Check It Out Category: Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven book coverSPOILER 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

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

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?

Other Resources:

Book Browse book discussion questions
NPR interviews Jon Krakauer
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.

If you liked Under the Banner of Heaven, try…

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

In Cold Blood book cover     Devil in the White City book coverthe Wives of Henry Oades book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Page Count: 473
Genre: Nonfiction – Biography
Tone: Inspirational, adventurous, engaging

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  Was there something special about Louie that could be seen at an early age or did his actions reflect more on a style of parenting? (e.g., climbing out the window and running down the street as a two year old with pneumonia or jumping off the train to California)

2.  Louie moved from being a rambunctious toddler into what some would call a delinquent. Did you find it difficult to empathize with Louie given his devious behavior?

3.  Do you think in today’s society Louie would face more trouble with the law or school authorities as a young person?

4.  What are the ways in which Louie’s childhood prepared him for his time in the war?

5.  What impact did seeing the German dirigible Graf Zepplin have on Louie as a12-year-old boy? Why did Hillenbrand choose to open the book with this image?

6.  If his older brother Pete had not come up with a plan to get him into track, would Louie’s life have been different? How?

7. Did the Great Depression prepare Louie, and perhaps others of his generation, to persevere through the great hardships they would later face in the war?

8.  Why did young Louie long to be a cowboy?

9.  How was Louie able to set the NCAA record for the mile with a cracked rib, cut shins, and a bloody foot?

10.  What did you take away from Louie’s time on the boat to Berlin? Can you believe he gained 12 pounds eating the almost unlimited amount of food?

11.  Louie came in 7th place at the Berlin Olympics, but had such a fast stride at the end that Hitler wanted to meet him. What did you think of this experience?

12.  Do you think Louie would’ve broken the 4-minute mile if it hadn’t been for the war?

13.  How many of you knew Zamperini survived? Did that affect your reading of the book?

14.  Did anyone find it unusual that Louie had so many photographs of these different times in his life, especially the war photos?

15.  When Louie, Phil, and the crew of Superman returned from their first mission, they found that their friends’ plane crashed on take-off and the entire crew was killed. How did this affect Louie’s view of the war?

16.  Were you surprised the majority of Army Air Force casualties in World War II were due to accidents? (p. 80)

17.  After Superman’s dramatic return from Nauru, the plane was barely intact. Louie attributed the crew’s survival not only to Phil’s expert flying, but to the plane itself. How important was it that the crew knew how to fly their specific plane?

18.  Why did the lieutenant ask the men to take the Green Hornet on the search mission, in spite of their misgivings that it wasn’t airworthy?

19.  What devices did Zamperini and others use to survive and maintain their sanity during their time on the raft and in the POW camp?

20.  What explains how Louie and Pete were able to survive on the raft while Mac, who seemed to have no physical injuries, did not? Are survival skills learned or inherent?

21.  Why were many of the Japanese who first found Louie and Pete kind to them? Why were they surprised that the men had been fired on in their raft?

22.  What do you find the most horrifying about Louie’s captivity? Were you aware of the biological experiments the Japanese were conducting on POWs and civilians alike?

23.  Why didn’t the guards kill the prisoners when they knew the end was in sight for Japan?

24.  Do you think there is less of a focus on Japan’s role in historical accounts of WWII than on Germany’s? If so, why would that be?

25.  How was Japan able to reinvent itself after WWII? Has Germany been able to reinvent itself as well?

26.  How was Louie able to readjust to life after the war? How was he able to overcome the struggles that were common to many veterans such as alcoholism and depression?

27.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was identified as a legitimate condition. Why did this diagnosis take so long to be recognized?

28.  Which do you think was more responsible for Louie’s drastic life change, the idea that his wife was going to leave him or his attending the Billy Graham revival?

29.  What role did Jimmy Sasaki play in the book and in Louie’s life? Why was he on campus at USC when Louie was in college and what did he do when he showed up at the POW camp? (p. 357)

30.  How was Louie able to forgive The Bird and his other captors? How did you feel about the punishments the guards received after WWII?  What happened to The Bird?

31.  Like Louie, Bill Harris survived the war and the Japanese POW camp. Why do you think he chose to remain in the military? What do you think happened to him when he went missing in Korea?

32.  Did you learn something new from this book?

33.  Were there parts of the story you found difficult to believe?

34.  What did you think of Hillenbrand’s style of writing? Was there anything you didn’t like in the writing or anything you wished Hillenbrand would’ve covered more deeply?

35.  Are you familiar with Hillenbrand’s own health struggles (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)? Did you know she was unable to leave her house for more than two years while she wrote this book? She tells The New York Times:

“Writing is a godsend to me that way. Without it I wouldn’t have anything. I am completely still almost all the time. A lot of time I don’t leave the upstairs. What I have is the story I’m working on. It’s a wonderful thing for me to get out of my body for a while.”

How, if at all, does this affect her writing?

36.  What does Unbroken add to the already voluminous collection of WWII research? What value is there, or is there any at all, in telling the story of one man’s experience in the war?

37.  Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to refer to people from Louie’s time who came of age during the Great Depression, fought during WWII, and took care of the homefront. Is this moniker accurate?

