The trouble with a book using material ripped from the headlines is that for those of us who read the headlines, the stories have less punch. So with Under the Banner of Heaven. I always read up on polygamous fundamentalist Mormon communities when they are in the news, and so the rough outlines of much of Krakauer's stories were familiar: teenage girls married off to old men, widespread sexual abuse, arbitrary reassignment of wives and children by patriarchal prophet figures . . . it's sad and awful, but I'd seen it all before. The double murder of a wife and daughter, information on which is interspersed with historical coverage and examination of polygamous communities, doesn't have as much to set it apart from other murders as Krakauer seems to think it does. Then again, maybe I just have seen too many headlines about mothers killing children or husbands killing wives because of some personal or culturally pervasive religious message. What was this but a glorified honor killing?
Krakauer's coverage of Mormon history was more informative, although lacking in detail, and he gave short shrift to doctrine, which I would have found useful in interpreting the behavior of the personages and groups he discussed. As an informative work, this is inadequate; as an attempt to shock, it fails. I was underwhelmed.
UPDATE: Timothy Sandefur, who was more impressed with the book than I was, has the latest news and some useful links re: the Colorado City fundamentalists. I can't help but think that stopping these people is a little more worthy than cracking down on obscenity.