Friday: 30.July.2004

Under the Banner of Heaven: by Jon Krakauer

Whilst meandering thru the local Barnes & Ignoble bookstore a few days ago, in search of summer reading, I stumbled across a new title by Jon Krakauer. If you were here back in January 2003 (scroll down to entry for 24th), you might recall how much I enjoyed reading Into Thin Air by this same author, a true account of a tragic story about climbing Mount Everest.

I enjoyed that book and the story so much that I even read another one (The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest) by a different author (the Russian: Anatoli Boukreev) who participated in the same climb, and detailed the same story from a different perspective.

So I was naturally interested to see Krakauer's new book. It's titled Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. At first, you think this book is also about mountaineering, like his other books, because there is a picture of mountains on its cover. But this book is not about climbing. Not hardly.

To be honest, I didn't think the new subject would interest me. But after skimming the first few pages, I couldn't put it down. Krakauer is a gifted writer: clear, elegant, cogent. I had never heard of his new book before, but now, it seems like everywhere I go, people see me reading it and comment, "Good book, huh?"

Just yesterday, I was baking my body at the local beach (Wood's Cove) here in Laguna, and the life guard there, a kid from Melbourne Australia, with a strong Aussie accent, struck up a conversion about it. He was a Krakauer fan who had already read it. Here is a paragraph from the Prologue:

continued

Although the far territory of the extreme can exert an intoxicating pull on susceptible individuals of all bents, extremism seems to be especially prevalent among those inclined by temperament or upbringing toward religious pursuits. Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a crucial component of spiritual devotion. And when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination, all bets are suddenly off. Anything can happen. Absolutely anything. Common sense is no match fro the voice of God--as the actions of Dan Lafferty vividly attest.

Extremism seems to be the common thread in Krakauer's books, whether climbing the world's highest peaks, or exploring the outer reaches of religion. This new book is a page-turner that makes you think about things usually dismissed as irrational, especially in light of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, carried out by religious fanatics (Muslims).

I like to understand the incomprehensible, especially what motivates people to do such irrational things. It's like understanding how a crazy person thinks.

I spent almost year in that area of the country (Utah/Idaho, the setting for much of the novel), while in my early 20's. I remember waking at first light one summer morning, after sleeping the night in my Navy-buddy Smitty's van, parked on a dirt road in the hills above Ogden. Laced up my running shoes and went for a jaunt on the trails there, still half asleep, while Smitty slept like a lumberjack.

Beautiful country. Spectacular views. Crisp, mountain air. One of my most memorable runs, leaping over icy mountain streams, chasing startled wildlife. We parked late at night, in the dark, and had no idea the day would bring such beauty. Soon as the sun came up tho, it got seriously hot. Sweat city. What a way to start the day.

We had no money for food, much less a hotel room (Navy pay sux). But we didn't let that stop us. We lived off the trout we caught in brooks and streams there, pan-fried along the sides of back-roads as the days grew dark. Doesn't get much better than that ...

... unless you count the 3 days on the North shore of Oahu (Waialua, Hawaii) when/where we lived off nothing but coconuts that dropped in our neighbor's yard (on Crozier drive). Those things are harder to open than you might think. But I digress. Krakauer's new book is titled Under the Banner of Heaven and I can't wait to return to it.





Posted by Rad at July 30, 2004 03:47 PM

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