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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of…

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (2003)

by Jon Krakauer

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4.5 stars - I wish it had had a flow chart of the players involved - then it would have been perfect.

This book is dense. I won't pretend that I absorbed all the details - names, places, connections - but that is no fault of Jon Krakauer's. He does an admirable job of making the history of the Mormon faith, the history of its fundamentalist off-shoots, and the story of the Lafferty murders as readable and engaging as possible. There is just so much to capture.

Mormonism is the first and only American-born world religion, and like the fledgling nation, it expanded from East to West, across the 19th century. Its birth and maturation is a repetition of the American colonists' flight for religious freedom. During a time when other prophets and preachers were cropping up throughout America, something about Joseph Smith's visions and version of Christianity gained traction with enough people to create a community.

Jon Krakauer traces Smith and his followers from Palmyra, New York, across the country, across subsequent prophets and revelations, through its struggles with polygamy & with the US Government, up to present-day fundamentalist sects, to include the Lafferty murders. He makes a case that the violence exhibited by the Lafferty brothers was the fruit of a seed planted in the first days of Mormonism, and is a natural outgrowth of Smith's revelations, not as much of a perversion of Smith's visions as modern-day LDS leaders would have the Gentiles believe.

The book is well-sourced and well-documented. For anyone looking for a global view of this American phenomenon, this is a great place to start. ( )
  LauraCerone | May 26, 2016 |
Aside from the rhetorically unfair characterizing of Joseph Smith (e.g., two pages devoted to Smith's supposed gold-digging and money-grubbing and one paragraph devoted to Smith's documented and well-supported hard, farm-boy work ethic), and sloppy Mormon generalizations -- some of which unfairness is atoned for in the book's epilogue, this is yet another great Krakauer book. And he makes a very good point about Mormon fundamentalism being, like it or not, integrally connected to the Latter-day Saint movement. The true-crime Lafferty stuff is what you'll read this one for, though; it's awesome, grusome, and well worth your readerly time.

07/2012: Listened to audio again. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
I rather doubt this was a story that needed to have a book written about it. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
A well written account of polygamy, religion and murder. ( )
  GeneHunter | Mar 13, 2016 |
This was what I grabbed from the hotel book-swap shelf when I ran out of vacation reading! I would have found it more interesting if I knew absolutely nothing about Mormons before reading it. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 159 (next | show all)
His project is ambitious: With Mormon fundamentalism as his chief illustration, he seeks to understand why religious extremism flourishes in a skeptical, postmodern society. . . . The result is a book that is both insightful and flawed.
SINCE Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have talked a lot about the dark side of religion, but for the most part it isn't religion in America they've had in mind. Jon Krakauer wants to broaden their perspective. In ''Under the Banner of Heaven,'' he enters the obscure world of Mormon fundamentalism to tell a story of, as he puts it, ''faith-based violence.''
added by mikeg2 | editNew York Times, Robert Wright (Aug 3, 2003)
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We believe in honesty, morality and purity; but when they enact tyrannical laws, forbidding us the free exercise of our religion, we cannot submit. God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the government... Polygamy is a divine institution. it has been handed down direct from God. The United States cannot abolish it. No nation on earth can prevent it, nor all the nations of the earth combined, ... I defy the United States; I will obey God.
No western nation is as religion-soaked as ours, where nine out of ten of us love God and are loved by him in return. That mutual passion centers our society and demands some understanding, if our doom-eager society is to be understood at all.
Almost everyone in Utah County has heard of the Lafferty boys.
The schisms that shattered Mormonism time and again, more critical tha inroads from without, only attest its strength. They were signs of the seriousness with which converts and dissenters took their salvation, ready to stake their souls on points of doctrine which a later, less Biblical generation could treat with indifference. WILLIAM MULDER AND A. RUSSELL MORTENSEN, AMONG THE MORMONS
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Almost everyone in Utah County has heard of the Lafferty boys. That's mostly a function of the lurid murders, of course, but the Lafferty surname had a certain prominence in the county even before Brenda and Erica Lafferty were killed.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0330419129, Paperback)

In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged. The Mormon Church was founded, in part, on the idea that true believers could speak directly with God. But while the mainstream church attempted to be more palatable to the general public by rejecting the controversial tenet of polygamy, fundamentalist splinter groups saw this as apostasy and took to the hills to live what they believed to be a righteous life. When their beliefs are challenged or their patriarchal, cult-like order defied, these still-active groups, according to Krakauer, are capable of fighting back with tremendous violence. While Krakauer's research into the history of the church is admirably extensive, the real power of the book comes from present-day information, notably jailhouse interviews with Dan Lafferty. Far from being the brooding maniac one might expect, Lafferty is chillingly coherent, still insisting that his motive was merely to obey God's command. Krakauer's accounts of the actual murders are graphic and disturbing, but such detail makes the brothers' claim of divine instruction all the more horrifying. In an age where Westerners have trouble comprehending what drives Islamic fundamentalists to kill, Jon Krakauer advises us to look within America's own borders. --John Moe

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:45 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Jon Krakauer's literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God. At the core of Krakauer's book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, 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.… (more)

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