This was a thorough examination of the evolution of The Peoples Temple from its socialist ideals and Christian roots to a cult willing and able to commit the 1978 atrocity of mass suicide and murder of over 900 men, women, and children. It examines as much as can be known of Jim Jones, the Temple’s founder and ultimately deranged leader. It provides a study of several members, both survivors and deceased. From this, the author lays bare the mechanism by which a group of committed idealists and vulnerable believers can be led down the path to deranged behavior, enthusiastically participating in atrocities committed upon themselves and others, giving up all control to a single man in spite of clear evidence that he is a charlatan.
Guinn does this with remarkably little judgement. He provides facts and observations and conclusions, from a variety of points of view, and pays the reader the compliment of allowing them to judge or not. As a result, the story can be a little dry at times, but in this case I much prefer that to a sensationalized faction.
I was surprised by two things. One: The similarity between the techniques used by Jones and Temple leaders to subjugate their followers and those common in domestic violence situations, where outsiders say, “I don’t understand why anyone would put up with that, why didn’t they leave?”
The other: The Peoples Temple, at least in the beginning, performed great good. They turned lives around, provided a haven for the disenfranchised, and made material inroads in systemic societal racism. But because the Temple idealists who were committed to these goals were willing to overlook the warning signs of Jones’ unethical and immoral behaviors, feeling that the ends justified the means, they were really as much to blame for that final massacre as Jones himself. They were willing to make excuses for him, to enable him, in order to use him and his power to achieve their own ends. First small violations of ethics, then another, then another, then another, until any means necessary seemed natural and acceptable. Let that be a lesson to us all.
Audiobook, purchased via Audible. Competently read by Jeff Newbern.