Review of Under The Banner of Heaven

The weirdest thing happened to me while reading this book. Every time I would mention the title to someone I’d get the reaction, “OH! I LOVED THAT BOOK!”* It sort of made me wonder what I was missing. Usually, if so many people, whose opinions I trust and value, love a book I end up at least liking it.  I just felt horribly underwhelmed by this book.  It took me some time to figure out why and be able to put into words in order to write this post.


Title: Under The Banner of Heaven

Author:  Jon Krakauer

Publisher: Random House

Genre: Non-fiction, True Crime, Religion

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Under The Banner of Heaven starts off with the promise of being a true crime novel. Krakauer seems to want to take the pages that follow and examine the deaths of Brenda and her baby Erica Lafferty, Mormon Fundamentalists who were murdered by Ron and Dan Lafferty, Brenda’s brothers-in-law, back in the 1980’s.  The book starts out promising to take a look at how their beliefs turned Ron and Dan Lafferty into murderers.  The biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t deliver what it promises at the beginning.  What starts out to be a study into why fundamentalist beliefs in a religion, ANY RELIGION, can cause people to do horrible things becomes a pretty straight history of both the mainstream Mormon and Mormon Fundamentalist churches.  The reason this book is getting two stars from me instead of one is that I would have actually found a straight history book about Mormonism interesting. In fact, I did. I learned a lot from this book.  The problem was that I was distracted wondering when Krakauer would tie all that history into the murder case.  This doesn’t really happen until the end when Krakauer catches up, chronilogically, to the publishing date (2004) and includes the case in that history.

I really felt like I was reading two different books, which was disappointing,  One last thing that probably made me more impatient with this book than others I know who read it closer to its publication date, is that some of the more current history of Mormonism has been in the news in the last few years and I felt better informed than Krakauer, especially when he starts wondering how good a leader Warren Jeffs is going to be for the Fundamentalist Mormon Church.  Overall, I think I would have either liked it if Krakauer had better framed the rest of the book around the murder case or if he had just chosen to include the murder case as part of a straight history book on the Mormon church.  I found the information in this book really compelling but the structure of the book just kept throwing me off and made the book too easy to put down.

*May or may not be a direct quote 🙂


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