The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Drink this Kool-Aid! The book I mean.

Quick synopsis: The story of Jim Jones from his childhood to Jonestown and the mass suicide of over 900 people.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” as a saying is because of this story. 900 people committed mass suicide or in the children’s case, were murdered. Yeah, it’s a really screwed up reference!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Jim Jones actually did some nice things! He did try and promote racial equality, donated a lot of money, and helped some people get back on their feet. Yet, still responsible for a mass suicide and child murder. He and Hitler must have the most interesting conversations while burning in hell. Good.

My Take: This is an awesome book for two very big reasons.

First, Jeff Guinn researched the hell out of his subject. Guinn has an amazing amount of material on Jones, even from when he was a child. I have read a lot of books and it does not get more thorough than this. Additionally, Guinn does not let the details slow down the narrative. He builds the story and does not take a side. He does not shy away from pointing out when Jones did good, but also shows the fraying around the edges of his psyche.

The second reason this book is amazing is that Jones is a psychopath with contradictions. Guinn finds an example which makes you rethink Jones. Apparently, there was a woman in his childhood who treated him well during tough times with his family. Jones never lost touch and always made sure to drop her a friendly line until the end of his life. Whenever you read about this level of evil, they almost always keep up relationships until they not longer have utility. Jones seems to break that mold a bit. And as I mention above, if you didn’t know how it ended, this book might be about the burgeoning career of a great leader in racial equality. Instead…

Verdict: Fantastic book that is both in-depth and a riveting read.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing
  • John Carreyrou, Bad Blood
  • Simon Baatz, The Girl on the Velvet Swing
  • Sinclair McKay, The Lady in the Cellar
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The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn
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