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

4 out of 5 stars 398 customer reviews

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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 Krak! auer'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

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1829 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (June 8 2004)
  • Sold by: Random House Canada, Incorp.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1R2S
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 398 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #37,933 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Hardcover
Well-known author Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild) originally wanted to write a book titled History and Belief that would focus "on the uneasy, highly charged relationship between the LDS Church and its past." In this not-yet-written book, he planned to see "how does a critical mind reconcile scientific and historical truth with religious doctrine? How does one sustain belief when confronted with facts that appear to refute it?"
Instead of writing this book, though, Krakauer's research led him to write about the dual July 24, 1984 murders committed by the infamous Lafferty brothers (Ron and Dan) in American Fork, Utah. The story told in Under the Banner of Heaven (paperback comes out July 2004) is both intriguing and revealing. In fact, Krakauer makes it very evident that the Laffertys not only held fast to Mormon fundamentalism and a deep-seeded belief in polygamy, but they were also closely aligned with the thinking of numerous early Mormon leaders, especially Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the first two LDS prophets.
Krakauer opens the book by giving background information on the night when the actual murders that occurred. Ron and Dan brutally ambushed their younger brother Allan's infant daughter and his wife, Brenda, whom they blamed for causing Ron's wife to leave for Florida. The murders are not exactly described until the latter part of the book, but it should be understood that graphic details are given...and it's not a pretty sight.
However, this is more than just a tale centering on the Laffertys.
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Format: Hardcover
Jon Krakauer's earlier books, "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air," were remarkable for their meticulous reporting and neat writing. Anyone who appreciates good non-fiction will not be disappointed in "Under the Banner of Heaven," which carries the subtitle of "A Story of Violent Faith." Krakauer is not writing about Palestinian suicide bombers or Al-Queda's willing recruits. He's writing about residents of what another writer called "the Republic of Clean"-the Mormons.
In 1984, Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter were brutally murdered by Dan and Ron Lafferty, her brothers-in-law. The brothers said that God had been ordered them to kill the young woman and her little girl because she vocally opposed her husband's participation in his family's attraction to an offshoot of Mormonism that embraced polygamy. Krakauer uses the murder as a springboard into his examination of the roots of the Mormon religion and its increasingly rancorous relationship with Mormon fundamentalists, the breakaway groups which do not accept Salt Lake City's edicts in regard to banning polygamy or accepting blacks into the religion.
The history of Mormonism is fascinating and bloody, but the real chilling stuff is in the sections on remote fundamentalist enclaves where interpretations of "celestial marriage" has lead to child abuse, incest, degradation of women and children, and always more violence. Krakauer touches on the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart as well as the Lafferty case.
One of the most important tenets of the Mormon religion is that everyone can speak personally with God, and that God will guide them. In the prison interviews with Dan Lafferty years after the murders, the coherent, affable killer maintains that his only motive was to fulfill God's command. Jon Krakauer does not have to draw comparisons between this type of thinking and the Taliban-in this balanced and farsighted book, they are all too obvious.
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Format: Hardcover
As a Mormon, I know I'm wading into dangerous territory - especially as a Mormon who liked Krakauer's book. I obviously read this book from a very different perspective than most of the other Mormons who have posted reviews.
Let me briefly sum up this book, then explain why I enjoyed it so much. Krakauer tackles the messy world of religious extremism by focusing on two ex-Mormons, brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty. The Lafferty's were active Mormons who fell away from their faith when they embraced ultra-conservatism and "Mormon fundamentalism", aka, polygamy. They became part of a group called "The School of the Prophets". After the Lafferty brothers began refusing to pay taxes, register their vehicles, and even force their wives to churn their own butter, Ron Lafferty's wife abandoned him and took their children to Florida.
Shortly thereafter, Ron received a "revelation" from God commanding him to kill Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica. (Ron blamed Brenda, his sister-in-law, for helping his wife leave him.)
Nothing in this book is as chilling as reading about Ron and Dan Lafferty methodically killing Brenda and Erica, all the while claiming to have been led by God. Throughout the book, Krakauer includes chapters discussing violent episodes from Mormon history as a way to help explain where the Lafferty's got some of their ideas.
Why did I love this book? First, I never saw this as an attack on the Mormon faith. In fact, Krakauer doesn't discuss today's Mormon church all that much. He focuses primarily on those on the fringes of Mormonism - particularly "fundamentalists" who practice plural marriage. There are plenty of positive examples of Mormons in Krakauer's book.
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