Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

By the New York Times bestselling author of Manson, the comprehensive, authoritative, and tragic story of preacher Jim Jones, who was responsible for the Jonestown Massacre—the largest murder-suicide in American history.

In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader.

In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November, 1978 when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children—after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.

Guinn examined thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, including material released during the course of his research. He traveled to Jones’s Indiana hometown, where he spoke to people never previously interviewed, and uncovered fresh information from Jonestown survivors. He even visited the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew there the day that Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered on Jones’s orders. The Road to Jonestown is the definitive book about Jim Jones and the events that led to the tragedy at Jonestown.

You probably know the expression... "don't drink the Kool-Aid." You may not know it was actually a cheap knock off  called "flavor-aid" laced with cyanide that hundreds of people were forced to drink under threat of armed guards that fateful day in a South American jungle.  Years ago I saw a short documentary on Jim Jones, but until reading this book I never knew the road to Jonestown was paved with good intentions. The Peoples Temple began with like minded people who wanted only to help the downtrodden, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Elderly people were housed in nursing homes by followers of Jim Jones where even if they could not afford to pay, were given care that met or exceeded state standards. Young people were given college educations that they never could have paid for on their own. They were made to feel that Jim Jones truly cared about them, and at first maybe he did. Then it all began to go horribly wrong.  This detailed and factual account  begins before Jim Jones was even born to a negligent mother who wouldn't allow him to be in the house when she wasn't home, and a sickly father who was too weak to stand up to her. It ends with the aftermath of murder and suicide that took 918 lives. If you ever wondered why or how so many people could allow themselves to be led astray this is the book for you. 5 stars from me.

I received an advance copy for review.


  1. I still have the newspaper describing the horrific mass suicide orchestrated by the diabolic Jim Jones.

    1. I found his last "sermon" if it could be called that online. It was chilling. He can be heard urging them to hurry and telling them if they would just relax there would be no pain (from the cyanide) what a horrible way to go.