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:
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ISBN:1476763828
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:531 pages

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple Reviews

  • Matt

    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:

  • Erin B

    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

    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

    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.

  • Michelle

    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.

  • Carlos

    I am giving this book5 stars because of how it chose to handle its theme, with facts, well researched mentions and from all perspectives possible. The story of Jonestown is one we all think we know ....but how did we got there...how was one man able to "dupe" thousands of people into killing them selves? .... could this had been prevented? ....who was Jim jones and what did he want ? .....all of these questions are addressed by this author in this book and the narrative flows very smoothly...at

    I am giving this book5 stars because of how it chose to handle its theme, with facts, well researched mentions and from all perspectives possible. The story of Jonestown is one we all think we know ....but how did we got there...how was one man able to "dupe" thousands of people into killing them selves? .... could this had been prevented? ....who was Jim jones and what did he want ? .....all of these questions are addressed by this author in this book and the narrative flows very smoothly...at times you forget this book is essentially the last hours of thousands of people and that one man was responsible for all of it . Was Jim jones an evil person bent on taking as many down with him? ...or was he a person corrupted by personal ambition and influenced by his upbringing and made worse by his constant use of heavy drugs? ....Thousands of people chose to trust him .... this books attempts to answer the question that follows : WHY?

  • Esil

    The Road to Jonestown was fascinating -- and depressing. I listened to the audio. The author, Jeff Guinn, did a great job of tracing Jim Jones' history and the events leading up to the mass suicide in Jonestown. It's a good study of the making of a narcissistic paranoid megalomaniac. It's still hard for me to understand how Jones attracted and kept his many followers, but I feel that I get it a bit more. Jones had a great need for approval and adulation, and he seemed to be able to zero in on pe

    The Road to Jonestown was fascinating -- and depressing. I listened to the audio. The author, Jeff Guinn, did a great job of tracing Jim Jones' history and the events leading up to the mass suicide in Jonestown. It's a good study of the making of a narcissistic paranoid megalomaniac. It's still hard for me to understand how Jones attracted and kept his many followers, but I feel that I get it a bit more. Jones had a great need for approval and adulation, and he seemed to be able to zero in on people who were vulnerable -- whether psychologically or materially. While Jones' relationship with his followers was ripe for many abuses -- including his ultimate abuse at the end -- it is clear that many people were drawn to Jones' message that he was their true protector against a world intent on hurting them. Guinn also manages to be fair in his portrayal, showing how Jones started off with decent ideas about racial and economic equality, but how his insatiable appetite for adulation and power combined with his paranoia overtook anything good in The People's Temple. It may be hard for some to read given that we all know what happens at the end, but I certainly found it worth the time. While the outcome in Jonestown is off the charts, this is not a unique example of people blindly following a demented leader. It's worth trying to understand how that can happen.

    For those who like audiobooks, it's worth noting that the audio version is also well read.

  • Julie

    The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple by Jeff Guinn is a 2017 Simon & Schuster publication.

    Thoroughly chilling…

    While I was only in my early teens in 1978, I still recall the news footage of the “Jonestown Massacre”. I understood on some level what had happened, but I couldn’t fully digest it. I tried not to watch the news reports and steered clear of conversations about it because it made me extremely uncomfortable. It was too much for me to cope with, and in all honesty,

    The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple by Jeff Guinn is a 2017 Simon & Schuster publication.

    Thoroughly chilling…

    While I was only in my early teens in 1978, I still recall the news footage of the “Jonestown Massacre”. I understood on some level what had happened, but I couldn’t fully digest it. I tried not to watch the news reports and steered clear of conversations about it because it made me extremely uncomfortable. It was too much for me to cope with, and in all honesty, I still can’t wrap my head around it.

    Part of me wanted to read this book, in hopes of garnering some understanding of how something like this happened. But, another part of me didn’t want to relive that horrible piece of history where over nine hundred people lost their lives.

    But, the outstanding reviews convinced me to read it and while I still find these events quite upsetting, I am glad I read the book.

    To say this was a comprehensive account of Jim Jones’ life is an understatement of epic proportions. This book is an exacting, well researched, serious and non-biased, look at one of the most monstrous cult leaders of all time.

    We all know how this will end. The question is- How did it begin?

    I won’t make this into a book report, if I can help it, but I did want to touch on some of the impressions I was left with.