38.  Why did Hillenbrand include this quote from Walt Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser, “What stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics, of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous, what deepest remains?”  What do you think are the “deepest remains” for Louie Zamperini?

Other Resources:

Laura Hillenbrand’s website
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by NPR
Laura Hillenbrand interviewed by the Kenyon Collegian
Louis Zamperini interviewed by CBS
Louis Zamperini in discussion at USC Annenberg
New York Magazine review of Unbroken
The Wall Street Journal review of Unbroken

If you liked Unbroken, try…

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
A Higher Call by Adam Makos
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Strength in What Remains book cover      A Higher Call book cover

Book Discussion Questions: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Page Count: 343
Genre: Nonfiction – True Crime
Tone: Bleak, Sobering

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.    Did anyone look up the French epigraph at the beginning of the book? Francois Villon, “Ballade des Pendus,” translates to:

Human brothers who live after us,
Do not have (your) hearts hardened against us,
For, if you take pity on us poor (fellows),
God will sooner have mercy on you.

What do you think Capote meant, using this as the epigraph?

2.    Why do you think Truman Capote introduced the town first, then the Clutters and then the murderers?

3.    Do you like Mr. Clutter and his family when you meet them?

4.    What is your first impression of Perry and Dick?

5.    What about the Clutters? Did you feel like you knew them?

6.    On page 37, Dick boasts that nothing can go wrong. Was he prepared or naïve?

7.    When you read a quote like “Ain’t that what I promised you, honey – plenty of hair on them-those walls?” (p. 37) What does it make you feel towards Dick?

8.    How does Capote build suspense in In Cold Blood?

9.    Capote goes back and forth in chapters between the Clutters and the murderers. Then Capote goes back and forth from the police and the murderers. Why? Was this an effective way to tell a story?

10.    What did you think of Capote’s use of direct quotes?

11.    Did this read like other nonfiction books you’ve read? Why or why not?

12.    What does the term “nonfiction novel” mean?

13.    Do you think Capote gave a fair amount of time to all characters involved?

14.    Who seemed like the worse criminal, Dick or Perry? Do you think that had anything to do with Capote’s writing style?

15.    Perry admits to thinking that they are “wrong,” but Dick continually calls himself a “normal.” (p. 109) What do you think this says about each of the men?

16.    Who do you pity in this story?

17.    Does it change your opinion of Perry to know that he was a veteran (page 128) or to know that he was sexually abused (p. 133)?

18.    How did the police get their big break in the case?

19.    Do you think Floyd Wells felt bad about telling Dick about the Clutter family?

20.    What did you think of Dick’s family’s reaction to hearing that he was a murderer?

21.    When Dick and Perry are caught, who breaks to the cops first? Why?

22.    Was there a specific moment that scared you with either criminal?

23.    If a horrible crime happened in your town, would you talk to a dedicated writer about it?

24.    Was there a passage of this book that was harder to read than others?

25.    Do you believe that the farmhand Stoecklein didn’t hear the four gunshots next door?

26.    What did you think of the insurance man’s reaction to hearing of Mr. Clutter’s death? (p. 71)

27.    What did you think of Dick and Perry’s reactions to murdering four people? (p. 73 – 74, p. 91)

28.    Nye says, “Nobody would kill four people for fifty bucks,” (p. 87). Do you think this is true today? Do you think it was true then?

29.    What did you think of Josie and Wendle Meier? Josie showed calm and caring. Could you have showed that to either Dick or Perry? Would you have?

30.    Don Cullivan, an old Army buddy of Perry’s, comes to visit. Why?

31.    Perry changed his statement to say he murdered everybody. Why?

32.    Do you think there is a difference between reading a true crime book and reading a violent fiction book? Do you feel different while reading one as compared to the other?

33.    Was there a section that moved slower than others?

34.    Did you like where the book stopped at? Would you have wanted its ending to have come sooner?

35.    Do you think Capote did this town good or a disservice by writing In Cold Blood?

36.    Do you believe in the death penalty?

37.    Do you think Dick and Perry “got what they deserved?”

38.    Perry didn’t believe in the death penalty, he said, “I think it’s a helluva thing to take a life in this manner. I don’t believe in capital punishment, morally or legally.” (p. 340) How did this strike you?

39.    What did you think of each man’s last words?

-Perry p. 340
-Dick p. 339

40.    Do you think Capote believed in capital punishment? (Answer found here.)

Other Resources:

Truman Capote Wikipedia entry
Lit Lovers’ book discussion guide
George Plimpton interview with Truman Capote
Paris Review interview of Truman Capote
Original New York Times article that inspired Truman Capote to write In Cold Blood

If you liked In Cold Blood, try…

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Columbine by David Cullen
The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil book cover      Columbine book cover     the Executioner's Song book cover

And! Please speak with one of our friendly reference librarians about finding original articles from 1966 about the Clutter family killings in our Chicago Tribune Historical database. The pictures alone make the articles good handouts for book discussion groups.

Donna S.’s Pick: The Orchard


Donna S. staff picks photoThe Orchard by Theresa Weir tells the story of a street-wise girl who marries into an old and well-respected farm family. Insight is given on farm traditions, the standard use of pesticides, its effect on the land, and dealing with the iron will of a family matriarch.