2018 Edgar Award Finalist—Best Fact Crime
“A thoroughly readable, thoroughly chilling account of a brilliant con man and his all-too vulnerable prey” (The Boston Globe)—the definitive story of preacher Jim Jones, who was responsible for the Jonestown Massacre, the largest murder-suicide in American history, by the New York Times bestselling author of Manson.
In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially mixed, and he was a leader in the early civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California, where he got involved in electoral politics and became a prominent Bay Area leader. But underneath the surface lurked a terrible darkness.
In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, from his early days as an idealistic minister to a secret life of extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing, before the fateful decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November, 1978 when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children—after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.
Guinn examined thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, including material released during the course of his research. He traveled to Jones’s Indiana hometown, where he spoke to people never previously interviewed, and uncovered fresh information from Jonestown survivors. He even visited the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew there the day that Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered on Jones’s orders. The Road to Jonestown is “the most complete picture to date of this tragic saga, and of the man who engineered it…The result is a disturbing portrait of evil—and a compassionate memorial to those taken in by Jones’s malign charisma” (San Francisco Chronicle).
One of the ghastliest outbreaks of fanaticism in recent times, the 1978 mass suicide of some 900 members of the Peoples Temple church, gets a magisterial treatment in this biography of leader Jim Jones. True-crime journalist Guinn (Manson) follows Jones's rise as a charismatic, indefatigable minister in Indiana and California preaching Christianity, socialism, vehement antiracism, and a bizarre personality cult that worshipped him as God. There's plenty of grotesquerie in the story, from Jones's faith-healing with confederates and chicken guts to his sexual predations on followers, his attempts to relocate the church to the Soviet Union, the beatings he meted out, and the climactic poisoning of his flock with cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. But Guinn probes the deeper mystery of Jones's hold over his abused disciples, part personal magnetism and part genuine idealism, showing his commitment to civil rights and social justice he was one of few white leaders to help integrate Indianapolis, pioneered welfare-services programs, and became a force in San Francisco progressive politics and the warm personal regard he projected to his many poor, black followers. Guinn's exhaustive research, shrewd analysis, and engaging prose illuminate a monstrous yet tragic figure and the motives of those who lost their souls to him.