Jon Krakauer is good at two things – researching stuff for a story and telling the story in a way that keeps you riveted. Krakauer can probably write about how chalk is made and make it seem super interesting. Under the Banner of Heaven (UBH) is the third book of Krakauer’s that I’ve read and like the other two —- Into Thin Air and Into the Wild — it’s brilliant stuff.
Under the Banner of Heaven – A Story of Violent Faith, is Krakauer’s look at one of the world’s fastest growing religions, Mormonism. Krakauer investigates the story of the brutal murder of a young mother and her baby daughter (by her brothers-in-law) and pieces together a fascinating account of the Mormon religion. He talks to different people associated with the religion —- the accused in the case, people who’ve been ex-communicated from the religion, women who have been abused as children, to people who practice polygamy (and incest) —- and looks at the history of the religion to paint of picture that is horrifying and yet fascinating to read. (To be fair, he makes the point that if you looked at most of the major religions, especially the relatively newer ones, there is a similarity in the way that the religions grew.)
But, the way that Mormonism came about and the way it spread (and is still spreading) is amazing. The fact that (in a particular fundamentalist sect) fathers marry their own daughters or step-daughters because they believe that God has told them to do so, the fact that children are abused sexually, that women are not treated well is not something to gloss over. (It’s the same way that you cannot gloss over the abuse of children by Catholic priests.) The book uncovers the unsavoury parts of a religion that is pretty closed and brings them out into the open.
Reading UBH is sometimes like reading a thriller and though parts of the book deal with difficult topics, it is book I could not put down.