A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown

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  • Hardcover
  • 307 pages
  • A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown
  • Julia Scheeres
  • English
  • 01 January 2018
  • 9781416596394

10 thoughts on “A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown

  1. says:

    Update I finished the book I don t think it was the definitive story of what happened in Jonestown even though it is probably the most exhaustive There was too much personal interpretation by the author that was based on her emotional interpretation of the evidence of which there was plenty rather than any proper analysis This isn t necessarily wrong, it s her book But it doesn t, to me, explain how and why the majority of people committed murder suicide and why the church in San Francisco was so uninvolved Sheeres attitude towards Jim Jones was that he was an evil controlling Hitler character whose front persona was that he was a Christian pioneer of true racial and gender equality who deteriorated into fake paranoid madness.I felt he was even as a young man suffering from grandiose delusional disorder The DSM IV TR criteria for this include grossly abnormal exaggerated beliefs of self worthpowerknowledgeidentityand an exceptional relationship to a divinity or famous person.Every single one of those fits Jim Jones from the time he became a preacher, gathered a congregation, built a church and told them he had a direct line to God, had been sent by God and knew God s will That rather sounds like an awful lot of preachers doesn t it Before the event, many people wanted to leave and were punished in horrible ways, drugged, locked in isolation chambers, violently beaten and But some people did leave They just walked out and turned up in the US a few days later Even on the night of the massacre, some escaped Some Why not They killed their children and watched them die horrible, agonising deaths and then killed themselves If they really believed in revolutionary suicide why was the church in San Francisco so uninvolved It was an interesting book, a bit too interpretative rather than factual in parts and, as the cliche goes, raised as many questions as it answered And still that sentence jarred on me and I never found the author objective or as credible after I read it as before 3.5 stars.____________________You know how when you are reading, a single sentence can jar on you and make you doubt the veracity or at least the direction of book I m about three quarters of the way through A Thousand Lives Jim Jones life can be summed by the clich , power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely Just as in reading Leah Remini s Troublemaker Surviving Hollywood and Scientology and thinking this is yet another hatchet job on Scientology, was it all just threats and fear that keep people Scientologists, I was thinking the same about Jonestown Maybe Jones kept their passports, semi starved them due to lack of agricultural knowledge for tropical rainforest and threatened them with death if they should leave But then I read the sentence, The lack of roughage gave Edith and many others, chronic constipation Because Jones was too cheap to buy real medicine, health workers passed out green papaya or plantain as a laxative, but this did little to help The too cheap is the attitude of the author Also her attitude towards the reader Did she not think some of us might be from the tropics and well aware of these fruits and their health benefits Green papaya makes the most delicious salads and pickles and plantains are a staple of West Indian cooking and well known, especially green papaya, as a laxative view spoiler Guyana is geographically in South America, but its culture is entirely Caribbean hide spoiler

  2. says:

    Death is not a fearful thing, it s living that s treacherous Jim Jones November 18, 1978 I was only seven when the massacre mass suicide at Jonestown occurred, and while I always had a general sense of what happened, until reading this book, I lacked a true appreciation for the magnitude and bizarre nature of this tragedy From champion of the oppressed to drug addled megalomaniac, Jim Jones was an enigma on many fronts He started off speaking out against racism and segregation, and promoting equal rights in the context of an admirable socialist platform, but ended up a paranoid drunk drug addict who organized the mass murder of over 900 of his followers, than a third being children.Scheeres wants her readers to understand not only why church members were attracted to Jones in the first place, but why they stayed She realizes it s easy to marginalize his followers as cult members and all the negative associations assumptions that go with that After all, normal people don t join cults, right People don t ever believe stupid, crazy things and, worse, act crazy and stupid based on those beliefsever.In fact, she goes out of her way not to refer to Jones and his followers as a cult.She offers a satisfactory retelling of the timeline of events and manages to bring a few of the characters to life through journal entries, recordings, and letters She touches on the circumstances that brought various people into the church, whose greatest selling point seemed to be that it offered a community of acceptance particularly for African Americans who accounted for about 70% of the church membership even as the majority of church leaders were white She explores the growth of the Jones ministry, which motivated members with passionate diatribes about social injustices and dazzled them with festive sermons featuring awe inspiring miracles albeit ones he orchestrated behind the scenes She describes Jones as a religious zealot, charlatan, and megalomaniac, among other things, who used sex with both men and women, isolation, manipulation of food, drugs, and other various techniques to get them to sign over their money and ultimately their lives She paints Jones as a crazed or rather crazy, self proclaimed revolutionary with a death wish, not only for himself but for his entire congregation.Her recounting succeeds on many levels, but fails on others She seems determined to characterize Jim s followers as helpless victims, and on many fronts they were But I m not sure she offers anything new She certainly doesn t explore the complex nature of brain washing In fact, I found this 2006 documentaryto cover what she did in the book but with the added bonus of hearing directly from former members who survived.I also listened to that last suicide meeting, which was taped by Jones and later found and then released by the FBI It s both chilling and sobering I ve ordered two books on the topic, one written by Tim Reiterman, a reporter who visited Jonestown the day before the massacre and who along with other press members, Senator Ryan, and several defectors was gunned down by members of the settlement on Jones orders no doubt as they tried to leave The other is written by a survivor and one of Jones mistresses.I ll be interested to see how this book stacks up.

