The World According to Renee

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Review: The Road to Jonestown

This post contains distressing events, suicide, and cult behaviour. If anything in this post triggers unwanted emotions, please seek professional help. And don’t read the book.


What, or whom, drove 918 people to take their own lives on November 18, 1978?

Jim Jones was the leader of Peoples Temple, a cult originating in Indiana in the 1950s before moving to California and finally settling in the Promised Land of Guyana. Almost forty years later, Jeff Guinn has painstakingly researched the life of Jim Jones and the rise of Peoples Temple to their horrific deaths from mass suicide.

It’s a long read, over 460 pages, covering every aspect of Jim’s life from his parents, childhood, early evangelical career, recruiting members to his cult, supposed divine abilities, mass suicide and the aftermath. It’s a comprehensive look at what drove Jim Jones to order almost a thousand people to poison their children and themselves in America’s largest suicide pact.

Despite the lengthy book, each chapter is quite short and easy to read. The story is interesting enough to keep you going, even if you want to just know what went wrong in that fateful November. The book assume you know the outcome of Peoples Temple; it seems unlikely one would pick up the book if one was blind to the happenings. Even for those who are too young to remember the furore and media storm surrounding the mass suicide, it’s worth reading just to see how much influence one man had over more than a thousand people, both religiously and politically.

The final moments of Peoples Temple in Guyana are a harrowing read. I don’t know how the author could listen to the audio tape of that day and not have nightmares: maybe he did, he doesn’t say. The immediate aftermath is also distressing. The author treats these days with the utmost respect whilst remaining objective, but it’s hard to read without pausing to remember and reflect on the horrors committed. The testimony of one man watching his wife feed poison to their baby before taking it herself, dying in his arms, is especially painful to read.

However, the journey to that horrific day is worth reading. Are we condemned to repeat history? Will someone be equally influential to followers? Can the horrors of Jonestown be repeated?

7 out of 10 bookmarks. You have been warned.


September 16, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment