Monday, October 10, 2011
Review: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres
“I love socialism, and I’m willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I’d take a thousand with me.” —Jim Jones, September 6, 1975 In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a church in Indianapolis called Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church. He was a charismatic preacher with idealistic beliefs, and he quickly filled his pews with an audience eager to hear his sermons on social justice. After Jones moved his church to Northern California in 1965, he became a major player in Northern California politics; he provided vital support in electing friendly political candidates to office, and they in turn offered him a protective shield that kept stories of abuse and fraud out of the papers. Even as Jones’s behavior became erratic and his message more ominous, his followers found it increasingly difficult to pull away from the church. By the time Jones relocated the Peoples Temple a final time to a remote jungle in Guyana and the U.S. Government decided to investigate allegations of abuse and false imprisonment in Jonestown, it was too late.
A Thousand Lives is the story of Jonestown as it has never been told before. New York Times bestselling author Julia Scheeres drew from thousands of recently declassified FBI documents and audiotapes, as well as rare videos and interviews, to piece together an unprecedented and compelling history of the doomed camp, focusing on the people who lived there. Her own experiences at an oppressive reform school in the Dominican Republic, detailed in her unforgettable debut memoir Jesus Land, gave her unusual insight into this story.
The people who built Jonestown wanted to forge a better life for themselves and their children. They sought to create a truly egalitarian society. In South America, however, they found themselves trapped in Jonestown and cut off from the outside world as their leader goaded them toward committing “revolutionary suicide” and deprived them of food, sleep, and hope. Yet even as Jones resorted to lies and psychological warfare, Jonestown residents fought for their community, struggling to maintain their gardens, their school, their families, and their grip on reality.
Vividly written and impossible to forget, A Thousand Lives is a story of blind loyalty and daring escapes, of corrupted ideals and senseless, haunting loss.
Wow. I was born in the 80's so my knowledge of Jonestown was limited. I knew a bunch of people had committed mass suicide, and it was where the term 'drink the Kool-Aid' came from. A year or two ago, I caught the tail-end of a documentary about the group and it was horrifying. I couldn't understand why anyone, let alone over 1000 people would listen to anything this man had to say or uproot their lives to follow him into a jungle.
Reading this book gave me a lot of insight into how people succumb to groups such as this. Scheeres says right in the beginning that nobody joins a cult and it's true. These people didn't know exactly what they were getting into. In the beginnings of this church, Jones promised a color-blind, open-minded group that accepted and loved everyone equally. To be honest, some of their ideals would have definitely peaked my interest. Jones employed a whole host of smoke and mirrors to assert the fact that he was blessed with healing powers. That also drew people to the temple in droves.
Once part of the church, Jones and his goons made it almost impossible to leave. He had many convinced that he had super-natural powers and then promised harm would come to those who defected. He made members sign confessions stating that they'd molested their own children or other crimes which the church would hand over to police if they spoke out or left the church.
Then Jones got them all to follow him to Guyana in hopes of creating an ideal socialist community. What the found there was just short of hell. Under many different types of threats, the people became trapped in Jonestown as Jones himself spiraled into madness and began advocating mass 'revolutionary suicide' to his people.
This book explored all aspects of this case, not just the awful finale. It shows how certain people were drawn to the church and their reasons for staying. It was nice to get the whole story, though it does make the ending that much more heartbreaking.
I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to delve deeper into the history of one of the biggest mass suicides in history.
*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Posted by Rachel at 10:33 AM