Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book review

book1This was a very scary book. Written by Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, this books explores the history, and violence, of the Mormon faith. Due to the subject material, it was a little slow at times – I found my attention wandering and occasionally had to make myself reread passages.

Religion is a touchy subject, especially when you are discussing the darker aspects of faith, such as what is considered ‘God sanctioned violence’. I am aware that all religions have a history of ‘killing in the name of the Lord’. It’s just that for most (Western) religions, that history is far in the past, whereas Mormonism is relatively young, ‘American born’ faith. This is a subject that I honestly don’t want to get into, so there’s not much to say.

I read this book because it was recommended to me, and because I believe that it’s important for me to educate myself before forming opinions about matters that I know nothing about. This book has left me with some very strong opinions. One of them is that I really don’t want Mormons knocking on my door (not that I did before, but now I really don’t).

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book24This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve read Jon Krakauer before and knew he had an easy, enjoyable style of writing. I expected this to be a gripping story, but I had no idea exactly how enthralling it would be.

Let me start by saying that I also had no idea how dangerous it is to climb Mount Everest. Difficult, yes, but when actually presented with the statistics (and these are out of date – they don’t include several subsequent tragedies) I was absolutely shocked. That tourists, as in, not professional mountain climbers, would continue to pay upwards of $65,000 apiece to be led into such a deadly situation leaves me speechless. Not speechless enough to not find the words to tell my husband that I am no longer okay with him climbing Everest, but I had few words beyond that.

The book explores Krakauer’s firsthand account of a climb during the deadly 1996 season, during which several of his fellow climbers and guides, among others, lost their lives. After reading his story it is clear how easily (and how often) tragedy strikes on this mountain. There are no rescue missions to the top of Mount Everest. You are literally hiking at the altitude that jets fly, under what are severe conditions at best.

I can’t remember ever reading a nonfiction book that kept me in such a state of suspense before. It almost reads like fiction, and like a horror story, it’s scary. I could not put it down. Five stars.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – Nonfiction Review

book1 I initially had some reservations about reading this book. I had heard a lot of hype about it, both good and bad, and it seemed like most people who read it focused on judging the decisions made by the subject, Chris McCandless. It’s definitely tempting. An educated young man from an affluent family decides to live as a bum, ultimately ending up in the wilds of Alaska where he dies, seemingly from his own recklessness, when he could have opted for one of the many opportunities at his disposal instead and had a bright and successful future.

Well, there are no guarantees in life. McCandless could have died just as easily while crossing the street. He could have seized the more conventional opportunities that life presented him with and ended up living a miserable, if lucrative, life. Who’s to say which is a better choice for someone else to make? So as I read this book, (with the exception of noting that the book is well researched, and the author seems passionate about getting the facts straight), I considered it a work of fiction, thereby freeing myself from making judgements about McCandless and worrying that my comments would in any way be construed as condoning his behavior.

book2Jon Krakauer has an easy writing style that holds the attention. He tells the tale of a young man who seeks a deeper meaning which can only come from within. In order to achieve the level of introspection needed to accomplish this, the young man leaves his family and hits the road, learning to live in solitude, off the land, and in extreme conditions. The man enjoys the company of others and is by no means a recluse, but seems to feel that the answers he seeks can only be discovered when stripped of company and comforts. It is by no means a new tale, as narratives abound in which man turns to nature to answer the questions that burn within his soul, but it is a retelling that I enjoyed very much.

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