cover image The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

Jeff Guinn. Simon & Schuster, $28 (608p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6382-8

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. Agent: Jim Donovan, Jim Donovan Literary. (Apr.)