The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

By the New York Times bestselling author of Manson, the comprehensive, authoritative, and tragic story of preacher Jim Jones, who was responsible for the Jonestown Massacre—the largest murder-suicide in American history.In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, a...

Title:The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1476763828
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:544 pages

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple Reviews

  • Donna Davis
    Apr 11, 2017

    The good news is that Jeff Guinn tells us everything there is to know about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

    The bad news is that Jeff Guinn tells everything there is to know about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

    This reviewer was just out of high school when the media frenzy emerged around the mass suicide of hundreds of Americans living in a cult called The Peoples Temple, which was sequestered in the equatorial jungles in Guyana, South America. No one could understand it; why would so many

    The good news is that Jeff Guinn tells us everything there is to know about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

    The bad news is that Jeff Guinn tells everything there is to know about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

    This reviewer was just out of high school when the media frenzy emerged around the mass suicide of hundreds of Americans living in a cult called The Peoples Temple, which was sequestered in the equatorial jungles in Guyana, South America. No one could understand it; why would so many people follow such a flimflam man, and why would they be persuaded to ‘drink the Koolaid’? I wanted to know; the whole thing boggles the imagination. I read it free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster. I read it more slowly than I usually do, not because the narrative isn’t compelling, but because of the content. The opening chapters of the story are darkly funny, but as we move forward, there are times when I feel as if I am gargling sewage. I deal with the conflicting emotions by alternating it with other books, and I finish all of them and move on to other things before I finish this one. I could only take so much in one sitting! Just so you know; you’ve been warned.

    Jones was obsessed with religion, even as a child. Unfortunately, he was also the kind of kid that would trick a puppy into walking out of a high window and falling to its death.

    He just really liked control, and as he got older, the compulsion grew worse instead of better.

    In the early 1960s, Jones started a church in Indianapolis. His wife, Marceline, was proud to be the preacher’s wife, and they shared a genuine desire to integrate the city at a time when the deep South was being forced to end Jim Crow, but nobody else was asking anything of the sort of Northern industrial cities. He funded his mission by conducting traveling revivals tent-style. He persuaded gullible audiences that he had a supernatural capacity to heal others; the audience plants that he brought understood that sometimes faith required a little help.

    Fear and control enabled Jones to move much of his congregation with him when he packed up and headed for the supposedly nuke-proof town of Ukiah, California. After that, it was like a downhill snowball. The amazing thing is that this man and his oddball group were so widely accepted for many years, even praised by local politicians and celebrities. But then things began to unravel, and he told his followers it was time for the most ardent believers to move with him to The Promised Land.

    The most amazing thing to me is that he didn’t have to rope people in to move to the jungle; he made them compete for the honor.

    Guinn’s documentation is strong, mostly based on interviews with survivors and the vast files left behind by Jones and his people. The narrative flows well and never slows, and part of that is due to the lack of formal footnotes, but the endnotes provided for each chapter, along with the list of interviews, in-text source references, and bibliography are beyond reproach. Best of all, he has no axe to grind.

    For those that want to know, this is it. I doubt you’ll find a better single book on this subject anywhere. It’s available for sale as of today

  • Matt
    Mar 28, 2017

    Pardon my rambling... my mind has not been this blown by a book in a long, long time!

    First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jeff Guinn, and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

    My ongoing trek though the world of biographies would not have been complete without a comprehensive piece about an individual who is often misunderstood in history. Jeff Guinn has provided this with his stellar piece on Jim Jon

    Pardon my rambling... my mind has not been this blown by a book in a long, long time!

