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JULIA SCHEERES: A THOUSAND LIVES:  THE UNTOLD STORY  OF HOPE, DECEPTION, AND SURVIVAL AT  JONESTOWN

(Free Press)

Last year, when the FBI finally released its trove of documents and recordings concerning Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, Berkeley author Julia Scheeres (of the bestselling memoir Jesus Land) saw an opportunity. Focusing on several of Jones’s followers—913 of whom died drinking cyanide-dosed Flavor-Aide at Jonestown, his militarized commune in Guyana, in 1978—she has assembled the first solid history of the Temple, beginning with Jones’s teenage days as a Pentecostal street preacher in Indiana. The tales of his posts as reverend at a church at 1859 Geary and as head of the San Francisco Housing Authority hit close to home: As his congregants are undergoing humiliating abuses, the man in charge of city housing believes he is God. After Jones moves the group to Guyana, where he preaches socialism and civil rights to his mostly African American acolytes, one moment portrayed by Scheeres relays a kind of success: “It took Jonestown for Edith to surmount her classism and reach out to an unschooled black senior like Eddie.” But her next sentence returns to the foreshadowing of tragedy: “Jonestown was the great equalizer.” Her book is less a warning about the dangers of religiosity than a clearheaded chronology. “The word cult only discourages intellectual curiosity and empathy,” Scheeres writes. “As one survivor told me, nobody
joins a cult.” A