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Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in The Peoples Temple 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 330 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385489836
ISBN-10: 0385489838
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Deborah Layton was, by her own account, a typical rebellious youth, with nothing in her dossier to indicate that she would eventually find herself in Jim Jones's People's Temple in Guyana, looking for a way out of the green hell that had become the People's Temple Agricultural Project. She barely escaped in June 1978. Within months, more than 900 people drank Jones's cyanide punch and committed "revolutionary suicide" in the face of mounting stateside pressure on the cult, some of it prompted by Layton's own testimonials upon her safe return home. Her brother, Larry, also survived, and as one of the few left alive in Guyana became a scapegoat for Jones's crimes; he is now serving a life sentence in federal prison.

There is a simple naiveté at the root of Seductive Poison. Layton's own youthful innocence, foremost, but also the desire to trust another person, the need for belonging and meaning, which led so many perfectly normal Americans to place their faith in a suicidal madman. Far from confirming the simplistically monstrous Jones of the public imagination, Layton paints the man as a dark, twisted shaman, by turns soothing, then suddenly malevolent and petty, with a hugely sadistic streak that belied his perfectly coifed hair, expensive suits, and impressive political connections. The scenes in which she describes her escape and flight to safety are wrenching, her last-minute conversation with Jones and his seductive appeal for her to return home to Jonestown are chilling, and her fear and indecision are still palpable on the printed page. For Layton to recount tales this personal and horrifying must have been tremendously difficult. For her to lift those recollections above the bargain-basement freak-show reputation the People's Temple has achieved in the popular imagination and depict them with the power of great tragedy is nothing but extraordinary. --Tjames Madison

From Publishers Weekly

Published on the 20th anniversary of the suicide-murder of more than 900 followers of Reverend Jim Jones in the Guyanese jungle, Layton's book is the first by a former high-level member of the People's Temple. A troubled teen from an affluent family in Berkeley, Calif., Layton and her mother were introduced to Jones by her brother, Larry. For seven years, she was Jones's close confidante in California, and in 1977, she left with her mother for the "Promised Land" of Jonestown. In the months that followed, she became aware of trouble in "Paradise," realizing she had arrived in a work camp patrolled by armed guards and ruled by a deceitful "Father" (Jones), who practiced manipulative mind-control tactics, dictated grueling physical labor, staged suicide drills and devised bizarre punishments such as wrapping a boa constrictor around the neck of a "sinner" or hanging children upside-down in a well. By May 1978, Layton had engineered a complex escape plan and returned to the U.S. Concerned for her mother, brother and friends still in Jonestown, she went to both the press and the State Department to warn of a possible mass suicide-murder but found few who believed her. Her fears were, of course, founded and not only did her mother die of cancer in Jonestown shortly before the mass suicide, but Larry was convicted for the conspiracy to kill Congressman Leo Ryan and is still in prison. Layton's lengthy account provides valuable insights into the inner workings of cults, and the details of her escape in the closing chapters generate strong suspense, hinting at film possibilities. "Never before published" photos unseen by PW. (Nov.) FYI: Layton's other brother, Thomas, wrote an earlier family history, In My Father's House (1981), with journalist Min S. Yee.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday/Anchor Books; 1st edition (November 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385489838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489836
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (330 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Deborah Layton was born in Tooele, Utah and grew up in Berkeley during the turbulent 1960's. She is the youngest of four siblings. After a rebellious two years in Berkeley, she was sent by her parents to a Quaker boarding school in England. Upon her return from England, at just eighteen years old, she joined the Peoples Temple and moved into their campus dormitory in Northern California. It was at this point that her life dramatically changed. As a trusted aide to Jim Jones, she became embroiled in the upper-level workings of the Peoples Temple, both in California and Guyana. Four weeks after a harrowing narrow escape, Deborah's affidavit became front page news across the country. Six months later and just four days before the tragedy, Deborah was in Washington D.C. giving testimony before State Department officials requesting help for the 900 people held against their will in Jim Jones' encampment in Guyana.

Prior to writing this book, Layton worked on the trading floor of an investment banking firm in San Francisco. She lives with her family in the Berkeley Hills of California and spends much of her time as an author and public speaker. Seductive Poison has been required reading at major universities around the United States, including: University of California at Davis, Stanford University, Gonzaga University, Rutgers University, Stony Brook University NY, California State University Fresno, plus many others. Seductive Poison is published in Italy, France, Australia, Germany, and United Kingdom.

Seductive Poison has been Required Reading at University of California at Davis, Stanford, Gonzaga, Rutgers, Stony Brook, CSU Fresno, and published in Italy, France, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom.