    First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jeff Guinn, and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

    My ongoing trek though the world of biographies would not have been complete without a comprehensive piece about an individual who is often misunderstood in history. Jeff Guinn has provided this with his stellar piece on Jim Jones and the winding road to Jonestown, site of the infamous cult mass suicide in 1978. Guinn focusses the rise and power of Jim Jones, exemplifying his ability to hoard power and hone his leadership skills while captivating a following of the common person. Armed with the power of the delivered word and absolute authority, Jones sought not only to create the Peoples Temple to serve the disadvantaged, but also to instil complete loyalty in a socialist hierarchy, as contradictory as that might sound. The attentive and patient reader will discover countless examples of Jones' abilities as he becomes the textbook cult leader. (As it will surely rouse extensive debate, for the purposes of this review and my personal beliefs, I would define a 'cult' as an organisation premised on a certain type of beliefs, usually religious, whereby extrication is neither simple nor voluntary. I welcome those who wish to challenge me on this, though I do not bandy the word around for the fun of it!)

    Raised in a highly dysfunctional home in Lynn, Indiana, Jones stuck out at school and could regularly be found making long-winded sermons alone in the woods or organising healing services for roadkill. This religious upbringing was fostered by his curiosity in the numerous evangelical Christian options around town, even though his parents were the only family not found at any Sunday services. By adulthood, with a young wife by his side, Jones continued to foster his preaching and healing skills, soon part of the revival tour around the state. His ultimate goal, to form his own church that would target lower-income individuals and trying to link up with established black churches in and around Indianapolis. With the Red Scare in full force, Jones sought to utilise some of the socialist 'equality for all' in his sermons, bringing hope to any who would grace the sanctuary. His message was less one of godliness, but of the need to integrate the races and help one another, all this in the late 1950s and into the 60s. Developing a strong base, Jones formed the Peoples Temple and rallied as many as would attend on a regular basis. Even at this early stage, Jones tried to create a sense of power and a hierarchy, where followers would rely on him to help them solve problems as long as they turn over all earthly possessions to the Temple. Guinn hints at a duplicity here, where Jones could completely overtake his followers, while remaining above the fray and living as he saw fit.

    Always wanting more and seeing the lights of California, Jones turned his attention to Redwood Valley and the surrounding town of Ukiah, California. Situated between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Jones felt he could work effectively by integrating into a smaller community, yet still be able to pull followers from both major metropolitan areas. He was so effective in having his followers join him because of the impending nuclear holocaust that was sure to come from the Soviets, having recently been deterred during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Yes, more duplicity, as he rallied to the Soviet-style collectivist notion of equality for all, yet chose to sit at the end of all!) Jones knew how to use the news to his advantage, demanding blind faith and complete trust that he had revelations about what the Peoples Temple ought to do. While Jones had to reestablish himself out West, many scouts and a strong advertising campaign in the less affluent neighbourhoods brought new recruits along with those who had heard of this captivating preacher. From there, Guinn explores many of the sexual encounters that Jones had (and sanctioned) within the Temple, citing the need to de-stress or share communally, though only within the confines of fellow Temple folk. Jones cemented a stronger sense of communal ownership by Temple faithful, going so far as to require all children born into the group be raised communally, where they would see parents only when Jones saw fit. Sex led to drugs and soon Jones relied on that to keep him going, all while his wife stood by and loyally tried to digest what was going on. Guinn explores sentiments of jealousy and angst, though Jones never sought to enter into polygamous marriages, choosing instead to share his body and time with at least two women regularly and others on an as needed basis. How could Jones profess these beliefs and hold firm to the reins of power? As Guinn explains, there was significant verbal and physical abuse administered, which would push straying members into line. Be it calling people out in sermons, browbeating in meetings, or blackmailing in private, Jones made sure that he held the upper hand to ensure obedience. If a member sought to leave the fold, Jones had pre-signed documentation or blank sheets that he could use and submit to the authorities, thereby pigeon-holing any who might make idle threats. Guinn offers numerous examples of the lengths to which Jones would go to command attention and total control over the lives of Temple members, from the new recruits to his own wife, seen as the second-in-command of the entire organisation. Using his prowess to rally the troops, Jones became a favourite of the political candidates in the Bay Area, helping to secure votes and rallying the electorate, though the expectation was a system of quid pro quo, usually forgotten after the ballots were counted.

