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Review: "Under the Banner of Heaven," by John Krakauer


Krakauer proves once again, what an amazing researcher, compiler, and author he is. His topics, and I have read several of his books, are always compelling and readable. In this book he relates the history of the Mormon religion interspersed with an account of modern murder committed by Mormons gone awry into splinter groups that rail against modern Mormonism. Let me relate that from my skeptic's perch I view the Church of Latter Day Saints with a pre-set doubtful eye. I engaged this book looking for Krakauer's unique ability to take me "inside" his topic. He did exactly that and I have come away even more shocked by this religion. To put in bluntly, and here comes my personal judgement, anyone who believes in the Mormon faith has to take a major step toward unreality. A bit of insanity might be closer to the mark. Now, to retreat just a bit, if you are raised in a faith than the supposition would be that it is hard to blame you for your faith. In your formative years, that's how you were raised, it's what you know, it becomes part of you. In the same direction, it is logical that I should throw the same stones at Christianity (which I know quite a bit about), Protestantism (a bit less), and a host of other religions (which I know more than most people, but less than I should). There is something so illogical about Mormonism that it beggars the rational. If it were a 1000 or 2000 years older would it be more accepted? Most likely. I believe that dinosaurs existed more concretely than the "miracles" of organized religion. Back to the book. With scrupulous detail and exhaustive research considering letters, personal journals and notes, Krakauer has constructed a concise and clear history of the Mormon beginnings through to the mid 20th century. Like all his books he manages to find the story within the history and present it to us in an exciting fashion. The horrible story of murder in the extreme and the poisoned commitment of outcast Mormons is dropped into sections of the larger history. Both are commanding and impossible to put down. There is a fascinating chapter at the end of the book that is not of the story, but a disclaimer of sorts. Krakauer feels that writers about religion need to communicate to their readers their own bias, their viewpoints, their own beliefs. He feels that this is only fair since a book such as his does cast some judgements on the subject at hand. He tells us his stance not as an excuse but I believe as a way to be honest with his readers. If you are a reader of non-fiction and wish to ride a tremendous story as well gain insight into a modern, and uniquely American religion "Under the Banner of Heaven" is a must.