Welcome to the first installment of my limited series – Review Redo – in which I will post older book reviews, primarily from earlier blogs I’ve curated and those on Goodreads.
I’m also looking to revamp some – if not all – of these reviews if necessary, especially if I have formed new thoughts regarding the books I’ve reviewed.
This particular review was a lot of fun and a breeze to write, mainly because the book’s subject matter is so fascinating to me. Let me just say right here that I can’t wait to read more of Jeff Guinn’s gripping works of non-fiction.
What I Expected
- A history of the actual Jonestown climax
- Thoughts of Living Colour’s song, Cult of Personality instantly popped into my head
- Insider information
What I Got
- A recounting of Jones’ life and in-depth information regarding his ‘church’s’ operations
- Vivid descriptions of the horrors of Jonestown and what led up to the main event
- THE CREEPS
What I Thought
I had no inkling of what I would discover regarding Jonestown, located deep in the Guyanese jungle. However, I didn’t realize that the book would cover virtually Jones’ entire life – from conception to his ultimately self-induced suicide for the socialist causes in which he believed.
Jonestown was much more complex than I ever imagined.
Raised with the idea of being at least god-like and prophetic, labels placed upon him by his mother, Jim Jones was, quite bluntly, full of himself. Jones emanated considerable charm and easily won over others.
Spanning over two decades, Jones’ Peoples Temple, which grew exponentially, Guinn uses his tireless research skills to initially dig up all information regarding Jim Jones as possible.
I learned that Jim Jones began his career as an evangelist in Indiana, touting his socialist beliefs and working to infiltrate government committees as well as politicians themselves in order to bring about change to the status-quo.
During services, Pastor Jones often staged healings of the sick and wounded, who made up part of the Peoples Temple organization. During many healings, Jones feigned the removal of afflicted people’s tumors – which were actually rotten pieces of meat – which he thrust into the air, for his congregation to see.
It’s incredible to me how a single, strong personality-possessing person can essentially gain the trust of 900+ people, who ultimately committed mass suicide – Masada – by cyanide poisoning per Jones’ orders. Jones explained to his followers that the group’s mass suicide would sent the entire world a message about the cause they so much believed in – a revolutionary statement.
Sadly for Jim Jones, most people know him as the cult leader who forced his followers – including children and babies – to kill themselves by drinking tainted Kool-Aid, as the belief is commonly held. In fact, Jones chose to mix the poison in a lesser known powdered drink brand similar to Kool-Aid called Flavor-Aid, making the well-known phrase – don’t drink the Kool-Aid – incorrect.
Babies, children, teens, women, men, and the elderly alike died by self-inflicted poisoning, save for the children old enough to comprehend their fates and some frightened adults, who were forcibly injected with the cyanide.
The atrocities leading up to and at Jonestown – a nearly self-sustaining farm located in the dense Guyana jungle – are unbelievable, including Jones’ typical punishment of rule-breaking followers at the commune – public beatings. In more extreme cases, Peoples Temple members were buried alive.
I finished the book with a new sense of knowing, of understanding, not only the facets of Jonestown, but of Jim Jones himself.
As an aside, a commune has existed in my county for generations – The Farm. While those whom I’ve met hailing from The Farm are warm and kind, the group is apparently very secretive, which does leave me wondering what truly goes on in socialist, self-sustaining societies in present day.
The world-renowned midwife and author, Ina May Gaskin, is the wife of the founder of The Farm. Please look up Gaskin – she is truly fascinating.
In the end, it wasn’t only Peoples Temple members who died on November 18, 1978 – a congressman attempting to investigate the commune was gunned down along with some news professionals and a defecting member of the group.
The main things I can say about Guinn’s biography is that it is incredibly eye-opening, historic, tragic, and mind-boggling.