- Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
- Publisher: Doubleday
- Year: 2003
- Pages: 400
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My first exposure to Jon Krakauer was Into Thin Air, his nonfiction work about his doomed Everest expedition. It was a summer reading assignment before my junior year of high school, so you can rest assured that I very specifically did not read it. From what I gleaned in class discussion, however, it wasn’t a bad book, at least when compared with the saccharine Young Men and Fire or the truly atrocious The Perfect Storm. In this situation, however, I wanted to read Krakauer’s latest book on Fundamentalist Mormons, which probably helped considerably in my enjoyment.
I say “enjoyment” because it was an excellent book, but the emotion I felt more often than not was frustration. Krakauer illuminates in dizzying detail the truly atrocious and/or stupid activies of fundamentalist Mormons, who are a further-right sect of the already-far-right Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a religion less than two centuries old, founded by a huckster named Joseph Smith.
I won’t reprint the entire history of the Mormon church here, as I think you should just go ahead and read the book, but needless to say, Krakauer’s history (which he draws largely from several seminal works of Mormon history by figure like Juanita Brooks and Fannie Brodie) is pretty damning, revealing Smith as a fraud and a lech. Once he received his “revelation from God” about polygamy, he would literally tell 14-year-old girls that God commanded them to marry him, or they’d be damned to hell forever.
As Krakauer notes in the author’s remarks, however, this isn’t a book about mainline LDS, really. It’s about Fundamentalist Mormonism, which is the extreme, cultish offshoot that gave rise to Ron and Dan Lafferty, who committed the horrific double homicide that serves as a centerpiece for the book. Oddly enough, Krakauer spends very little time on these two, opening the book with them and returning to the story in a piecemeal fashion throughout the book. Most of the time is spent describing the history of the LDS and their trials and tribulations and exodii from Ohio to Illinois and finally to Utah.
I had a plethora of thoughts that I wanted to talk about when I wrote this entry, but I realized that most of them had to do with the nature of cults and specifically to the Mormons, and such a diatribe is not a book review as such, relevant though it may be. Suffice it to say that Under the Banner of Heaven is a great book, one that will inflame your passions as will as fill your head. I recommend it heartily.