SOCIAL SCIENCES

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

S. & S. Apr. 2017. 608p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781476763828. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781476763842. HIST
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The Peoples Temple began benignly enough. Founder Jim Jones (1931–78) preached racial and economic justice, establishing the cult in 1955 as an Indianapolis-based spinoff of evangelical Christianity mixed with communism. In 1965, Jones moved his congregation to California, where he evaded scrutiny by allying with liberal politicians. Sued by concerned relatives of cult members and embarrassed by reports of staged miracles and fraud, Jones ultimately moved again, this time to Jonestown, a remote jungle commune in Guyana. Increasingly paranoid and delusional, he ordered his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid in 1978. A total of 918 people died. Guinn (Manson) delivers an exhaustive account, drawn from interviews, diaries, and declassified files, of how this saga unfolded. Replicating the success of his biography of Charles Manson, the author also delivers a nuanced portrait of Jones's descent into paranoid megalomania. Although Jones warned of nuclear holocaust and exploited Americans' poverty and alienation, Guinn does not fully ground Jonestown in its social, political, or psychological contexts. The story ends but questions persist.
VERDICT With this fascinating read, Quinn delivers the most thorough and in-depth history yet of the Peoples Temple. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16; "Editors' Picks," p. 28.]

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