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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith [Kindle Edition]

Jon Krakauer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,353 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

Using as a focal point the chilling story of offshoot Mormon fundamentalist brothers Dan and Ron Lafferty, who in 1984 brutally butchered their sister-in-law and 15-month-old niece in the name of a divine revelation, Krakauer explores what he sees as the nature of radical Mormon sects with Svengali-like leaders. Using mostly secondary historical texts and some contemporary primary sources, Krakauer compellingly details the history of the Mormon church from its early 19th-century creation by Joseph Smith (whom Krakauer describes as a convicted con man) to its violent journey from upstate New York to the Midwest and finally Utah, where, after the 1890 renunciation of the church's holy doctrine sanctioning multiple marriages, it transformed itself into one of the world's fastest-growing religions. Through interviews with family members and an unremorseful Dan Lafferty (who is currently serving a life sentence), Krakauer chronologically tracks what led to the double murder, from the brothers' theological misgivings about the Mormon church to starting their own fundamentalist sect that relies on their direct communications with God to guide their actions. According to Dan's chilling step-by-step account, when their new religion led to Ron's divorce and both men's excommunication from the Mormon church, the brothers followed divine revelations and sought to kill, starting with their sister-in-law, those who stood in the way of their new beliefs. Relying on his strong journalistic and storytelling skills, Krakauer peppers the book with an array of disturbing firsthand accounts and news stories (such as the recent kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart) of physical and sexual brutality, which he sees as an outgrowth of some fundamentalists' belief in polygamy and the notion that every male speaks to God and can do God's bidding. While Krakauer demonstrates that most nonfundamentalist Mormons are community oriented, industrious and law-abiding, he poses some striking questions about the closed-minded, closed-door policies of the religion-and many religions in general.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
323 of 349 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faith and Murder July 15, 2003
"I was doing God's will, which is not a crime." - Dan Lafferty
The above quote is from a man who brutally murdered his fifteen month-old niece and her 24 year-old mother in their home while his younger brother was at work. Lafferty's older brother Ron convinced him to commit the crime by claiming that God had spoken to him and instructed that it should be that way. Both men were born and raised Mormons, but turned to radical Mormon fundamentalism as adults. Through their horrific story and the history of the Mormon church in genral, author Jon Krakauer examines the larger issue of how relgion leads some people to commit unspeakable acts.
"Under the Banner of Heaven" is not an anti-Mormon diatribe, as anyone who has actually read it can attest. Krakauer, who had such a massive success with "Into Thin Air," should be applauded for taking a risk following up that work with a potentially controversial project well outside his area of expertise. Part travelog and part history, "Under the Banner of Heaven" is a very unique true crime book as the various narrative threads are wound together by the author. The simple yet forceful narrative style that made Krakauer's Everest such compelling reading are very much evident here.
Overall, "Under the Banner of Heaven" is an outstanding true crime book that raises some disturbing theological questions.
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842 of 952 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant synthesis of history, religion, and abuse September 25, 2003
Jon Krakauer admits he has become obsessed with extremes. It takes one form of extremism to go on an Everest climb, as he shows with "Into Thin Air." Now he returns to the West of his youth. Yet this is not the book he planned to write. Krakauer admits he wanted to describe how today's LDS Church, with their clean-cut, do-good approach, is at odds with its founding history.
Instead, he decided to write about fundamentalist Mormons. While the LDS Church declared polygamy illegal in 1890, it took time for the practice to end in the official church. Those who would not accept the changes continued polygamy, with groups moving to Mexico and Canada. And there are those who continue this practice today. Krakauer is determined to understand how this came to be. In order to do this, he must retell the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.
While polygamy is no longer accepted by the current LDS authorities, the average Mormon seems less inclined to stamp it out. Krakauer shows several cases of gung-go district attorneys who go after polygamous families, and how these white knights are subsequently removed from office in the next election. He introduces us to small towns where everything and everyone in it answers to one man, the head of the Fundamentalist LDS church (FLDS). All property is owned by their church's corporation. And the girls are married by age 14. Krakauer finds many of them married to men who are already related to them, and at least a generation older. Women are seen as transferrable property, with marriages cancelled should any church member run afoul of the church leader.
And remember Elizabeth Smart? Here was a case of a modern Mormon family running into another FLDS wanna-be.
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130 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for every American--and every Mormon September 10, 2003
By A Customer
As an individual raised in the Mormon church who was repeatedly exposed to various Fundamentalist groups operating in and out of the mainstream LDS church I found this book to be invaluable and deeply vindicating.
Mormons are wonderful people with a strong and deep committment to the universal ideals of Christianity. However, they are often reluctant to be self-critical, especially about the more controversial aspects of our history.
