Saturday, June 03, 2017

Book review - "Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People's Temple" by Jeff Guinn

Powerful, exhaustively researched account of one of the world's most famous cult leaders, who had a third act to beat all third acts. The first act was surprising liberal - Jones had a genuine hatred of racism and determination to do something about it; and he and his people did do some wonderful things: helped overturn some bad laws, educated people, looked after the old, young and sick.(It was sad reading this realising a whole bunch of racists that Jones took on would, after, 1978, have been super smug and felt justified about their racism, eg "well Jim Jones was against it, enough said").

The second act he became increasingly power crazed - megalomaniacal, drug affected, sexual exploitative. All cult leaders seem to head in a similar direction. The third act he went out of control.

On the whole, it's an all too easily believable path. The lust for power, and flesh - judgement affected by a lack of checks and balances, and drugs, and paranoia. The scope and extent of the final massacre though does take your breath away - the thoroughness of it, people holding children doing and insuring they ingest poison, shooting people. All that isolation in the jungle - and a hard core group of lunatic followers who ensured Jones' wishes were followed. A full on experience. I read the final chapters with my baby daughter asleep on my chest which made the killing of kid stuff especially kick home.

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