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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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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 26 October 2007
This book is entirely absorbing, which is no surprise coming from this fine author.

There are two strands woven together throughout the book -- the shocking 1984 murders attributed to fundamentalist Mormons, and a historical perspective on the origins of the Latter Day Saints. The skillful way in which Krakauer weaves the strands together holds the reader's interest and is very effective.

The book includes extensive interviews with fundamentalist Dan Lafferty, incarcerated in the Utah State Prison for the murders of his brother's wife and daughter. The interviews, along with the recounting of the murders, are chilling in their details. Just as chilling is the the historical perspective on how the polygamous fundamentalists splintered from mainstream Mormonism, claiming their religious direction to be directly received from God. The facts of this frightening phenomenon were probably not widely known before this book was published.

Knowing very little about the Church of the Latter Day Saints, I came away from this book with much more knowledge about the religion. The distinction is clearly drawn between the mainstream LDS and the fundamentalist sect, giving the book a balanced feel when it could have been pure sensationalism. Krakauer seems to stand aside and let the story tell itself without interpretation or judgment; only the best writers can give that impression.
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on 2 April 2015
Woah! This is really scary stuff. Yet another compelling example of truth being far more scarier than fiction. I am a big fan of Krakauer and this is the first time I have seen him being so political and confrontational. This is a real eye opening history and expose on the madness that is The Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormons. He carefully weaves some high profile murders and kidnappings in the US and ties them into the creepy and disturbing underground network of extreme polygamists.
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on 9 December 2014
Really enjoyed this-found it hard to put down. the hstorical sections and jumping back to the (almost) present day kept me alert. It astounds me how so many people can stick to this faith and how they hold so much power. The history of Mormonism (to my atheistic eys) seems like possibly the greatest con trick ever played, to the greatest amount of suckers. But the resulting fanaticism of some believers is truly scary-as is what they did.
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on 31 January 2014
Interesting background to a weird phenomena. Easy read. The book explains how Mormonism began and resulting current behaviors. Human beings can be scarily like sheep at times, but there are clear 'benefits' here for the ones with the power - the men as usual- why are women so often so gullible?
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on 16 January 2006
A bleak, fascinating, occassionally despairing yet utterly compelling study of belief. Under the banner of heaven examines fundamentalism in detail and explores the emerging all-American religion of Mormonism and shows what it means to believe.
Krakauer's intense research reflects how other mainstream religions and prophets may have emerged in the past when there weren't as many people studying and taking records of such a phenomenon.
Scarily the justifications and reasonings for his protagonist's murderous and slave-mongering actions are all to familiar from the words spoken by contemporary leaders and our own inner voices. It is a gripping departure from his early works, in terms of subject matter, and he continues to try and understand what motivates others to do the things they do.
Hopefully the author will give himself a break for his future studies and write about something where nobody dies - but I doubt it.
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on 16 October 2014
Really excellent material, provides a good insight into the 'first principles' of the Mormon church. However, the structure is rather confused - it darts back and forth between the 1800s, 1900s and 2000s and can be difficult to track and follow the various people being mentioned. Often they are related, or lived in the same town, so it can all be rather frustrating to have their stories fragmented. With that said, though, I was gripped by the book and it is very thought provoking. I was especially impressed by the inclusion of the rebuttal from the LDS 'management' and also the rebuttal of the rebuttal!
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on 12 February 2016
This is what good popular history (okay, RECENT history) should be. It is a fast, interesting read. It has plenty of relevant context - and the best popular history, in my experience, has lots of context. It deals in a fascinating, somewhat sensational subject (killer Mormons), something you probably know little about but are startled by. It treats it seriously, with sound and detailed research, but not so much or so detailed that it becomes an academic treatise. One of those books you just never regret reading, and I went on to buy more on this topic
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on 17 October 2014
A very informative and eye opening book. Living in the UK I have very little knowledge or understanding of the Mormon faith. This book gives the reader immense background into the faith and it's evolution into the modern religion it is now alongside the fundamentalist off shoots which continue to cause unrest.
A lengthy but, well worth the read book if you find religion and what drives faith interesting.
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