Book review: “Under the Banner of Heaven”

photo courtesy of randomhouse.com

From the highest peak in the world to the untamed forest of the last frontier, John Krakauer has kept readers enthralled with heart wrenching tales of bravery and heroism.

“Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith,” takes us to an equally untouched and dangerous surface.

Mormonism, America’s fastest growing religion with 11 million worldwide members, (at last count in 2004), has a history rife with historical discrepancies, and exonerated murders that are ingrained in America’s various territories of Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, and most famously, Utah.

One of the largest discrepancies is the revelation Joseph Smith received on polygamous marriages, referred to as Doctrine and Covenants; section 132. This revelation has split the church into two main sects of practicing and non-practicing “spiritual wifery”.

Krakauer opens the book by following the story of the Lafferty brothers who murdered their youngest brother’s wife and baby based upon a divine revelation bestowed upon them. Krakauer develops a multilayered narrative following many different themes: the criminal history of Joseph Smith up to his ascension to level of prophet by the angel Moroni; zealot ideals about the eminent destruction of the world; and several physically, emotionally, and sexually abused women subject to the whims of husbands and family members in polygamous sects.

The book gives the reader insight that, I feel, few, even few Mormons, have about their history and the effect it has had on the nation. This insight comes from the author’s knowledge and research about many issues, including the abduction of Elizabeth Smart in 2002, the all out war that ended in the murder of hundreds of innocent “gentiles,” and the money our federal government pours upon the unwed mothers with countless children in polygamous towns.

The narrative was overwhelmingly researched, clearly presented, intelligently written, and enraging until the very last page.

In the revised copy, Krakauer even addresses each grievance aired by the Mormon Church when the book was first published in 2004 and backs his facts up with historical accuracy, which was only the icing on the cake that I found to be his literary genius.

 

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