    Negative press haunted Jones and he began developing an escape plan from California, looking to the small and recently independent country of Guyana. The country appealed to Jones, as it held strong socialist views as well as significant area for agricultural cultivation; a heavenly commune for collectivist living. Jones soon laid the foundation for the Temple's new home, aptly named Jonestown, which was isolated enough that government officials would not come knocking. Holding his followers in awe and paying for their travel, Jones brought hundreds down to the country in a series of trips, where they settled and the commune took shape, strengthening the idea of a cult, through geographic isolation, both from families and American authorities (Guyana had no extradition treaty with the United States). Legal actions were beginning in San Francisco courts by family members of those in the Peoples Temple, citing kidnapping or illicit seizure of property from members. This soon led to continued bad press, though only in those locations where the Temple had a footprint. This soon caused US Congressman Leo Ryan to organise a trip to investigate some of the concerns. Armed with scores of letters and members of the media, Ryan tried to explore the truthfulness of the Temple's assertions that all were happily residing in Guyana. He found few issues and only a handful of members who wished to leave. Guinn uses the last few chapters to explore the US expedition to Guyana and the fallout as Jones saw his complete control slipping away. Stunning writing on Guinn's part shows the lengths to which Jim Jones would go to hold complete control. The eventual mass suicide and assassination of the outsiders at the direction of the leader led to a body count of over 900, including Ryan himself. Jones and the entire Jonestown community soon became international headline news, having escaped much mention during their entire time in South America. The common (and erroneous) phrase that came out of those final hours in Jonestown remains "Don't drink the Kool-Aid [actually Flavor Aid]", which the reader will discover has lasted for decades since the event. All the same, the power Jones held over his followers is phenomenal and the reader will surely finish the book wondering as much as understanding his sway.

    Was Jim Jones an evil man or simply one who allowed power to go to his head? Even Guinn does not have a definitive answer, but this biography is so detailed and well-paced that the reader will surely come away with their own opinions. Many books have been written about Jonestown and Jim Jones, though all seem to offer sensationalised accounts of events or are completely weighted to one side, forcing the curious reader to sit through diatribes or blatant vilification. Guinn has used much time and effort to offer a complete look at the man, interviewing those who are still alive (due to age and the obvious sacrifice in Guyana) as well as all the documents he could recover to tell the story. A feat that not many would have taken, Guinn uses his wonderful narrative to tell the dénouement as honestly as he can. Like the other biography of his that I have read, Guinn forges headlong into the tough topics and questions, emerging with answers that defy simple religious or cultish vilification, which offers the reader a much more comprehensive approach. I can now speak about Jonestown with greater authority and understand much of the life of Jim Jones and what led him to that fateful day on November 18, 1978. I would strongly encourage anyone with the patience to read such a detailed tome to digest all that Guinn has to offer, for he refuses to sermonise, preventing the the reader from, pardon the remark, "drinking the Kool-Aid".

    Kudos, Mr. Guinn for your stunning effort with this piece. This is a sensational delivery of what has to be a very difficult topic. You have entertained, educated, and armed me for discussions about this and other cult groups, which seem to surround me as I forge ahead with more biographies.

    Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

  • Aaron Mcquiston
    Mar 02, 2017

    Jonestown has been something of a curiosity to me most of my adult life. When they first started building in Guyana, my grandparents were Christian missionaries there, and one story about their time there was preaching to some people in Georgetown and someone saying, "Like the Messiah that is coming to Guyana to save everyone." This person was talking about Jim Jones, and it is odd to me that my mother was in the same place at the same time as the Peoples Temple, in their final days. Of course I

