My favourite part of my 1996 roadtrip was southern Utah, Mormon country. Beautiful landscape and friendly people, particularly in towns like Hurricane. On that trip I became interested in the Church of Latter Day Saints. What a strange phenomenon! A made-in-the-USA religion now known for conservatism and white bread blandness, but with a crazy history of defiance, persecution, and polygamy.
Jon Krakauer, of Into Thin Air fame, uncovers fundamentalist Mormonism in his latest book Under the Banner of Heaven. Yes, fundamentalist Mormonism: splinter groups who hold various radical theological positions such as celestial marriage and apocalyptic fervour. The book is ostensibly a history of the murders by Ron and Dan Lafferty, but really it's an excuse for Krakauer to explore the curious history of the LDS church.
The narrative is unflattering, particularly its characterization of the early days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Parts seem unfair. But Krakauer's central thesis is fascinating - Mormonism was born out of violence and zealotry and this extremism is alive and well in the fringes of Mormon culture.