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Review: A Thousand Lives

I finished reading A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown and it was intense. It details the rise of Jim Jones as a religious leader and his followers all the way up through their mass murder-suicide in 1978.

909 people died. Almost 300 were children.

I appreciated how the author showed the humanity of Jones’ followers; trying to understand why they were drawn to him and why they stayed, instead of dismissing them as “crazy cultists.” These were not people that woke up one morning deciding to kill themselves. They were manipulated, beaten down, and brainwashed to the point there seemed to be no other option.

Jones started out preaching against racism and promoted equal rights in the ’50s and ’60s. His church seemed to be a community of acceptance and a majority of its members were African American as a result. As time went on, he asked more and more from his members, moving them towards a socialist collective. The church seemed to genuinely help some people escape the lowest of lows, but it demanded everything. Members gave all they had to the church and were further isolated as a result of Jones’ increasingly paranoid message and behaviors. Ultimately they would end up in Guyana at the Jonestown commune where they would die.

This book is very well written. The author used a huge amount of recently released FBI documents, audio tapes, and interviews to assemble a picture of the manipulation and abuse that entrapped and killed so many people. It is sobering and heart-breaking.

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