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The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples…
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The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple (edition 2017)

by Jeff Guinn (Author)

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1591375,058 (3.89)18
Member:pbirch01
Title:The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
Authors:Jeff Guinn (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2017), 544 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

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The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple by Jeff Guinn is a 2017 Simon & Schuster publication.

Thoroughly chilling…

While I was only in my early teens in 1978, I still recall the news footage of the “Jonestown Massacre”. I understood on some level what had happened, but I couldn’t fully digest it. I tried not to watch the news reports and steered clear of conversations about it because it made me extremely uncomfortable. It was too much for me to cope with, and in all honesty, I still can’t wrap my head around it.

Part of me wanted to read this book, in hopes of garnering some understanding of how something like this happened. But, another part of me didn’t want to relive that horrible piece of history where over nine hundred people lost their lives.

But, the outstanding reviews convinced me to read it and while I still find these events quite upsetting, I am glad I read the book.

To say this was a comprehensive account of Jim Jones’ life is an understatement of epic proportions. This book is an exacting, well researched, serious and non-biased, look at one of the most monstrous cult leaders of all time.

We all know how this will end. The question is- How did it begin?

I won’t make this into a book report, if I can help it, but I did want to touch on some of the impressions I was left with.

One of the weirdest things about all this, is that it didn’t start out as being all that different from many fundamentalist church doctrines or beliefs. Jim’s wife was zealously religious and the couple did present themselves as believing in God and practiced the core Christian values most of us are familiar with. It is easy to see how Jim ingratiated himself into the ministry profession, and why he experienced praise for his genuine service and help to those in need. He was particularly sensitive to the black community and freely welcomed them and worshipped alongside them in a time when such actions raised eyebrows.

However, he quickly shucked off any semblance of being a true believer and began working the tent revival circuit, faked healings, and performed 'miracles' including raising people from the dead. But, there was an audience for that sort of thing, especially in that era of time, and he was hardly the only one out there working that particular con.

But, religion and doing good deeds were not the cult’s only draw. I was amazed at how political it was. Jones was an ardent socialist, and I think many people joined his ‘church’ because these ideals, without embracing any ‘religious’ worship of God.

This book took me on stunning and harrowing journey, step by horrifying step, as he morphed into an actual cult leader and managed to mesmerize his followers into doing anything he wanted them to.

I won’t go into the details because I want you to see for yourself how vile, narcissistic, cruel, contradictory, and sick he really was. It is an incredible profile of a man who conned, swayed, manipulated, lied, and corrupted so many people, yet managed to amass wealth, while rubbing elbows with celebrities, and politicians, who often praised him for his good deeds!!

As the book progresses, we see how as his psychosis deepened, and as his power increased so did his ego, and his darker tendencies completely took over, fueled by his paranoia need for control and by his use of drugs. So, the closer I came to the climactic events in “Jonestown”, I began to dread having to read it in such graphic details.

The phrase, ‘ don’t drink the Koolaid’ (it wasn’t really the trademarked “Koolaid”, but ‘Flavor-aid- a cheaper, generic brand), is a familiar one, used to insult anyone exhibiting a certain level of gullibility, and became a common pop culture saying.

"The Jonestown deaths quickly became renowned not as grandly defiant revolutionary gesture, but that ultimate example of human gullibility”

Cults didn’t go away after the Jonestown massacre. There were still headline grabbing standoffs and more mass suicides, although nothing that ever came close to topping Jonestown. But, it SEEMED that maybe with a more enlightened, educated, progressive majority in America, these charismatic charlatans may have finally lost their appeal or ability to lure mass followings, as we began to hear less and less about religious cults.

"Demagogues recruit by uniting a disenchanted element against an enemy, then promising to use religion or politics or a combination of the two to bring about rightful change.”

While I swore to myself I would not go here, I could not help but notice parallels between Jim Jones’ personality traits, such as his inability to delegate or share or his penchant to lash out, deflect, punish, seek restitution, and refuse any hint of apology or compromise, but still managed to lure in folks, knowing just what they needed and wanted to hear, thus securing an almost unshakable loyalty, are traits that are noticeably prevalent in other prominent ‘leaders’ who have come into power. The resemblance was so eerily uncanny at times I still get chills down my spine thinking about it.

‘The less he was recognized and appreciated by the outside world, the grander he proclaimed himself to the followers remaining to him.’

One of the most gruesome pictures included in this book is a photo depicting many of the deceased lying face down in what looked like a grass hut pavilion with a sign hanging on the wall, directly above Jones’ personal chair, that stated:

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Even though I did remember the events that took place in Guyana in 1978, I never sought to learn more about Jim Jones than was necessary. So, most of what was detailed here I was largely unaware of. I have to tell you, it’s pretty shocking. Jim Jones is one of the strangest people I’ve ever read about! He was crazy, but smart, did kind and compassionate things for people in need, was incredible charismatic, but could turn on someone in an instant, meting out horrific punishments, both physical and psychological. He could switch from mean to incredibly nice in an instant. He was delusional, believing himself to be God, and expected unquestionable loyalty from his followers, and he usually got it. But it started to unravel and disillusionment did start to set in, with some questioning his decisions or outright refusing to obey. Yet, as we all know, many remained enthralled right up to the bitter end.

