A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheers

A Thousand LivesA 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.


9 thoughts on “A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheers”

  1. I have always been fascinated with the Jonestown “suicides” and am thrilled that you reviewed this book. I’m adding it to my que RIGHT NOW.

  2. I’m reading this one right now. I’m about 1/3 of the way through it, and I can definitely agree with your “fascinating in a car crash kind of way” comparison. Sometimes I have to put it down and gaze longingly at a gentle historical fiction novel waiting for me on my bedside table. Then I pick up the Scheeres again and plunge back into the madness of Jonestown 🙂

  3. I am so fascinated by this book, and do need to read it soon. It sounds excellent, and like something that I would really be ensnared by. I find it interesting that some of these “suicide” victims were actually murdered, and can’t imagine what it must have been like to have lived with Jones and have had to do his bidding. This one moves up in the stacks for sure. It sounds so disturbing, but also extremely interesting!

  4. That whole visual was pretty shocking to see wasn’t it? I’ve always wanted to know the how and why. I’m not sure, based on all the reviews, that we really get all those answers from this book, but it brings us closer at least. I do have this book on my shelves (got it at SIBA), and I look forward to reading it.

  5. Oh I’m definitely going to have to read this one. I find it endlessly interesting how one person can manipulate so many people. Such a sad thing.

  6. I’m really interested in cults but I’m not sure I’d be able to make it through A Thousand Lives. I caught part of a documentary about Jonestown when my roommate was watching it on the History Channel or something, and the images of the aftermath of the Jonestown massacre have stuck in my brain so vividly ever since.

    (I also always think it’s an odd, tragic detail that they weren’t even drinking real Kool-Aid, but an off-brand. Something about that seems so pitiful.)

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