  3. says:

    This is a well researched and docuemnted book detailing the lives of Jim Jones s followers The narrative is based on 50,000 pages of documents diaries, notes, etc released by the FBI and seized from Jonestown The author has a good voice and is able to convey both Jim Jones s persuasiveness, at least his persuasiveness in the beginning, and the entrapped feeling his followers must have felt I knew of the Jonestown tragedy since I was a kid, but I had always thought it was a willing mass suicide I was very wrong Author Julia Scheeres tells the story of Jim Jones and his followers, beginning in Indiana, moving to California, to Brazil and then to Guyana She tells of his drug addiction, his sexual infidelities and methods of controlling his followers via sex both male and female , his physical abuse and threats perpetrated against his followers both adults and children so so heartbreaking to read about , and of his entrapping and control of his followers Through the pages of A Thousand Lives, Scheeres details individual followers lives pieced together from diaries, eye witness accounts and letters This book is not just a reporting, but an unfolding of a story with multiple people s points of view.I was surprised to learn that Jones had political ties, both in the US and in Guyana, which enabled him to maintain his operations and keep going It is amazing, of course viewed in retrospect, that this political pressure he put on leaders in the US and in South America actually worked After the massacre was over, one third of the people murdered at Jonestown were children over 300 children Jim Jones used threat and force to keep people in his church, to prevent them from leaving the grounds of his compound and to ultimately murder them I won t detail how Jones controlled his followers but it is sad and horrific I will never use the phrase drink the kool aid again to mean someone who buys into a crazy idea Ultimatley this book was very informative but I hate to say it entertaining I listened to the audio version and am glad to have learned what I did about the tragic victims of Jonestown It was heartbreaking to learn, however I still recommend this story.

  4. says:

    The Jonestown tragedy happened the week of my 13th birthday At the time I remember the nation being stunned and the news stations reporting the details as they came available but the impact on an adolescent girl was less than cosmic As I finished this book as a much older person I had a much different experience.Combing threw tens of thousands of documents released to the public and also from tapes already public, the author pieced together Jim Jones troubled childhood, his conversion to Evangelism, then his meteoric rise as a charismatic and powerful leader It is riveting, horrifying, and deeply troubling to read the pages of this history.A sociologist at heart, I remember taking a class during my undergraduate work on cults A movie had been made of the Jonestown massacre and the death tape was played As the cyanide laced punch was brought out, I had a presentation to make in another building I was relieved This time I stayed until the bitter end of the book and I am absolutely and utterly floored by my own reaction of horror and deep sadness No review of this book can possibly do justice to the facts which the author objectively provides Although some conjecture is provided as well regarding the very end.What is most striking is that it appears that Jones was much focused on the power he could wield rather than the message He was narcissistic above all else His paranoia appeared as he became powerful and he blatantly controlled his followers through carefully constructed lies and media outlets He was violently angry when something slipped his control The mass suicide was the ultimate act of control rather than his stated goal of dying for the beliefs of the Temple He controlled through fear.Also troubling is the length of Jones arm in the political arena He and his followers were largely responsible for the success in election polls for many politicians in San Francisco at that time which reeks of corruption as he was paid back in kind with favors and appointments of his own His power is further amplified in Guyana and the American embassy and consulate.I realize this is a much serious review than I usually give but I am still reeling and off center I am also sadly coming to terms with the lexicon, Don t drink the Kool Aid which is in reference to Jonestown I never want to hear that phrase again.

