Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Heaven - Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

By Jon Krakauer

My Rating: 3 Stars

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer is the exploration of faith in mormonism. I thought this book was going to be more centered on the events that would lead Ron and Dan Lafferty to viciously murder their sister-in-law and niece and while Krakauer does thoroughly go through the events leading up to and after the murders, he spends a great deal of the book giving very detailed history of mormonism. A large portion of the book was spent discussing Joseph Smith Jr. the founder of mormonism and the struggle this new religion went through to find a place to call their own where they wouldn’t be persecuted. In addition, there is a great deal of time spent discussing polygamy and how this one practice would divide the Mormon church and make them outcasts within American society. At the end of the book, Krakauer comes full circle bringing the reader back to Ron and Dan Lafferty and their lives at the time of the book publication date.

This book started off great. I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I had to start reading something else because I felt myself becoming a bit obsessed with the book. I wanted to discuss it with everyone and anyone. My coworkers at the library I work at, finally asked me to stop talking about it so I knew there was a problem. Unfortunately, the book kind of lost steam and I found myself getting a bit bored in large parts of it. I don’t know how Krakauer kept all the people straight when doing his research. Everyone seemed to be related to each other and taking everyone as their spouse and promising their children as the spouse of someone else. Plus I found it hard to keep all the names straight because so many people had the same first name. Perhaps a family tree would have been helpful to refer to when reading later in the book.

Large parts of this book are about Mormon history, and while I understand why Krakauer had to delve into the history of Mormonism and spend some time on Joseph Smith Jr. I felt that too much of the book was devoted to these topics and that’s not what I wanted from this book. I thought more of this book would be about the actual murders but sadly that wasn’t the case.

I did however, find the parts about the saints trying to find a place to settle, fascinating and most intriguing. I never knew there was so much animosity toward Mormons and just how violent of a history the religion had in America. I’m not sure why I never considered this since most religions encounter significant resistance from other more established religions, especially in areas where the religion has been set for a great deal of time. I found it fascinating that America, a country which was settled by Europeans who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe would be so violent and bitter toward a new religion.

Throughout the book, I couldn’t help but consider the idea of faith. It’s an interesting concept to simply have faith in something with little or no evidence of fact or truth. Blind faith can make for a very violent and volatile situation and Krakauer does an exceptional job of showing this throughout this book by discussing the history of the Mormon religion.

Overall, this was a fascinating read. It provided me a historical overview of a religion I knew very little about. Krakauer focused mostly on the fundamentalist aspect of Mormonism today and how polygamy played a vital role in dividing the saints into what is now mainstream Mormonism and Mormon fundamentalism. This is certainly worth the read if you are interested in learning more about fundamentalist mormons and some of the events in Mormon history that has largely been forgotten by America.

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