Following this year’s presidential campaigns wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the humorous, and often spot on, commentary of Ana Marie Cox. The former Wonkette blogger and now TIME magazine Washington editor has been covering the Republican candidates on the campaign trail and posting extensively on Swampland, TIME’s political blog, via her twitterfeed (definitely subscribe to this if you like pithy metaphors), and her Flickrfile.

That she even posted the picture was surprising, but what grabbed my attention was item #3 from her “Missing Mitt” vid: learning more about Mormonism. A refreshing take… and then she cited a Jon Krakauer book, Underneath the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, as her source of information about the LDS Church. Now, I haven’t read it, but I kinda gotta think the subtitle isn’t a promising starting point for Krakauer’s narratives, which, in my humble opinion, tend to have a judgmental, condemnatory tone to them. Robert Wright in his review for The New York Times points to this deficiency:

“Certainly the picture of religion presented in the book is unflattering. Linking the Laffertys to Mormon history means stressing its violent and authoritarian aspects. And of course neither of these is an invention of Krakauer’s. (Polygamous societies in general tend toward authoritarianism, as the anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown. She attributes this to the need of powerful men to control not just women but the understandably unsettled lower-status males who, through the grim mathematics of polygamy, go mateless.) Still, it would have been nice to see some of religion’s upside. Something must explain the vibrancy of mainstream Mormonism, and I doubt it’s just the dark energy of residual authoritarianism. Religion, like patriotism, can nurture virtue within the group even while directing hostility beyond it.”

Have any of you read this account? Do you think it’s a good reference book for learning about the LDS Church? Well, after reading a Tom Stoppard play and a biography on Heschel, I might just have to check this out.

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I read the book. I generally enjoy Krakauer's books, and I read this one quickly - although it is not the best book for someone unfamiliar with Mormonism to read. It focuses not on the mainstream but on one small fundamentalist sect, and should not speak for the majority. Certain things I learned in the book shocked me a great deal, and i went with it to one of my Mormon friends, who was kind enough to answer my questions about what is still believed in their faith and what is antiquated and no longer accepted. At any rate, this book made a big impression on all my friends who read it and sparked lively discussion for months - I grew up in an area of Nevada with a high Mormon population.

You shouldn't have a tough time finding a copy of the book since it's on the newly alphabetized bookshelf :) And since you know the author's name...