  5. says:

    this review refers to the audiobook version.not the sort of book you can get some lively party chat out of, if you plan to get invited back.Julia Scheeres has some unique credentials for writing about Jonestown she and her adopted black brother were incarcerated in a fundamentalist Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic as adolescents i can t think of another experience that would have so many resonances with Jonestown coercion, powerlessness, religion, racial issues, sexism, being trapped anybody who recognizes the word Jonestown can tell you that a lot of people died there but not really so many know what the residents of Jonestown had gone there to build an egalitarian, race blind, gender blind, age blind, socialist communist society where everybody was free and everybody was equal i doubt they expected utopia, because they went by and large willing to work very very hard to achieve the society they envisioned there s a lot in that that s completely admirable.i wanted to read the book because i wanted to know why why did so many commit suicide, why did they not run for help, why didn t they tell Jones to go fuck himself i just could not wrap my brain around the whys, not at the time of the massacre and not now i hoped that Scheeres could shed some light there.and she did, she did there are still some very dark corners, but what Jones and his henchmen and women did now makes a great deal sense to me.Scheeres spends a great deal of time recounting Jones planning of the mass suicide on that in a moment , how he convinced his followers to rehearse it, how he harangued them until they must have felt it was not just a possibility, but an inevitability but what she ultimately convinces me of is that it was not a mass suicide at all it was, mostly, coercion and murder.the children who were killed at Jonestown were, simply, murdered a child cannot accede to his or her own destruction the parents of those children did not just give them up to death the children were often taken from them and killed and what parent, seeing that, would not wish to go with the children i would.i cannot imagine the horror of that last night it would break anyone s mind.but i do have a quibble with Scheeres final statement in the book that the residents of Jonestown were victims, betrayed by Jones and the Temple leadership they were, of course, both, but one cannot relieve them of all culpability there was a lot of evidence in Jonestown that Jones was losing his shit that he was drunk, or drugged, or just plain deranged most of the time the endless rehearsals for revolutionary suicide surely made it plain that something was rotten at Jonestown s core it s not by a long shot for me to shake a finger at the Jonestown dead or at those who survived, and that s not my intent i just think there is only one salutary lesson to be learned from Jonestown, and that s that one must never give one s autonomy away to paint the dead of Jonestown as mere victims is to give Jones power than he was rightful possessor of, which makes it seem inevitable that some other Jones will come along again, and some other horrible event will happen because this next Jones wills it i understand the only memorial to the Jonestown dead is in Oakland i don t believe in gods of any stripe nor any afterlife, but i might just stop by and send some kind thoughts to those poor gentle dreamers.re the audiobook version the narrator does a than competent job of it she sounds as if her compassion for the Jonestown members runs deep, and i appreciated that it does seem something of a missed opportunity, however, to have not included some of the original source recordings made at Jonestown it would have been so very much piercing to hear the Jonestown members themselves speaking to us, ghosts across the years view spoiler now i read some of the other goodreads reviewers comments on this book, and a good half of them run to how could people be so weak minded sigh.i can only think those reviewers didn t pay careful attention to the book, or don t know how coercion and terror work.coercion works in tiny steps every time you agree to something against which you feel a qualm, you ratchet up to the next step first, you agree to give a percentage of your money to the church tithing for good works, and so on not difficult, right next, you agree to sign a loyalty oath to the church but you already feel loyal, so even though the signing is irksome, you do it because it s not such an imposition and everyone else is doing it anyway next, you agree to write a confession to an imaginary crime as further proof of your loyalty the church to which you ve sworn loyalty is, you are told, being threatened the leadership needs to know without doubt who is on their side and anyway it s a made up crime, right it cannot possibly be proved you sign it you get a reward.and so on, and so on, each step ratcheting up threats and rewards, particularly when intermittent, are powerful, powerful motivators people who are fundamentally good have a deep need to have that recognized people who perceive an external threat knit tighter together it s a positive bond if you still think, ya that could never happen to me, think again how many have thought if i just work harder and keep my nose clean, the next round of layoffs will skip me even though you re already working 60 hours a week, 20 of which are unpaid you probably believe all the chemicals in your dish soap, in your shampoo, in your vegetable wash have been tested for ill effect on humans hint they haven t the entire advertising industry floats on telling you lies, even when the lie is only that you need this toothpaste lipstick cologne to be attractive do you believe that if only the democrats republicans libertarians greens got into office, everything would be ok and if you keep firmly to positive thoughts, your cancer will go into remission.the point is, we all are lied to and coerced every stinking day we lie to and coerce ourselves, our children, our coworkers every stinking day, whether we know it or not humans are social animals we take our cues from others, we learn what to believe from others, we gauge how to act or react from others.and if, as in Jonestown, those others all have had their thinking distorted by endless abuse, coercion, and terror, that s still where you get your cues.some reviewers have fumed that Jonestown parents gave up their babies and their small children to nurses who then injected the cyanide into the young one s mouths well, yes, they did but they were surrounded by armed men and they had probably convinced themselves that the whole exercise was just another drill there had been many by then not all parents gave up their children willingly, anyway.some have said that there were nearly 900 against a small number of armed security the Jonestown residents should have just overpowered them but this is incorrect math in Jonestown, trust among residents had been so corroded that the equation was always one against 899 nobody knew who, if anybody, they could trust.ok end of rant i do understand the impulse to just shove Jonestown and all knowledge of it under a neat locked box in the subconscious labeled i would never do that , but if you truly believe that, you are fooling yourself utterly hide spoiler