    Jonestown has been something of a curiosity to me most of my adult life. When they first started building in Guyana, my grandparents were Christian missionaries there, and one story about their time there was preaching to some people in Georgetown and someone saying, "Like the Messiah that is coming to Guyana to save everyone." This person was talking about Jim Jones, and it is odd to me that my mother was in the same place at the same time as the Peoples Temple, in their final days. Of course I have probably crossed paths with Jim Jones or the legacy of his works more than once, considering Indianapolis is the capital of my state, and when I did go to church, it was the re-branded "Disciples of Christ" denomination, renamed "United Church of Christ". I know that this denomination has no real influences in the individual churches unless you ask them for help, so it is no surprise that Jones had very little problem with them. This story has been on my radar for years and years, and I always knew the basic outline, from Indy to California to Guyana, from good works and social justice and equality for people of color to paranoia and drug abuse, and from being a good leader, sticking up for the less fortunate and trying to make life better for everyone through social initiative and strong sense of justice to being a psychopath, bent on squirreling away money, treating his wife, his lovers, and his followers like garbage until the very end. Even with knowing all of this before starting "The Road to Jonestown," this book is riveting and the best explanation of the Jim Jones that has been written. Guinn paints Jones as a leader, a sympathetic character that eventually turns into a villain and someone that is hard to like at all. Jones's early days in Indy are incredible, and it makes me kind of proud of all of the things that he did to diversify the city. From integrating restaurants and work forces to making sure the poor have a strong voice in their corner, the Indianapolis chapters almost makes me want to brag on how good of an influence Jones was to the state of Indiana. The problem is that the rest of his legacy is horrid. He did do some things in San Francisco and Los Angeles that were exemplary, but as a whole, by the time he moved the congregation out there, he was losing his mind to paranoia and drug use. This is not new information. What is new is the depth that Guinn goes to portraying Jones in a non-judgmental light. Even though Jones does despicable things in California (to the point to where by the time he reaches Guyana, he is almost ruined anyway), Guinn does not bat an eye as he tells the story. This objectivity makes Guinn's book feel like an authority, like "I don't have a horse in this race. I'm just stating the facts." This lack of skewed view makes "The Road to Jonestown" a marvelous explanation. In the end, the story is heartbreaking. Even though I have watched the films, read other books, and looked up Jonestown on the internet, the reality of it all is heartbreaking. I will say that reading Guinn's description of the end was enough to bring a tear to my eye. Maybe because it felt like I was actually part of the Peoples Temple by this time, that through this book, I had intimate knowledge of where everything went wrong and my friends were now dying with Jim Jones, or maybe it was because with such a vivid description of everything, I was emotionally attached to the story, something that I had never felt before reading Guinn's version. "Road to Jonestown" is incredible, and I am still heartbroken for the 900 plus people that died that day and all of the family that still survives.

    I received this e-book through NetGalley for an honest review.

  • Erin B
    Apr 15, 2017

    Utterly riveting. Well-written, journalistic-- not sensational. The author occasionally repeats some key facts, apparently not realizing that readers won't be able to put this down and therefore won't need reminding of facts we just read an hour or two ago!

  • Myrna
    Apr 28, 2017

    Won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. After I received it, I met the author at the San Antonio Book Festival and got my book signed!!!!

    In

    , the author does a good job describing Jim Jones and the events that lead up to the suicide-murder through extensive research and interviews. I remember hearing about it on the car radio (when I was a youngen) yet not truly understanding the horrendous act until many years later. If you want to learn

    Won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. After I received it, I met the author at the San Antonio Book Festival and got my book signed!!!!

    In

    , the author does a good job describing Jim Jones and the events that lead up to the suicide-murder through extensive research and interviews. I remember hearing about it on the car radio (when I was a youngen) yet not truly understanding the horrendous act until many years later. If you want to learn new details as I did or want know the story behind Jones and Jonestown, this is the book to read.

  • Lauren
    Apr 17, 2017

    Jeff Guinn lays everything out in

    - he re

    Jeff Guinn lays everything out in

    - he retraces the earliest days, Jones' childhood in rural Indiana, and catapults towards the last day in November 1978. The story is riveting - perhaps because we all know the ending and we are so curious how something could go so wayward and catastrophically wrong - and part because Guinn's research is so in-depth. He uses a multitude of sources: interviews with survivors and defectors, extensive records of the "church" (I hesitate to even call it that), and Jones' own rambling words - he recorded many sermons/diatribes and didn't hold anything back.

