Jon Krakauer's book and this essay fit together very well.
Humans are a very odd species.
Update 8/06: In August of 2003, about the time I did this blog posting, I wrote a review of Krakauer's book for Amazon:
A stunning and very brave book. Given the history he outlines, one wonders what Krakauer's family is doing to protect themselves.
A study of religious extremism, of fundamentalism and revelation, of religious genius, of the terrible frailties of men and the horrors they do. It portrays in detail the very dark history of America in general and of the Mormon faith's origins and modern offshoots.
It leaves as a bit of mystery how the mainstream Mormon church has changed so much. In footnotes here and there he outlines some rather radical changes in Mormonism, starting in the 1970s and extending through the 1990s. These trends seem to have brought the modern church into a comfortable alignment with modern American evangelical Christianity; despite deep theological divisions the behaviors of these faithful are often exemplary. I wonder about an unwritten influence of Mormon women in civilizing an early faith characterized by an amplification of much of the darker aspects of the male psyches.
That story is for another book perhaps ...
An astounding work. Highly recommended.