The Road to Jonestown

Growing up, I had always heard the phrase, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid," but I had no idea where the phrase came from.  As many idioms, I never thought too much about where it originated until a few months ago when I stumbled upon a documentary about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.  I now knew where this particular idiom originated and now hearing it made me sick to my stomach.

On November 18, 1978 the largest mass murder-suicide in American history occurred and "resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2011" according to Wikipedia.  918 Americans lost their lives that day and all because of one man, Jim Jones.

Since this horrific incident occurred there have been numerous books, newspaper articles, documentaries, websites, and interviews discussing the Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and what happened in Jonestown and at first glance I assumed The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn was going to be another book to add to the collection.

It has been 40 years since the Peoples Temple and Jonestown existed and Jeff Guinn really did his homework.  This book is incredibly well researched and leaves no questions about Jim Jones as a person, how the Peoples Temple came to be, and their gruesome demise.

At times, this book was extremely hard to read.  There are several situations in regards to Jim Jones sexual conquests which left me sickened and the obscenities from numerous quotes of people interviewed were hard to read as well.  The author is an incredible writer and paints the picture so vividly that I caught myself several times audibly voicing my disgust at certain parts.

I was instantly fascinated by this story and absorbed this book in a matter of days.  The entire time I was reading I continued to wonder how so many people could be duped into believing this man.  My heart went out to all those people that were there to genuinely help make this world a better place.  They fought for civil rights and equality and many followers believed they were doing God's work.

Sadly, many never realized the truth about their ministry and their leader.  What Jim Jones showed to his people was not the same man behind closed doors.  Jim Jones went from preaching about God to preaching about socialism, politics, and cursing God instead of praising him.  He eventually claimed that he was god with god-like powers which were in reality nothing more than smoke and mirrors but people bought into his tricks.

I do believe there were things that the Peoples Temple did that did help out their community and the fight for civil rights but the downward spiral of Jim Jones and what happened in Jonestown overshadows any good.

Jeff Guinn does an amazing job of pulling you into the story.  The many quotes from eye-witnesses puts you there in the group which is both fascinating and disturbing.  This story is definitely not for the squeamish.  From the punishments of several members who were not obedient to Jim Jones or Temple rules that were unsettling to the fact that those members stayed and continued to worship him and followed him to their deaths is unfathomable.  To read about the children screaming and crying as they're administered the cyanide, the people foaming at the mouth and no longer able to talk, and the people that fought back and did not want to die brought tears to my eyes.  I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish they went through during their last moments on earth.

If you've ever wanted to know the whole story behind Jim Jones and Jonestown this is hands down the book to read.  "Why did this have to happen?" is the question that continues to run through my mind after reading this horribly sad story.  The fact is, it didn't have to happen.  Jim Jones had several things that happened that continued to put pressure on him and People Temple.  These occurrences in Jim's drug-hazed and increasingly paranoid mind made him feel like he had no choice and his followers clearly had no choice.  If he was going down everyone was going down with him.  And sadly they did.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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