  6. says:

    Beyond conducting survivor interviews, Scheeres pieced together diary entries, letters, depositions, FBI interviews, and numerous tape recordings found at Jonestown to give us an in depth look at the Peoples Temple, largely focusing on details about certain members These accounts provide explicit information I d never read before It was totally horrifying to learn details of how the revolutionary suicide was carried out and just how erratic a doped up Jim Jones had become The survivor stories are gut wrenching, but fascinating.

  7. says:

    Like many people born in 1980 or later, I grew up with a vague notion of Jonestown as a weird town in a jungle where a bunch of people in a cult drank poison Kool Aid and died I use the term drink the Kool Aid when I refer to someone completely buying in to an idea or a cause But until I read this book, I never really knew what Jonestown was all about.Scheeres provides a service in this book, both as a skillful historian and as a compassionate human being She synthesizes hours of audio recordings and written documents into a gut wrenching tragedy that will linger with the reader The true strength of her work is the constant tension between the hope of the individual characters and the inevitable doom that presses down on every page Scheeres truly loves the victims of the massacre, and she is clearly determined to present them in sympathetic ways, sharing stories of simple people who came to Peoples Temple because it offered real racial integration, miraculous healings, and loving community They believed in a socialism that affirmed the value of every human being, and they were willing to sign away all of their possessions for the cause As the group developed, though, things got darker, and Scheeres brings in an impressive level of detail in her examples She writes about demonstrably fake healings and sham assassination attempts that Jones fabricated to make his followers feel persecuted by outsiders There are heart dropping scenes when church members are forced to sign blank pieces of paper, knowing that if they desert their communities, then the church leaders will type confessions to murder, child molestation, or any other crimes and deliver them to authorities Jones also twists the spiritual bases of his organization when he literally stomps on Bibles onstage and declares himself God By the time the community moves to a compound in Guyana, Scheeres has found a comfortable rhythm, increasing the tension like a horror movie as the inevitable massacre swirls in a tightening band around the village Jones reads about revolutionary suicide and completely misinterprets the term, missing the idea of making progress for a revolutionary cause, even though it results in your death and creating a moronic kill yourself and leave a mean note kind of definition He insists that his community is being hunted by outsiders because of their commitment to socialism, while he predictably lounges in an air conditioned drug induced haze as his people sweat and starve His obsession with death strangles his people, as their objections are worn down by hunger, fear, isolation, sleeplessness, and dehumanizing punishments for disloyalty Around this point in the narrative, the reader will surely have noticed that most of Scheeres tale is based on facts from official documents and recordings Scheeres only presents a few point of view characters to share their observations of daily life While this focus seems troubling at first, the reader will come to realize that the main characters are so few because everyone else is going to die a horrible death in the jungle It is a terrifying experience, and the narrative thunders toward its macabre conclusion with an intense power.This book is a complex treasure, a road to hell paved with unapologetically noble intentions, and Scheeres has accomplished a great feat with it She never loses her grasp of the humanity of her characters in the pursuit of her plot to its inevitable bloody conclusion She will break your heart in the end, but only because she has worked so hard to win your heart in the first place.

