Kati Marton is an award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent for NPR and ABC. She was married to news anchor Peter Jennings and then to the diplomat Richard Holbrooke. After Holbrooke’s sudden death Marton decided to return to Paris. New and old fond memories are recounted in Paris: A Love Story.
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Bob Harris was a travel writer specializing in luxury destinations. He began to think that, “There’s a point where luxury passes beyond any sane human comfort and starts touching lunacy” (like a hotel in Dubai spending $300,000 a year on pure gold pastry decorations). Harris’ ethical musings on money led him to Kiva, a non-profit providing microloans at zero interest to business owners. Bob Harris began lending small amounts and consistently, promptly being repaid. He then wanted to meet the people behind the loans. Read about Bob Harris’ journey around the world, meeting the business people and communities he helped change for the better in The International Bank of Bob: Connecting our World one $25 Kiva Loan at a Time.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Under the Banner of Heaven
Author: Jon Krakauer
Page Count: 372
Genre: True Crime
Tone: Disturbing, Thought-provoking
1. What assumptions about Mormonism did you bring to this book? Did any of your views change?
2. Have you read Jon Krakauer before? Are you interested in reading more now?
3. Do you think that he used a balanced hand while writing?
4. Krakauer calls Mormonism a distinctly “American” religion. What did he mean by that?
5. “Control of the LDS Church resides in the hands of fifteen men.” (p. 4) Do you think that it matters if women are allowed to hold positions of authority in the LDS Church?
6. The main difference between LDS and FLDS is that Fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS) believe in the religious duty of plural marriage. Do you think polygamy should be a religious freedom? Should polygamy be legal or illegal?
7. Prosecutor David Leavitt believes that FLDS polygamy is pedophilia. (p. 23) Do you agree with his assessment?
8. What is your reaction to the FLDS use of public funds to support their large families?
“Despite the fact that Uncle Rulon and his followers regard the government of Arizona, Utah and the United States as Satanic forces out to destroy the UEP, their polygamous community receives more than $6 million a year in public funds.” (p.12)
9. What is your personal reaction to hearing Uncle Rulon say, “I want to tell you that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience. Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.” (p. 12)
10. Pedophilia is commonly mentioned in Under the Banner of Heaven. What do you think the punishment for this crime should be?
11. Should a 13-year old be allowed to get married, even if they want to?
12. What was your reaction to Bountiful’s community motto: “Keep Sweet, No Matter What”?
13. What was your reaction to learning that Joseph Smith “…devoted much time and energy to attempting to divine the location of buried treasure by means of black magic and crystal gazing, activities he learned from his father.” (p. 56)
14. In 1830, when Joseph Smith formally established the Mormon Church, it had 50 members. The next year, membership exceeded 1,000 people. Why do you think it grew so fast? (p. 29)
15. What were your reactions to The Peacemaker, the elaborate biblical rationale for polygamy that turned Dan Lafferty to plural marriage?
16. Krakauer quotes R. Laurence Moore saying, “Persecution arguably was the only possible force that would have allowed the infant church to prosper.” (p. 95) What did Moore mean by that?
17. Do you think the Mormon Church would have survived if it hadn’t given up plural marriage in 1890?
18. What was your reaction to Section 132 (the doctrine of plural marriage) mentioning Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma, by name? Why do you think her name was included in this doctrine? What was Emma’s reaction to Section 132?
19. How and why was Joseph Smith killed?
20. What is “blood atonement”? (p. 204)
21. How did the U.S. government respond to Brigham Young saying, “…any President of the United States who lifts his finger against this people shall die an untimely death, and go to Hell!” (p. 206)
22. What was your reaction to Ron receiving a revelation to kill Brenda, her child, and two other people?
23. If the revelation didn’t come from God, where did it come from?
24. Allen (Brenda’s husband) was told of the revelation. Allen asked Ron why his baby daughter had to die and Ron said, “Because she would grow up to be a b—-, just like her mother!” (p. 169) After hearing this, Allen said he couldn’t accept the revelation, but never told Brenda of it. No one ever told Brenda, not Allen, not her mother-in-law, not Onias. Why? Would this be a different story if someone had told Brenda the revelation?
25. Why do you think that Ron tried to kill Dan in jail in 1995? (p. 310)
26. Dan currently thinks that he is Elijah, the prophet that will usher in the second coming of Christ. (p. 313) What does this say about Dan and his current state of mental health?