I can’t praise the author enough for the clear, concise layout used here. The book is organized, well -constructed, is presented chronologically, and reads like a true crime novel in many ways. I was riveted, glued to the pages, still unable to grapple with the reality of Jones’ life and the path he ultimately took to Guyana.

There may always be a part of my heart and mind that can’t accept that over 900 people drank cyanide laced punch at his behest, including children. This book, though, left me with no place to hide, forcing me to accept these events as a gruesome, hideous, and incredibly tragic part of America’s history.

My fervent hope is that history never repeats itself. ( )
  gpangel | May 10, 2018 |
I really enjoyed this book. I was glad that it was in depth and provided background into Jones' childhood and parents. I also did not realize how much good he actually did manage before power completely corrupted him.
I will say, however, that there was a lot in the book that I felt was unnecessary and could have been left out. All the extra points throughout made the book slow and drag on a lot more than was needed. As much as I enjoyed the content, I really had to push myself to continue reading it. ( )
  nessa33 | Mar 22, 2018 |
Book received from NetGalley.

This was, in many ways, a hard book to read. I vaguely remember the photos on the evening news of the rows and rows of dead, and that has always stuck with me once I realized what I was seeing. The other problem was, I know many of the areas mentioned in the book extremely well. I've been through Lynn, Indiana. I've been in Reid hospital, where he worked, many times. My Dad talked about driving by The Peoples Temple on his way to work after the massacre happened, and mentioning that he had talked with some of the people there occasionally. When you know you've walked the same streets, that a monster has walked a book about that person takes on a whole new meaning. The only thing new that I learned was that Jim Jones had always had some issues, the drugs he used, the control over the people, and his need for power may have had some impact on what happened in the end, but he was just as manipulative as a child. The book also tries to show just how normal he tried to be, but something in his mind kept him from achieving that. ( )
  Diana_Long_Thomas | Mar 15, 2018 |
Guinn has penned an excellent journalistic work that examines a fascinating but tragic saga. Some have suggested that the author provides way too many details. It's true that readers don't spend much time in Jonestown until the final third of the book. But the detailed context Guinn provides is critical as readers grapple to try to understand Jones. Even after this journalistic "deep-dive," there are still many lingering questions. I must admit that I had early doubts about whether I would finish this nearly 500-page book. While labeling it a "riveting" read might be an overstatement, it definitely held my interest from beginning to end. ( )
  brianinbuffalo | Jan 12, 2018 |
I'm glad I learned more about Jonestown and the people involved. That being said, this book goes into too much detail, even for its genre, particularly for the early years before Peoples Temple really got going. At some points, we're getting day-by-day histories of minute details in Jim Jones' life. Beyond a certain point, details don't help drive a narrative, they just drag it down. If I were to read this again, I'd skim the first 30-40% quite quickly and then get into the meat of it when Jones started really getting going with the Peoples Temple in California.

Also, what happened at Jonestown is even more fucked up than I had imagined. I've read about what happened there before, and I've even listened to the entire morbid recording of Jim Jones' last 'sermon' while his followers were drinking poison-laced fruit drink. The book goes into just how narcissistic and dangerous this man was, and how he wielded power over people. The extent to which people were able to ignore Jones' horrible behavior - rape, keeping malcontents permanently sedated, suicide rehearsals - is almost unbelievable. They had to know, right? The author generally asserts that most followers didn't know all the sordid details, but I'm not sure I believe that. It's very hard to keep secrets like these in small, isolated groups. Some did want to leave Jonestown, of course, and the author does a good job of explaining why some of them were successful in leaving but most weren't.

Still, I learned a lot from the book, on a subject I thought I already knew pretty well. If you want the nitty-gritty details about Jim Jones, how he amassed followers, built a huge church community, and eventually convinced many of them to move to Guyana to build a socialist paradise (but really just be in a really isolated place where Jones could really control everyone), then this is the book for you. ( )
  Lindoula | Sep 25, 2017 |
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A portrait of the cult leader behind the Jonestown Massacre examines his personal life, from his extramarital affairs and drug use to his fraudulent faith healing practices and his decision to move his followers to Guyana, sharing new details about the events leading to the 1978 tragedy. "The Road to Jonestown is the definitive account of Jim Jones and the tragic events at Jonestown, the largest murder-suicide in American history. Based on newly released documents and new interviews with survivors, some of whom had never spoken publicly before, it answers the question, How could so many people not only die for Jim Jones but kill for him, too? In the 1950s, Jim Jones was a young Indianapolis minister who preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader. In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones's life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November 1978, when more than nine hundred people died--including almost three hundred infants and children--after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink. Guinn examined thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, including material released during the course of his research. He traveled to Jones's Indiana hometown, where he spoke to people never previously interviewed, and uncovered fresh information from Jonestown survivors. He even visited the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew there the day that Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered on Jones's orders. The Road to Jonestown is as fascinating as it is disturbing, a classic story of how a charismatic but deeply flawed figure could lead so many people to tragedy."--Jacket.… (more)

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