Goodreads Review: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Four Star review, originally posted here on July 8, 2014.

I was really looking forward to this book and fully expected to give it five stars, but it just wasn’t quite where it needed to be.

First the good:
Krakauer has done his research, and he is a good writer. The subject matter is fascinating. The storytelling is compelling. The book forces you to think. At several points you drop the book and exclaim, “Holy shit!”

But now the bad:
Before reading the book, I saw some negative reviews, always from Mormons, who were angry that Krakauer was spreading negativity about their religion. I waved them off because, well, they were probably just angry that Krakauer was spreading negativity about their religion. But as I started reading, I realized that they had a legitimate gripe. I think Krakauer does a decent job explaining the historical context of the formation of Mormonism, so if Mormons are angry there they need to just go back and examine their own history a bit. BUT, Krakauer spends a significant portion of the early chapters listing horror stories from polygamous Fundamentalist Mormons. I fully believe that serious abuse happens in these homes, and I even believe that it is both widespread and inherent to these sects. But Krakauer does little to nothing to prove this link. We have no criminological stats (presumably they are not available, but then that should have been mentioned). Instead, we are given a list of horror stories, and asked to believe that these individual stories are indicative of the group as a whole. He provides no reason for us to believe that abuse is more prevalent here than in any other society. If I were a Fundamentalist Mormon, I would be pissed, too.

All that being said, I by no means believe that this is an unfair or unjustified representation of Fundamentalist Mormons. I just need a bit more causation demonstrated to lift this book from the ranks of selective sensationalism to factual reporting.

PS: Oh yeah. I also had a hard time keeping all of the characters straight, partly because half of them were named “Laffery”, partly because there so many of them, partly because we kept jumping back and forth between time periods, and partly because the description for every single one of them is “total batpoo crazy religious weirdo.” Not sure there’s anything Krakauer could have really done to aid here, short up putting a character list at the front of the book, but regardless, it made the book that much harder to read.

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