Jon Krakauer is best known for Into Thin Air, the story of the fateful 1996 season on Everest and Into the Wild (see my review of the major motion picture adapted from this book under Movie Reviews). Krakauer has written several other books, mostly concerning outdoor topics, however, one of his best books diverts from his usual subject matter. Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent Faith, is an up-close look at the history and modern day Church of Latter Day Saints, better known as Mormons.
Under the Banner of Heaven is an eye-opening look at the skeletons in the closet of the fastest growing church in the world. Krakauer’s methodical research and presentation of the facts make for a riveting and enlightening read.
Mark Bowden is a journalist who can actually put together a fascinating book – this cannot be said of all journalists-turned-authors. Arguably Bowden’s most famous book, Black Hawk Down, made into a film by the same name in 2001, documents the true story of the failed 1993 humanitarian mission conducted by the U.S. military in Somalia. Over 500 Somalians were killed and eighteen U.S. soldiers lost their lives in the conflict. I enjoyed this book, but sometimes got bogged down in the military lingo; my husband also read the book and had no problem with that particular aspect.
My favorite Bowden book is Killing Pablo: the hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, which has also been made into a documentary frequently shown The History Channel. The book is the fascinating true story of Pablo Escobar’s rise to power as a drug lord in Columbia and his eventual fall from power made possible through the help of the United States government.
While Bowden was on tour for his newest book, Breakfast with the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam,Ryan and I had a chance to hear him speak in-person at Denver’s downtown Tattered Cover. It becomes clear Bowden is a journalist/writer who is interested in finding the facts of a case and presenting them in a straightforward style so the reader may draw his or her own conclusions. He doesn’t appear to have any other agenda, political or otherwise. He is genuinely interested by the stories he writes about and though the audience was able to get him to answer a few questions regarding his personal opinons (many questions pertained to his opinion of the current situation in Somalia), he was able to stay noticeably neutral in his responses.
I believe it is Bowden’s dedication to finding the truth about a story allows him to obtain hard-to-get interviews with ex-governmental operatives an others who trust he will write an unbiased account of the subject matter.
Both Krakauer and Bowden tackle challenging topics and presented them well.