUST read this) to really enjoy a pretty full account of Mormon history but it really rewards. It made me shake my head in disbelief several times and reflect on how a religion (?!) like Mormonism or it's offshoots can gain such a foothold in modern times.

I'd also recommend it for fans of Brian Masters crime writing as it feels similarly well written and the subject matter does cross over.
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on 22 December 2013
This narrative is presented as being the story of the murder of a young woman and her 15 month old child by religious psychopaths belonging to one of the extreme fundamentalist wings of the Mormon Church.
However the book is in effect a critical but reasonably accurate treatise on the origins and development of Mormonism and the schisms which have stemmed from it.
Like many other religions and sects the early years of Mormonism is the history of a persecuted band of itinerant converts following a leader of somewhat dubious morals in their quest for a safe haven where they can carry out their practices and beliefs without restriction. Invariably the leader has a direct line to god who has given him a revelation, while he was alone, telling him to prepare "his people" for the end of the world.
If the new religion takes off then usually within a few years the schisms appear with one of the schisms being the fundamentalist wing which is usually attractive to the most disturbed.
Krakauer is clearly not a Joseph Smith fan and certainly not a Mormon - he portrays Smith as a charismatic fraudster who was perceptive enough to realise he was in the right place at the right time in history and took full advantage of the opportunity.
From his first venture as a commercial seer employed to find buried artefacts in the graves of the indigenous Indians until his untimely murder, falling from a prison cell window having been shot, is not the saga of a pious preacher.
Constitutional rights of religious freedom and their attempts to have their practices exempt from the law, are touched upon but not adequately expanded nor is the genetic repercussions of the complexities of inter breeding resulting from their dogma of polygamy.
Once you convince yourself that a convicted fraudster dug up gold plates and then was given magic glasses by a supernatural being to allow him to read them then you are on your way to believing anything - including divine sanctioned slaughter.
Their dogma that revelations are not only restricted to the leaders but are available to all and sundry on a "pick & mix" basis has created insular, male dominated societies practicing polygamy which have endured and indeed present a recurring problem to the present day.
This book contains details of the numerous murders that litter the short history of Mormonism but none as horrific as the one which forms the basis of this narrative - the slaughter of a 15 month old baby and her mother - as instructed by a god.
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