Saturday, August 7, 2010

'Under the Banner of Heaven' by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of HeavenUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I put this down last summer because it was hard to read. Two brothers on the fringe of Mormonism really thought they were being led by God to kill a young mother and her baby daughter, and they did. Krakauer explores the roots of Mormonism, a uniquely American religion, to understand why the two men could wind up in such a mental, emotional, and spiritual place.

The book is almost too exhaustive at times: Krakauer just escapes overwhelming the reader with too much information as he takes us down through historians' discussions over specific events, and then offers lengthy footnotes, too.

Even so, Krakauer keeps the narrative tension, even when "what" happened -- the raw event he's exploring -- is already clearly stated. He keeps the narrative of the murder and narratives of the past moving along together, informing each other.

What bothered me the most is the way Mormon experience so closely matched my own experience in Christian neo-Pentecostal/charismatic movements: the continual emphasis on prophecies and new revelations. Bothered me, and proved instructive.

I recently saw a new Krakauer book on the shelves. I will most certainly read anything he writes.

Krakauer also references dozens of good books, most on Mormonism or specific moments in Mormon history, others on religion generally. I'm adding at least one of these referenced books to my own list: "Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners, and Madmen -- A Study of Gurus" by Anthony Storr, the late British psychiatrist.

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