- ISBN-13: 9781476763828
- ISBN-10: 1476763828
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publish Date: April 2017
- Page Count: 544
- Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-01-09
- Reviewer: Staff
One of the ghastliest outbreaks of fanaticism in recent times, the 1978 mass suicide of some 900 members of the Peoples Temple church, gets a magisterial treatment in this biography of leader Jim Jones. True-crime journalist Guinn (Manson) follows Joness rise as a charismatic, indefatigable minister in Indiana and California preaching Christianity, socialism, vehement antiracism, and a bizarre personality cult that worshipped him as God. Theres plenty of grotesquerie in the story, from Joness faith-healing with confederates and chicken guts to his sexual predations on followers, his attempts to relocate the church to the Soviet Union, the beatings he meted out, and the climactic poisoning of his flock with cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. But Guinn probes the deeper mystery of Joness hold over his abused disciples, part personal magnetism and part genuine idealism, showing his commitment to civil rights and social justicehe was one of few white leaders to help integrate Indianapolis, pioneered welfare-services programs, and became a force in San Francisco progressive politicsand the warm personal regard he projected to his many poor, black followers. Guinns exhaustive research, shrewd analysis, and engaging prose illuminate a monstrous yet tragic figureand the motives of those who lost their souls to him. Agent: Jim Donovan, Jim Donovan Literary. (Apr.)
The making of a massacre
Even now, after all the mass killings of recent decades—9/11, Oklahoma City, all the rest—the Jonestown massacre is still staggering in its horror. More than 900 Americans—nearly 300 of them children—died in a Guyanese jungle in 1978 after a dangerous crackpot named Jim Jones told them to commit suicide by swallowing a poison-infused drink.
How on earth could this have happened? Couldn’t someone have done something, anything, to prevent it? If there are answers to those questions, they start with examining Jones himself, the charismatic cult leader originally from small-town Indiana who drew thousands to his Peoples Temple, then destroyed those who followed him to his remote settlement. Writer Jeff Guinn, already a biographer of Charles Manson, provides a powerful account of Jones’ life based on a comprehensive examination of the records and new interviews with temple survivors and Jones’ relatives in The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.
Jones is ultimately more interesting than Manson because he was a man of real accomplishment. Particularly in his early days, the white preacher fought effectively for civil rights for African Americans. Even as he drifted ever further into lunacy, his organization’s social service programs were always genuinely helpful. But simultaneously, Jones ran his ministry as a narcissistic cult, luring followers with phony faith healing and half-baked “socialist” rants, then exploiting his followers financially and sexually.
Was he always a monster or did something change? Initially, he resembled a number of other unorthodox evangelists. Then a pivot occurred in 1971 when Jones became addicted to drugs—his promiscuity and paranoia surged, and a tragic outcome became more likely, if not inevitable.
Guinn’s blow-by-blow account of Jonestown’s final days in the book’s last chapters is riveting. Jones betrayed hundreds of people who worshipped him; Guinn helps ensure we’ll remember their ruin.