  8. says:

    Obviously, some of my nonfiction tastes aren t for everybody this work is fascinating and disturbing The author had access to a huge trove of documents, audiotapes, photographs and relating to Jonestown soon after they were declassified by the FBI Jonestown was the ex pat American settlement in Guyana where 900 people died in a mass murder suicide in November 1978 Scheeres book strikes a careful balance in avoiding hype believe me, this story doesn t need any and sensationalism, and she wrote a well researched, and still compelling account of the Peoples Temple It s truly chilling I remember hearing the news about Jonestown I was about 11 at the time , and lying in bed wide eyed and terrified This book made me feel a lot like that, all over again Jim Jones, the God of the Peoples Temple, had some kind of genius instinct for subjugating common sense and reason, breaking the iron strength of bonds between parents and their children, of siblings, of spouses, and leaving in some cases, nothing but slavish devotion to him and his cause Meanwhile, he evolved from an apparently charismatic preacher determined to build a world free of racism or sexism, into a monstera drug addled, paranoid megalomaniac bent only on fulfilling his psychotic fantasy of revolutionary suicide a term he completely misappropriated from Black Panther Huey Newton It is a masterful work of research, and of helping you understand or at least understand a little better an utterly incomprehensible story.

  9. says:

    A compassionate account of the Jonestown tragedy, A THOUSAND LIVES humanizes the victims rather than painting them as stupid, docile, mindless pawns Scheeres shows us exactly how the monumentally flawed Jones was able to draw them into his quest for a socialist agrarian utopia, and then, in his growing drug addiction and paranoia, keep them isolated, scared, hungry, weak and tired enough to stay and eventually to die This book is heartbreaking, disturbing and utterly fascinating.

  10. says:

    I ve been putting off this review because I m fairly horrified by the contents of this non fiction read And by horrified, I mean that I had honest to God nightmares about Jonestown Yes, I was familiar with the tragedy and I knew that an unprecedented number of people had died, but I had no clue as to the terror and abuse that led up to the fateful incident I love socialism, and I m willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I d take a thousand with me Jim Jones, September 6, 1975.And that is just what this maniac did.What started out as an experiment in human rights, socialism and desegregation in a Pentecostal church quickly became a real life tragedy when Pastor Jim Jones instructed his followers in the People s Temple Full Gospel Church to commit what he termed revolutionary suicide From Indianapolis to California to Guyana, Jones transplanted his followers to increasingly isolated locations in order to increase his sway over the congregation Under the influence of a number of drugs, Jones quickly became delusional and abusive to his followers who were unable to flee from the church due to its location in the remote jungle of Guyana Denouncing the Bible and proclaiming himself as God the Father, Jones became increasingly hostile to outside people and organizations, viewing himself and his members as targets of unjust persecution On November 18, 1979, Jones demanded his followers commit mass suicide by drinking Kool Aide laced with poison Those who did not willingly ingest the poison were forcibly injected with the substance 909 lives were lost 304 of those were children whose parents assisted with the murder suicide A staggering number of deaths brought about by one man s drug addled delusions Can you picture that I couldn t however, a simple web search quickly helps frame the enormity of the tragedy, putting it into eerie perspective If anything, the people who moved to Jonestown should be remembered as noble idealists They wanted to create a better, equitable, society They wanted their kids to be free of violence and racism They rejected sexist gender roles They believed in a dream.How terribly they were betrayed This book places faces and personal details behind the body count, illuminating how things went terribly wrong It is a wrenching, devastating read but one that I would ultimately recommend to everyone.

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