In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a church in Indianapolis called Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church. He was a charismatic preacher with idealistic beliefs, and he quickly filled his pews with an audience eager to hear his sermons on social justice. As Jones’s behavior became erratic and his message more ominous, his followers leaned on each other to recapture the sense of equality that had drawn them to his church. But even as the congregation thrived, Jones made it increasingly difficult for members to leave. By the time Jones moved his congregation to a remote jungle in Guyana and the US government began to investigate allegations of abuse and false imprisonment in Jonestown, it was too late.
A Thousand Lives is the story of Jonestown as it has never been told. New York Times bestselling author Julia Scheeres drew from tens of thousands of recently declassified FBI documents and audiotapes, as well as rare videos and interviews, to piece together an unprecedented and compelling history of the doomed camp, focusing on the people who lived there.
The people who built Jonestown wanted to forge a better life for themselves and their children. In South America, however, they found themselves trapped in Jonestown and cut off from the outside world as their leader goaded them toward committing “revolutionary suicide” and deprived them of food, sleep, and hope. Vividly written and impossible to forget, A Thousand Lives is a story of blind loyalty and daring escapes, of corrupted ideals and senseless, haunting loss.
While researching a novel set in a cult environment, Scheeres (Jesus Land) discovered the 50,000 pages of documents released by the FBI about the mass-murder suicide at Jonestown. She decided to change her project, and the result is this detailed, haunting account of the zealous young preacher from Indiana who convinced 1,000 people to move to a farm in Guyana and sacrifice their lives according to his vision. As Scheeres writes, Jim Jones "painted himself as modern Moses who would save his people...by leading them to the promised land of Jonestown." The book maintains some novelistic features, particularly excellent character development, as seen in the vividly described, though still elusive Jones. Jonestown residents like Tommy Bogue, a rebellious teenager frequently a victim of Jones' ire, and Edith Roller, passionate socialist and Jonestown chronicler, are among the good people caught up in Jones's twisted vision. Scheeres quotes heavily from the 45-minute recording Jones made while instructing his people to drink poison, and the final pages follow up with some of the survivors. Chilling and heart-wrenching, this is a brilliant testament to Jones's victims, so many of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I have read, watched and listened to everything Jonestown I could find, so I thought I pretty much knew it all. I was wrong. Not only is this book well written, it is chock full of details I never knew. Definitely a must-read!
A Thousand Lives
Great book it was really hard to put it down as you wanted to see what happens next.
This was such a thorough telling of this horrific true story. I liked that it was told from the perspective of several of the survivors. This gave it a more personal feel.