    One of the weirdest things about all this, is that it didn’t start out as being all that different from many fundamentalist church doctrines or beliefs. Jim’s wife was zealously religious and the couple did present themselves as believing in God and practiced the core Christian values most of us are familiar with. It is easy to see how Jim ingratiated himself into the ministry profession, and why he experienced praise for his genuine service and help to those in need. He was particularly sensitive to the black community and freely welcomed them and worshipped alongside them in a time when such actions raised eyebrows.

    However, he quickly shucked off any semblance of being a true believer and began working the tent revival circuit, faked healings, and performed 'miracles' including raising people from the dead. But, there was an audience for that sort of thing, especially in that era of time, and he was hardly the only one out there working that particular con.

    But, religion and doing good deeds were not the cult’s only draw. I was amazed at how political it was. Jones was an ardent socialist, and I think many people joined his ‘church’ because these ideals, without embracing any ‘religious’ worship of God.

    This book took me on stunning and harrowing journey, step by horrifying step, as he morphed into an actual cult leader and managed to mesmerize his followers into doing anything he wanted them to.

    I won’t go into the details because I want you to see for yourself how vile, narcissistic, cruel, contradictory, and sick he really was. It is an incredible profile of a man who conned, swayed, manipulated, lied, and corrupted so many people, yet managed to amass wealth, while rubbing elbows with celebrities, and politicians, who often praised him for his good deeds!!

    As the book progresses, we see how as his psychosis deepened, and as his power increased so did his ego, and his darker tendencies completely took over, fueled by his paranoia need for control and by his use of drugs. So, the closer I came to the climactic events in “Jonestown”, I began to dread having to read it in such graphic details.

    The phrase, ‘ don’t drink the Koolaid’ (it wasn’t really the trademarked “Koolaid”, but ‘Flavor-aid- a cheaper, generic brand), is a familiar one, used to insult anyone exhibiting a certain level of gullibility, and became a common pop culture saying.

    Cults didn’t go away after the Jonestown massacre. There were still headline grabbing standoffs and more mass suicides, although nothing that ever came close to topping Jonestown. But, it SEEMED that maybe with a more enlightened, educated, progressive majority in America, these charismatic charlatans may have finally lost their appeal or ability to lure mass followings, as we began to hear less and less about religious cults.

    While I swore to myself I would not go here, I could not help but notice parallels between Jim Jones’ personality traits, such as his inability to delegate or share or his penchant to lash out, deflect, punish, seek restitution, and refuse any hint of apology or compromise, but still managed to lure in folks, knowing just what they needed and wanted to hear, thus securing an almost unshakable loyalty, are traits that are noticeably prevalent in other prominent ‘leaders’ who have come into power. The resemblance was so eerily uncanny at times I still get chills down my spine thinking about it.

    One of the most gruesome pictures included in this book is a photo depicting many of the deceased lying face down in what looked like a grass hut pavilion with a sign hanging on the wall, directly above Jones’ personal chair, that stated:

    Even though I did remember the events that took place in Guyana in 1978, I never sought to learn more about Jim Jones than was necessary. So, most of what was detailed here I was largely unaware of. I have to tell you, it’s pretty shocking. Jim Jones is one of the strangest people I’ve ever read about! He was crazy, but smart, did kind and compassionate things for people in need, was incredible charismatic, but could turn on someone in an instant, meting out horrific punishments, both physical and psychological. He could switch from mean to incredibly nice in an instant. He was delusional, believing himself to be God, and expected unquestionable loyalty from his followers, and he usually got it. But it started to unravel and disillusionment did start to set in, with some questioning his decisions or outright refusing to obey. Yet, as we all know, many remained enthralled right up to the bitter end.

    I can’t praise the author enough for the clear, concise layout used here. The book is organized, well -constructed, is presented chronologically, and reads like a true crime novel in many ways. I was riveted, glued to the pages, still unable to grapple with the reality of Jones’ life and the path he ultimately took to Guyana.

    There may always be a part of my heart and mind that can’t accept that over 900 people drank cyanide laced punch at his behest, including children. This book, though, left me with no place to hide, forcing me to accept these events as a gruesome, hideous, and incredibly tragic part of America’s history.

    My fervent hope is that history never repeats itself.

    5 stars

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