Book Details Upbringing of Cult Leader through Jonestown Massacre

By Brewster, Erin | Sunday Gazette-Mail, April 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

Book Details Upbringing of Cult Leader through Jonestown Massacre


Brewster, Erin, Sunday Gazette-Mail


The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn, 544 pages, Simon and Schuster

It has been nearly 40 years since the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown, Guyana.

The event had enormous global impact and has been reflected in numerous books, movies and even a phrase that has entered the language: Dont drink the Kool-Aid.

Yet, when I mentioned to a 30-something book lover that I was reading a definitive biography of Jim Jones and Jonestown, he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

When I related some of the most basic facts, thinking to spark his memory, there was nothing. Not a spark. No clue.

Perhaps you had to be alive at the time for the massacre to take on the resonance that it did for me and so many others. But its a little scary to think that its totally unknown by an entire generation.

I call The Road to Jonestown a definitive account because Ive read about Jones and the Peoples Temple before, as well as watched a number of movies either based directly on the events or inspired by them (including The Sacrament by modern-day horror master Ti West).

Most deal with the group after its migration to Guyana. But in this account, the reader moves through Jones entire life, from his relationship with his difficult mother to his early childhood and his precocious calls to the ministry and social justice, even as a young child.

It moves on to his marriage, then to the formation of the Peoples Temple from the ground up, including massive amounts of information about some of the key players (dont worry about remembering all the names, you wont need them).

The action doesnt move to Guyana until the latter 50 percent of the book, and Jones early life is at least as fascinating as anything that happened later.

The book has its greatest success in its fair-handedness. Most of us view the Peoples Temple as a cult and Jones as a puppet master, a charlatan and a mass murderer. Those things are true, and yet they are not the entire story.

Jones was passionate about socialism and believed strongly in true integration of the races and classes, helping the disenfranchised and acting as a model for others to follow.

And for years (although in his own, heavy-handed way), he and the Temple accomplished just that with great success, first in Indianapolis, then in Mendocino County and later in San Francisco.

Both Rosalynn Carter and Walter Mondale met with Jones when Jimmy Carter was running for president.

The Peoples Temple played a huge role in the pivotal San Francisco mayoral election of George Moscone, which completely changed the citys political structure. …

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