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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Krakauer always teeters on the edge of writing stuff I don’t want to read. Not because of his subject matter -- which is often somewhat issue-laden -- but because of the depth to which he pokes at the little ugly bits of his stories. This book is about Mormons, fundamentalists, and the ugly things that can happen when people get overzealous about their faith. Krakauer’s underlying premise is that Mormonism -- the most homegrown of all American religions -- is at some level a breeding ground for irrational hotheads, even if the fundamentalist sects have very little in common on the surface with their more traditional bretheren.

The ugly bits in this case are a lot of rapes of teenagers, described in more detail than I needed it, and the graphic murder of two Mormons, a mother and child, described by their killers. I just kept feeling that it would be awful to have known these people and learned the details of their deaths from the unrepentant people who killed them. In any case, the book is about much more than pedophilia and murder. It recounts the history of Mormonism, from its unlikely beginnings in Vermont 150 years ago, to the present-day where it is the fastest growing world religion. At the same time, many people see it as some sort of cult. Krakauer doesn’t really tip his hand about his own leanings, and tries to be respectful towards the people who practice the faith, but the patriarchiality of it gets to him, as do the young brides and the insular nature of the faithful. While the book isn’t an out and out condemnation of the Latter Day Saints, it’s definitely more anti- than pro-. Great reading, as always, but a bit more puerile than sometimes seemed necessary.