    I knew the basics of the END of the story - but this book pays special attention to show the lives and the work of the Peoples Temple well before it turned into Jones' own megalomaniac playground (disputed when this actually started...)

    A few things that I had no idea about, and now I know, thanks to this book:

    - Peoples Temple helped hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with their social programs. Elder care, substance abuse rehab, lowering recidivism in urban areas, paying college tuition, alleviating hunger, providing housing/clothing to whomever asked... even digging a well and fixing septic tanks. These things are undeniable... however things really started to go south when Jones later demanded that members cash out their pensions, their retirements, and give all of their Social Security/disability checks and 100% of their savings to the Temple. Forget tithing - this was hundredthing.

    - Not a surprise, but Jones was doped up for about a decade of his life. His signature dark sunglasses protected his incredibly bloodshot and sensitive eyes, although he claimed he needed to wear them to save other people from his laser vision.

    - He was a charlatan and huckster from an early age. He continued this racket for years, claiming he could heal and bring people back from the dead. A favorite and often-used trick: chicken offal as "passed" cancerous tumors, produced by his planted members during healing services. Blech.

    - As I mentioned before, I knew the end of the story, but I didn't know all of the things that lead up to the final event, specifically the involvement of Congressman Ryan and the media entorage. We get a play-by-play, and while Guinn is respectful in his writing, it is hard to read the details of those last few hours at Jonestown.

    Guinn includes a sum up chapter with several updates and check-ins with people he has introduced over the book. I was surprised, however, that he didn't include a followup of Congresswoman Jackie Speier. As a survivor of the massacre (but not a member of the Peoples Temple), she has a very unique story to tell - and she shares some of it in this article,

    but Guinn does not list her among the interviews, or provide any update on this elected official from the state of California. Curious that there wouldn't be a quote or even an interview in this book from an incumbent member of the US House of Representatives who has shared her story in other sources. Why not here in this new authoritative text?

    One of the last sentences of the book struck me, shared by Jim Jones Jr., one of the surviving sons of Jim and Marceline Jones:

    That quote stood out, in contrast to the first I shared, at the beginning of the post - "it all go for naught" to "Kool-Aid".

    Highly recommended. Set some time aside, as you'll have a hard time putting this one down.

  • Caidyn (BW Book Reviews)
    Apr 16, 2017

    My first brush with Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple was through a movie called The Sacrament, which is basically a fictional (and semi-paranormal) retelling of it. Tons of the reviews for it talked about Jim Jones so I researched on the internet and read up on the actual Peoples Temple. Their fate and the suicide and Jones' corruption. So, I had a rudimentary ide

    My first brush with Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple was through a movie called The Sacrament, which is basically a fictional (and semi-paranormal) retelling of it. Tons of the reviews for it talked about Jim Jones so I researched on the internet and read up on the actual Peoples Temple. Their fate and the suicide and Jones' corruption. So, I had a rudimentary idea of things going into this book, but I was completely off base with how I thought this book would be.

    As the title suggests, and I was too dense to pick up, it's all about how they got to Jonestown. So if you want a bit of juicy gossip about the suicides and last moments, this isn't the book for you. One chapter is dedicated to that. The third to last chapter. The last two chapters are about the immediate aftermath and the long-term aftermath.

    You might be thinking, then what the hell is this book all about? Well, it's about Jim himself. The first chapters talk about his upbringing and immediate family, then his family. You also learn about his wife, Marceline, and various things about their lives. I mean, you go through everything. From the beginning of his life to becoming a priest and into the Peoples Temple. There's everything that you wanted to know and more.

    For me, that was a bit dull. It's very repetitive and Guinn handles it in a very balanced way. While I appreciate that since I know he's just telling me the information, not trying to twist my emotions. He really just wanted to show every aspect. The good that Jones did and the bad. Perhaps that he had good intentions then got twisted, or that he had bad intentions the whole time. Guinn leaves it up for the reader to decide.

    What you learn is about Jones himself. His life. How he got to that point in his life. What happened in the past years and months that led to the mass suicide. It was good, but perhaps not what I really wanted. This definitely gave me a great basis for how Jonestown happened, which was exactly Guinn's point for this book.

