A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheers
Published by Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher
A Thousand Lives is an extremely thorough, well-researched account of what really happened at the Peoples Temple church that caused so many people to follow Jim Jones into Jonestown and to murder their children and kill themselves all because of this one man.
I was born in 1983, so I grew up with only a vague understanding/knowledge of Jonestown. I can remember seeing images of all those people dead at Jonestown on TV after some other (much smaller) mass murder/suicide, and just like everyone else of my generation I have used the phrase “drink the Kool-aid” without really thinking about what it really means. I read Scheers’ memoir, Jesus Land, a few years ago and it was definitely interesting.
Anyway, A Thousand Lives is fascinating. Fascinating in that car crash kind of way – you don’t want to look but you just can’t help it. I’m sure that anyone who is familiar with the tragedy at Jonestown wonders how on earth these people could be so brainwashed as to kill themselves for a “cause”. Well, the story is not anywhere near as simple as one would imagine. As Scheers carefully uncovers, the people who followed Jim Jones were originally following a man who believed in social justice, equality, and love for all people. By the time his “church” morphed into something else, many of these people had given everything to Jones and his church – their homes, their cars, all of their money, and no longer had anything else BUT the church. And at Jonestown it gets even scarier – their passports were taken from them, they were literally not allowed to leave Jonestown or have contact with anyone from the US, they couldn’t escape even if they wanted to, and many did want to. And as for the mass suicide, well it becomes obvious when reading A Thousand Lives that for many of these people it wasn’t suicide but murder. The whole thing is just so very devastating.
If you have even the slightest curiosity about Jonestown, I would highly recommend reading A Thousand Lives. Scheers expertly gives the reader a complete picture of this tragedy from beginning to disastrous end.