27. Dan Lafferty killed someone because he believed his brother received a direct revelation from God. Osama bin Laden killed 2000 people in a terror attack because he believed God directly told him to do so. Does Dan see any commonality between himself and Osama bin Laden? (p. 317) Do you see any commonality?
28. Did you like how Under the Banner of Heaven was written – with its back and forth between Mormon Church history, the history of Fundamentalism, and Ron and Dan’s story?
29. What are your thoughts on the footnotes?
30. What emotional toll did this book take on you?
Book Browse book discussion questions
NPR interviews Jon Krakauer
Daily Beast review of Under the Banner of Heaven
NYT review of Under the Banner of Heaven
LDS Church’s response to Under the Banner of Heaven
Jon Krakauer’s response to the LDS outcry
Photo gallery of the Lafferty brothers
Present state of the Ronald Lafferty case
Update: Under the Banner of Heaven was written in 2003. Since then, Warren Jeffs, Uncle Rulon’s successor as the president of the FLDS Church, was sentenced to life in prison for two felony accounts of child sexual assault.
Number 23 on the list of 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die, The Eyes of Tammy Faye offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of televangelist Tamara Faye LaValley Bakker Messner before and after her fall from grace. Check out this sympathetic portrait of the 80s pop icon.
Paul Du Chaillu wanted to be a famous explorer and naturalist. In actuality, Du Chaillu was a good marksman willing to go to West Africa to search for a dangerous, possibly mythical beast – the gorilla. In 1859, Du Chaillu came out of his exploration with skins and stuffed specimens which he lectured upon at exhibitions. These exhibitions drew Du Chaillu into Darwin’s new evolution debate, as the beast he brought back was so similar in shape to human beings. Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer, the Evolution Debate, and the African Adventure That Took the Victorian World by Storm studies race, religion, and a world growing smaller through the adventures of a man searching for scientific legitimacy and wealth.
It started as a blog. Annie and Dan Shannon wanted to veganize the recipes in The Betty Crocker Cookbook. It is that adventure in blogging that led to Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family. Many of the Shannons’ comfort foods are inspired by Betty Crocker, but not all. Being vegan becomes accessible in this tip-filled cookbook. Betty Goes Vegan is great for new or busy vegans, as it relies heavily on vegan processed foods (like mock meats and soy cheeses). With delish recipes like vegan curry, buffalo tofu steaks, mini pot roast pies, apple fritters, and Mexican hot chocolate cupcakes, Betty Goes Vegan has something for everyone.
Erwin Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist integral to developing the fundamentals of quantum theory. Considered of the “new school” of physics, Schrödinger thought outside the box. His life was no different than his science. Schrödinger once hiked to a science conference. When he and his rucksack got there, he was denied entrance because he was thought to be a tramp. In addition, Schrödinger was known to be rather amorous with ladies of all ages, and his wife took equal liberties to have lovers. Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution is a compelling pop-science biography that gets into the nitty-gritty of Schrödinger’s personal life and how he helped move science into the next century.
Alice Herz-Sommer and her young son survived Theresienstadt concentration camp due to her skills on the piano, having played over 100 concerts for the Nazis. Today, Alice is 109 years old. She lives in a London flat by herself and still plays 3 hours of piano a day. A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor expresses the positive mindset that let Alice survive and thrive though her closest friends and family did not. Alice’s life has crossed continents and she’s met the likes of Kafka, Mahler, Freud, and Rilke. She is a firm believer that music fights despair and that it can help fine-tune a positive mental outlook.
In his book Decoded, Jay-Z said, “Hip-hop has always been controversial, and for good reason…The music is meant to be provocative – which doesn’t mean it’s necessarily obnoxious, but it is (mostly) confrontational, and more than that, it’s dense with multiple meanings. Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it. Instead it plants dissonance in your head.”
Alice Prin, otherwise known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was the queen of 1920s bohemian Paris. She was unmistakable in a crowd, with her black bobbed hair and joie de vivre. Kiki was not only a model – she was the model, posing for Man Ray, Cocteau, Soutine, and others. Her evenings were spent as a nightclub singer, her days poised for art, and her life became a testament to spontaneity and creativity. Kiki de Montparnasse is a graphic novel biography that portrays the highs and many lows of Alice Prin’s all too short life.
To see Kiki and her world in real life, follow the graphic novel with the coffee table essay and photography book, Kiki’s Paris.