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A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown (Hardcover)

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Indie Next List

October 2011
How could a racially progressive preacher in San Francisco lead more than 900 people to group suicide? How could dozens of parents ever come to poison their children? Even this riveting piece of journalism can't fully answer such grueling questions, but Scheeres does an excellent job humanizing this tragedy while poignantly showing the evolution from hope and belief to desperation. -- Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA

Description


“I love socialism, and I’m willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I’d take a thousand with me.”  —Jim Jones, September 6, 1975

In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a church in Indianapolis called Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church. He was a charismatic preacher with idealistic beliefs, and he quickly filled his pews with an audience eager to hear his sermons on social justice. After Jones moved his church to Northern California in 1965, he became a major player in Northern California politics; he provided vital support in electing friendly political candidates to office, and they in turn offered him a protective shield that kept stories of abuse and fraud out of the papers. Even as Jones’s behavior became erratic and his message more ominous, his followers found it increasingly difficult to pull away from the church. By the time Jones relocated the Peoples Temple a final time to a remote jungle in Guyana and the U.S. Government decided to investigate allegations of abuse and false imprisonment in Jonestown, it was too late.

A Thousand Lives follows the experiences of five Peoples Temple members who went to Jonestown: a middle-class English teacher from Colorado, an elderly African American woman raised in Jim Crow Alabama, a troubled young black man from Oakland, and a working-class father and his teenage son. These people joined Jones’s church for vastly different reasons. Some, such as eighteen-year-old Stanley Clayton, appreciated Jones’s message of racial equality and empowering the dispossessed. Others, like Hyacinth Thrash and her sister Zipporah, were dazzled by his claims of being a faith healer—Hyacinth believed Jones had healed a cancerous tumor in her breast. Edith Roller, a well-educated white progressive, joined Peoples Temple because she wanted to help the less fortunate. Tommy Bogue, a teen, hated Jones’s church, but was forced to attend services—and move to Jonestown—because his parents were members.

A Thousand Lives is the story of Jonestown as it has never been told before. New York Times bestselling author Julia Scheeres drew from thousands of recently declassified FBI documents and audiotapes, as well as rare videos and interviews, to piece together an unprecedented and compelling history of the doomed camp, focusing on the people who lived there. Her own experiences at an oppressive reform school in the Dominican Republic, detailed in her unforgettable debut memoir Jesus Land, gave her unusual insight into this story.

The people who built Jonestown wanted to forge a better life for themselves and their children. They sought to create a truly egalitarian society. In South America, however, they found themselves trapped in Jonestown and cut off from the outside world as their leader goaded them toward committing “revolutionary suicide” and deprived them of food, sleep, and hope. Yet even as Jones resorted to lies and psychological warfare, Jonestown residents fought for their community, struggling to maintain their gardens, their school, their families, and their grip on reality. 

Vividly written and impossible to forget, A Thousand Lives is a story of blind loyalty and daring escapes, of corrupted ideals and senseless, haunting loss.

About the Author


Julia Scheeres is the author of New York Times bestselling memoir Jesus Land. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two daughters and is a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

Praise for A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown…


"Riveting...You will not be able to look away. " --The San Francisco Chronicle

"Julia Scheeres's book sheds startling new light on this murky, mini-chapter of contemporary history....the narrative is [a] compelling...psychological mystery." --The Wall Street Journal

"Chilling and heart-wrenching, this is a brilliant testament to Jones's victims, so many of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time." --Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"Jonestown has become a grim metaphor for blind obediencee"for fanaticism without regard to consequences. In the aptly titled A Thousand Lives, Julia Scheeres captures the humanity within this terrible story, vividly depicting individuals trapped in a vortex of hope and fear, faith and loss of faith, not to mention the changes sweeping America in the 1960s and '70s. She makes their journeys to that unfathomable tragedy all too real; what was truly incredible, she shows, was the escape from death by a tiny handful of survivors. Drawing on a mountain of sources compiled and recently released by the FBI, she changes forever the way we think about this dark chapter of our history." e"T.J. Stiles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

"Scheeres shows great compassion and journalistic skill in reconstructing Jonestowne(TM)s last months and the lives of many Temple members (including a few survivors)...[A Thousand Lives is a] well-written, disturbing tale of faith and evil." --Kirkus

"For those who can picture only the gory end of Jonestown, Julia Scheeres offers a heartbreaking and often inspiring glimpse of what might have been. Her masterfully told and exhaustively researched A Thousand Lives should stand not only as the definitive word on Jonese(TM) horrific machinations, but on the utopian dreams of a bygone generation. A worthy follow-up to her superb memoir, Jesus Land." --Tom Barbash, author of On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11: A Story of Loss and Renewal

"How do you tell a new story about Jim Jones and his followers, when everyone knows how it ends? ...Julia Scheerese(TM) riveting A Thousand Lives gives us reason to look again. " --Miami Herald


eoeThe definitive book on Jonestown and the Danse Macabre of suicide and murder orchestrated by mad Jim Jones. Julia Scheeres takes us by the hand and leads us gently, inexorably, into the darkness.e e"Tim Cahill, author of Lost in My Own Backyard

"Julia Scheeres' A Thousand Lives... tells the tragic tale of Jonestown -- in its way, a peculiarly American apocalypse." --L.A. Times

"The first solid history of the Temple...less a warning about the dangers of religosity than a clear headed chronology." --San Francisco magazine

eoeThis the best book in a good long time on the dangers of fanatical faith, the power of group belief and lure of deep certainties. These demons that haunt the human mind can only be countered by facing them with courage and honesty e" this is precisely what Scheeres has done.e --Ethan Watters, author ofCrazy Like Us

eoeI thought I knew the story of Jonestown, but in reading A Thousand Lives discovered that much of what I'd read and heard was pure myth. Through meticulous research, beautiful writing and great compassion, Scheeres presents an engrossing account of how Jim Jones' followers--eager parishioners who yearned for a more purposeful life and were willing to work for it--found themselves trapped in a nightmare of unfathomable proportions. This book serves as testimony to the seductiveness of religious fervor, and how in the wrong hands it can be used to nefarious ends. It is also a poignant and unforgettable tribute to those who lost their lives and to those few who survived.e -- Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of the bestselling The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

"Her account is notably levelheaded in a field where sensationalism, conspiracy theories and bizarre reasoning run free." --Salon

"A gripping account of how decent people can be taken in by a charismatic and crazed tyrant." --New York Times Book Review

"Almost unbearably chilling... but tempered with enormous sympathy." --Boston Globe

"A work of deep empathy for so many lives lost in the name of different shades of hope." --L.A. Times

A New York Times Editor's Choice

"It is important to get a story like this out there and remind the public about it once in a while, so that history like this does not repeat itself." --Gather.com

"The revelations of [A Thousand Lives] shine through our everyday relationships to war, our politics, our beliefs and our own actions. This is a strikingly relevant book ." --San Francisco Sunday Chronicle Book Review

"The revelations of [A Thousand Lives] shine through our everyday relationships to war, our politics, our beliefs and our own actions. This is a strikingly relevant book ." --San Francisco Sunday Chronicle Book Review

"Gripping." --The Globe and Mail

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2011

A Boston Globe Best Book of 2011

Product Details ISBN-10: 1416596399
ISBN-13: 9781416596394
Published: Free Press, 10/11/2011
Pages: 320
Language: English
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