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121 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2001
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.
Seductive Poison helped me understand what a cult is and made me realize that I cannot try and deal with the situation I was faced with using the rules I knew so far. The rationalism and logic that you would expect to always be present and help a person make their own informed decisions and judgments are sometimes suspended - and always suspended when an individual is under a situation of being under the control of a destructive mind-control group or even an the influence of an individual. I never realized that until I read Deborah Layton's experience.
Seductive Poison should be required reading in high-schools / colleges, just so more people are aware of the dangers lurking about them. I have personally bought over a dozen copies of this book to hand out to friends and family (Amazon must really love me by now!) and I don't think I'm done handing it out to people yet, because in my opinion, this book is a vaccine for the human mind and it is critical for *any* person living in today's society - in any country, in any environment - to develop some level of immunity which allows them to recognize a destructive situation before they get sucked in too deep.
I'll end with a quote from an email I sent shortly after reading Seductive Poison and co-relating events in my life: "The mind is a very fragile thing, and I strongly believe that no stimulus and no words can go by without affecting a person -- I don't claim to know more or less about what is true or not, but I do believe in being pragmatic and using ones own judgment and critical thinking to set the boundaries for our actions."
And last but not least, to Deborah Layton - thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experience with all of us and thank you for being the amazing person I know you are.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
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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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2002
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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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2000
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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 1999
This memoir allowed me to understand what happened twenty years ago and how intelligent people could get involved. I didn't realize that Jim Jones was the Head of the San Francisco Housing Authority, nor that he was supported by important politicians both in San Francisco and Washington DC. He was an impressive "Player" on the political scene and had many high profile folks eating out of his hand: Like Willie Brown, the Chief of police, Hongisto and those who just didn't know, like Angela Davis, Eldridge Clever, Dennis Banks and Roseline Carter. This book was a real eye opener for me.
Seductive Poison is heart-breakingly honest and tells a story so few people actually know. I had heard about "what happened" and then just dismissed the members as a bunch of uneducated lower class people. I now know I was dead wrong. I can see where this could have happened to someone like me had I been in California during the 60's. The country was in turmoil over the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, free speech and People's Temple fit right in by pooling from the disenchanted, disinfranchised & young hopeful college kids who wanted to make a difference. I know that feeling even now in my own search for meaning and purpose. In so many religions we are taught to think of others, help them, get involved and that is what the members of Jone's group believed they were doing. To think so many well intentioned people were gradually deceived then islolated and murdered in a far off country is heartbreaking.
I recommend this book highly! It's a heartpouding thriller of a read.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2001
Despite its subject matter, "Seductive Poison" is not a book written for cult buffs and larded with new age jargon. It is a compelling story filled with colorful characters. Layton manages to recreate the tension, the hope and with heart pounding authenticity the desperation of her and her mother's predicament. Layton builds urgency as well as compassion for the people caught in this all-to-good dream turned nightmare. The outcome, of course, is no surprise-However, that Layton lived, escaped and was able, twenty years later, to tell this story for the sake of her daughter is more than commendable, it is courageous. Layton has written a book that will continue to resonate in my heart soul and mind for years and years to come.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2000
Seductive Poison, a powerful memoir, leads the reader into the glorious world of Great Expectations and then lets go of our hand. From then on, the reader lives the life the author experienced, as we detour from the lighted path into the darkened cavern where Hope is crushed and fear and madness reign. We believe that it "just can't happen again," but it has and does again and again, in Europe with Hitler, China with Mao, Russia with Stalin and continues now in smaller ways, infringe groups, like the Freeman in Montana, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma, Waco and San Diego. Unfortunately, there will be more tragedies as the millennium comes to a close unless we stop and listen to someone who knows. Layton's book-- by allowing us access into the world of devotion, loyalty to one master, the darkness of self righteous deceit-- gives the reader insight into the world of Absolute Power and how it corrupts. Few people have the strenghth and courage to escape which makes this book that much more imperitive to read, so that you and I will listen to their warnings when they do.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 1999
Listened to the author speak on Sam Morris's radio book show and was delighted to find it again in the Amazon's Great Gifts Memoir section. The new paperback edition is a great gift idea. I had already read it in hardcover and wanted to get it for my gandchildren inexpensively. On the back of the gift copy, the noveelist, Amy Tan writes that it is an absolutely riveting story, with the pulse-pounding suspense of a murder mystery. I want my grandchildren to read this because I believe it will innoculate them against other Search and Seize organizations which prowl our college campuses looking for wide-eyed innocent youngsters. What Deborah shows in her memoir is how the young, naive and those searching for meaning in their lives can become victims to the power of wanting to belong. It should be required reading for all youth. I'm impressed with the courage it had to have taken the author to write such an honest account of her 2,500 days in the cult of the century. Kudo's to you Miss Layton for sharing your life so that we can protect our children.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
Once in a life time you find and read a book that changes how you see things and actually makes a difference in your life. This is one of those extraordinary storys. I am an avid reader, love the classics, sometimes peruse the mind candy, and appreciate honesty in the protagonist's voice. In all my readings I have never felt as though I left this world and entered another. Other peoples reviews of this book have mentioned this same experience, the sense of disbelief and yet a glimpse of understanding. What I loved most is the author never once tried to defend her actions and perhaps because of that I became her cheerleader, supporter, and armchair godparent--praying that she would make it out of the devils playground. I knew she escaped and wrote the book, but there were many times in the reading that I believed she'd fail. Seductive Poison is deeply affecting and a terribly important historical document which should be read so we may someday understand a soceital phenomenon that we haven't yet come to grips with yet.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2000
Sedutive Poison is haunting, beautiful, tragic and, as base as this may sound, Thrilling. I was riveted from the beginning Introduction by the Washington Post journalist and occasional corresponedent of the NPR NewsHour, Charles Krause, who WAS THERE at the END of the massacre. He sets the tone and historical importance of this autobiography by Layton who joined Jim Jones' group as a young girl.
Deborah Layton's memory and ability to tell this story in such a AS IT IS HAPPENEING intensity is both transcending, thrilling and breath-taking. Our children, who are the targets of groups like the Jonestown Cult, should be required to read this. Seducitve Poison gave me insights I never thought possible into one of the strangest and frightening groups of the 20th Century. Much like the theme of the academic work, "Hitler's Willing Executioners", Layton shows how ultimate power and peer pressure can consume even the best of us and turn us into blind, god-fearing savages. It took great courage for Layton to tell her horrendous story without ever asking for pity or forgiveness. Unlike so many Tell All books, this memoir is not self serving nor does she point the finger at everyone else, and try to excuse herself. Layton's life story is an educational, heartrendering and refreshing breath of frigid air.
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