The reason Fundamentalist groups have continuously splintered from the mainstream LDS church is the simple fact (as beautifully illustrated by Krakauer) that the modern LDS church bears little resemblance to it's radical, theocratic and chaotic origins. This fact should be embraced and celebrated by mainstream Mormons, not rejected and villified.
The mainstream church was wise and prescient to change it's position on many of the controversial teachings of it's early leaders. Just as most modern Christian faiths have done to balance their responsibility to society and the spiritual needs of it's members.
The goal of the Fundamentalists is to return the mainstream church to it's less than noble roots. This is why they are successful at recruiting otherwise devout Saints into their ranks. They preach a twisted, politicized, radical doctrine which (contrary to the vehement protestations of Mormons) are entirely consistent with many of the less-known but nevertheless regretably true ideas of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and others.
It is this literalist interpretation, along with the mindset that all things must remain unchanged no matter how much society and the role of the church has changed, that breeds Fundamentalism.
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242 of 278 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Anti-Mormon...just Intelligent September 25, 2003
This is an extraordinary book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Though the Mormon Church has expressed it's hostility toward the book, as with all ostriches, they are simply sticking their head in the sand and asking the rest of us to follow suit. Thank goodness for people outside the Church who look in, and tell us what they see.
This is not an anti-mormon book, and the fact that Latter-day Saints and their leaders are so worked up about it seems to me to be a recognition that Krakauer is hitting pretty close to home. Ironically, he handles the modern LDS church with kid gloves, and is very careful to make the distinction between the Mormon Fundamentalits and the Mormons themselves. However, and this is the point that should be lost on no one, both churches hail from the same "common ancestors," and have evolved rather organically from those early prophets, most importantly Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. At the time of Wilford Woodruff the world saw a split, and those familiar with the paradigms of biological evolution will recognize exactly what was going on. Today we see two radically different organizations with radically different messages...but they came from the same place.
Here's another juicy item that must drive the Church nuts. The fundamentalists are perfectly justified in their position on polygamy, extreme patriarchy and racism. After all, if those were the "revealed word of God" back in the early days of the church, then who are the modern day leaders to deny that word of God today? Just because wicked governments :-) refuse to cooperate should be no reason to back away from the most important points of doctrine.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars It's ok.
I didn't get all the way through this. It was interesting up to a point, but I got bored.
Published 4 days ago by Heather
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book
Krakauer does an excellent job of of recounting the history of the Mormon church in a way that kept me very interested. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Edwin Hubble
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An eye opener into the Morman religion.
Published 4 days ago by Ellen Nelson
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written
A truly unpleasant story, but very well written and informative.
Published 11 days ago by PTG
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good read!
Very enjoyable read! It was an eye opener for me about the history of the LDS church and its founder Joseph Smith.
Published 13 days ago by NY Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important read.
Real history and violent faith combined.
Published 13 days ago by Becky J
5.0 out of 5 stars I recommend this book.
A very interesting, and controversial, book about the Mormon church's development and it's gradual move from the East Coast to Utah. Read more
Published 26 days ago by EMom in PA
5.0 out of 5 stars This is one scary book.
This is a great book if you always wondered why Mormons are such outcasts.
Published 26 days ago by Janette
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting and informative
Published 27 days ago by Fusion Bear
5.0 out of 5 stars A must Read
Terrific book. Shocking book about the history of the Mormons and splinter groups. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Published 28 days ago by tilemom
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More About the Author

Jon Krakauer grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, where his father introduced him to mountaineering as an 8-year-old. In 1999, upon presenting him with an Academy Award in Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters declared, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer. His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind."

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What is the future of this religion?
On what evidence can you base your statement "Both are suspicious of the Jews, and all are united against the Muslims"? I can't speak for anyone who calls themselves "fundamentalist Mormons". But as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I, myself, am... Read More
Oct 3, 2006 by Molly Pages |  See all 44 posts
Appropriate for a 14-year-old?
I don't think this is an appropriate book for a 14-year-old. I am not saying the book should be banned. It's an excellent read and Jon Krakauer is an excellent author. However, there are many disturbing things going on in this book and to expose that to even 14-year-old without the proper... Read More
Jun 17, 2013 by Calvin Locklear |  See all 2 posts
Welcome to the Under the Banner of Heaven forum
Mr. Krakauer- re; "Under the Banner of Heaven"
who is a skilled investigator is showing us the signs and nature of some of Americas most
potential future and present dangers in the form of religious fanaticism.
These fanaticisms are usually based on erroneously perceived notions... Read More
Sep 11, 2010 by PYisLOVE |  See all 3 posts
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