Seductive Poison NOW Available on Audio

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Writing a review of Deborah Layton's "Seductive Poison" is not easy for me, because I can't think of any words that will be superlative enough to do justice to this book and to compliment the author on being so courageous and for so eloquently sharing intimate details of her experience of life in and her escape from a destructive cult.
I didn't know *anything* about cults or anything about Jonestown for that matter (I was not only too young at the time these events took place but also literally on the other side of the world) till a few weeks ago when I feared that someone who I loved and still love dearly may be in a cultic group. A search on Amazon led me to Deborah Layton's book and reading Seductive Poison combined with the events happening concurrently in my life can only be described as a life-changing experience.
Deborah Layton's account of life in and her escape from Jonestown is the most moving of any personal accounts I have ever read and I will admit that there were parts of the book that had me in tears... which says a lot. When I first read this book I was convinced that the book is just that... it's *a story which happened to someone else* and things like this don't happen today...until I started experiencing the effect of a mind-control group first hand -- happening to someone very close to me. If you ever do the mistake of thinking that this cannot happen to you... be sure to catch yourself, because 23 years later, after Jonestown, after Waco, after Heaven's Gate and numerous others... it's the same mind-control techniques and the same deceit and debauchery that is just as much prevalent today as it was then and potentially even more refined than it used to be.
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Deborah Layton was very corageous and thorough in writing this very interesting book about the Jonestown mass suicide. She was only a young woman when she first got in touch with Jim Jones's temple and got involved deeply with it.

The book is written in a way that the reader can follow each step of a member joining the cult, so we can track every single decision made and question it. It is interesting to note, following her narrative, that there seemed to be no highly unreasonable decisions, just a sequence of commitments that drove the temple members deeper and deeper into the psychological orbit of the reverend. From San Francisco to international banking transactions to hide Jim's money, to obsessively worrying about an imminent governemtn attack, the reader follows people who would otherwise be reasonable and kind doing outrageously aggressive and violent actions, even including physical torture.

There is also, unexpectedly, a high suspense section in the end, when Deborah escapes the compound in Guyana to try to come back to the US. Though I suppose she is a first time writer, she was quite capable of transmitting the gut wrenching circumstances of her escape.

This is an eye opening book, one that you will find yourself thinking about for at least a couple of months after reading it.
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Format: Paperback
Deborah Layton's book is a painfully honest story written by a woman whose youthful search for meaning brought her under the spell of a seductive preacher. It is not just a book about Jonestown; it is a book about a soul in search of something beyond herself, her journey into hell, and her eventual escape and redemption. Ms. Layton bares all to the reader in a way that makes one almost blush at what you are shown. That style makes it difficult to put this book down. You can sense, and often smile at, her youthful feistiness and willfulness; she was among the kids who counted the money and had a lot of fun doing it at Jones' rallies. Yet, you suffer with her inability to speak up, to be other than subservient when 'Father' Jones subjected her to indignities in the back of a bus: you wonder about the disconnect between her fine mind and the awful reality she had bought into. Almost palpable is the troubled relationship between the adolescent girl and her parents, early on; and later the intense love and finally the regret that came with knowing that her own mother, who also fell under the sway of Jones, was left behind in danger. In the end, you fret and worry when, at last, she decides to escape and you turn each page, captivated by the suspenseful retelling, hoping against hope that she makes it! Of course, it's no secret that she makes it; but the book suspends reality and leaves you praying for what you know already happened! That's good writing.
Seductive Poison is an important book for at least two reasons. First, it teaches us that truly decent people seeking to find an outlet for their altruism and meaning for their lives are susceptible to the self-aggrandizing - a lesson that all should learn, early on. Secondly, it teaches us not to set aside our reason and common sense, even in the search for and in the name of faith. This abdication of reason, and the ease with which we set it aside, is potentially our most fatal flaw.
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Format: Hardcover
Deborah Layton's haunting memoir paints a poignant picture of her youth and seven years in the Peoples Temple. This poignant and heart-rendering testament to resiliency and determination is populated with wonderful and memorable characters. I fell in love with the savvy black grandmother, Mary who took Deborah and her mother under her protective wing; Lee, the Jonestown workcamp leader who lent humanity to a horrendous situation; and with Deborah, the lost and misguided innocent who finally gets-it and escapes to warn the world of Jim Jones evil intentions. I gasped, laughed, cried and wiped sweat from my brow as I read on through the night, unable to put this remarkbale book down. BRAVO!
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