  • Michelle
    Apr 11, 2017

    The Road to Jonestown- Jim Jones and Peoples Temple” is among the best comprehensive and authoritative books written covering the Jonestown massacre that claimed the lives of 918 people in Guyana, South America on November 18, 1978. Author Jeff Guinn began his extensive research in 2014, and studied the fascinating story behind the grim and sensational media reports and headlines. There are thousands of documents and photographs contained in government archives on Jim Jones and the Peoples Templ

    The Road to Jonestown- Jim Jones and Peoples Temple” is among the best comprehensive and authoritative books written covering the Jonestown massacre that claimed the lives of 918 people in Guyana, South America on November 18, 1978. Author Jeff Guinn began his extensive research in 2014, and studied the fascinating story behind the grim and sensational media reports and headlines. There are thousands of documents and photographs contained in government archives on Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, interviews with survivors and those associated including spouses, relatives, friends and others who shared valuable insight related to the tragedy: as a shocking truthful biographical portrait emerged of the Reverend James Warren Jones (1931-78).

    The birth of Jim Jones (JJ) wasn’t welcomed or celebrated; his mother Lynetta Putnam (1902-77) was profoundly disappointed with her third marriage to James Thurman Jones (1887-1951), a disabled WWI veteran. Though Lynetta believed her son would one day be a great man, she had no maternal instinct, remaining indifferent and detached from the growth and development of her only child. JJ learned from an early age to get the attention and acceptance he needed from sympathetic neighbors and relatives who often took him to church: there he would learn tactics to influence and manipulate others to ease his fragile ego and self-esteem. As a young man, JJ studied the writing of Marx, Stalin, and Hitler-- also Mahatma Gandhi. Once affiliated with the Communist party, his ideology was based on racial equality, economic and social justice; religion was used as a means to promote his agenda through the pulpit.

    Marceline (Baldwin) Jones (m.1949-78) was stunned to learn JJ views on the Biblical gospel, and nearly divorced him. The desire to improve the world through socialism was more important and attainable; she would always support this vision. The couple had one biological son, would be the first white family to adopt a black child, and added several mixed race children to their “Rainbow Family”. Ronnie, their first foster child, protested adoption by Jones, demanding to be returned to his mother instead.

    In 1965, JJ relocated Peoples Temple to Ukiah, CA. leaving the racially intolerant culture in Indiana; he also had an irrational fear of nuclear war. At the Redwood Valley location, the Temple reached the highest level of popularity and power, attracting followers from every walk of life. Members lived communally, pooling income and resources, caring for the sick, disabled, young and elderly in church sponsored homes. Social services of food banks, thrift stores, farming catered to the community and needs of the poor. JJ allegedly healed the sick and cast out demons, in dramatic charismatic services of loud singing and praise, preaching at the pulpit in dark glasses and long flowing robes. Underneath it all, there were highly disturbing things that were profoundly wrong with JJ, which Guinn discussed in a surprising non-judgmental manner. Most of the shocking aspects related to his conduct and behavior remained unknown to general membership.

    By 1974, Peoples Temple had expanded to San Francisco, busloads of Temple members arrived at various political rallies, officials were elected that supported socialist causes and tolerance for racially diverse and LGBT populations. In 1976, additional concerns/problems involving Jones/Peoples Temple surfaced; leading to official investigations. Relatives of some Temple members were also greatly distressed that their loved ones were being held against their will, after JJ suddenly moved the majority of his followers to Jonestown.

    In a documentary narrative it was said that historians will need to examine and re-examine the tragedy of Jonestown throughout time. Visiting the site where Jonestown once stood was the most disturbing and difficult things Guinn had ever done. Following the massacre, the jungle reclaimed the haunted ground—it happened quickly, a simple memorial marker was placed at the site in honor of those so tragically lost. ~ Many thanks to Simon and Schuster via NetGalley for the direct digital copy for the purpose of review.

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