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A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown Hardcover – October 11, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416596399
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596394
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #501,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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 obedience—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." 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 Jonestown’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 Jones’ 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 Scheeres’ riveting A Thousand Lives gives us reason to look again. " --Miami Herald


“The 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.” –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

“This 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 – this is precisely what Scheeres has done.” --Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us

“I 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.” -- 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

"Gripping." --The Globe and Mail

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2011

A Boston Globe Best Book of 2011

From the Inside Flap


Had I walked by 1859 Geary Boulevard in San Francisco when Peoples Temple was in full swing, I certainly would have been drawn to the doorway.

I grew up in a strict Christian family with an adopted black brother; race and religion were the dominant themes of my childhood. In our small Indiana town, David and I often felt self-conscious walking down the street together. Strangers scowled at us, and sometimes called us names. I wrote about the challenges of our relationship in my memoir, Jesus Land.


Suffice it to say, David and I would have been thrilled and amazed by Peoples Temple, a church where blacks and whites worshipped side by side, the preacher taught social justice instead of damnation, and the gospel choir transported the congregation to a loftier realm. We longed for such a place.


Unfortunately, the laudable aspects of Peoples Temple have been forgotten in the horrifying wake of Jonestown.


I stumbled onto writing this book by accident. I was writing a satirical novel about a charismatic preacher who takes over a fictional Indiana town, when I remembered Jim Jones was from Indiana, and Googled him. I learned that the FBI had released fifty thousand pages of documents, including diaries, meeting notes, and crop reports, as well as one thousand audiotapes that agents found in Jonestown after the massacre, and that no one had used this material to write a comprehensive history of the doomed community. Once I started digging through the files, I couldn't tear myself away.


It was easy to set my novel aside. I believe that true stories are more powerful, in a meaningful, existential way, than made-up ones. Learning about other peoples' lives somehow puts one's own life in sharper relief.


Aside from race and religion, there were other elements of the Peoples Temple story that resonated with me. When David and I were teenagers, our parents sent us to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic that had some uncanny parallels with Jonestown. I could empathize with the residents' sense of isolation and desperation.


You won't find the word cult in this book, unless I'm directly citing a source that uses the word. My aim here is to help readers understand the reasons that people were drawn to Jim Jones and his church, and how so many of them ended up dying in a mass-murder suicide on November 18, 1978. The word cult only discourages intellectual curiosity and empathy. As one survivor told me, nobody joins a cult.


To date, the Jonestown canon has veered between sensational media accounts and narrow academic studies. In this book, I endeavor to tell the Jonestown story on a grander, more human, scale.

 
Julia Scheeres
 Berkeley, California, March 24, 2011

More About the Author

Julia Scheeres is the author of the New York Times bestseller Jesus Land, a memoir about her relationship with her adopted black brother David. The brother and sister grew up in a small Indiana town and, as teens, were sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic together. The book explores the themes of race, fundamentalist religion, and the sustaining bond of sibling love.

Her second book, A Thousand Lives, will be published by Free Press in October 2011.

She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two daughters and works at the San Francisco Writers Grotto.

Related Media


Customer Reviews

This is a must-read for anyone seeking the true story of Jim Jones and the People's Temple.
J. Rose
From chapter to chapter, page to page, author Julia Scheeres captures the humanity within the history and story of The Peoples Temple.
Mutima Jackson-Anderson
I hope that people will read books like this and that something good will eventually come out of something so horrific and tragedy.
LMS

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Conner VINE VOICE on September 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Like many people born in 1980 or later, I grew up with a vague notion of Jonestown as a weird town in a jungle where a bunch of people in a cult drank poison Kool-Aid and died. I use the term "drink the Kool-Aid" when I refer to someone completely buying in to an idea or a cause. But until I read this book, I never really knew what Jonestown was all about.

Scheeres provides a service in this book, both as a skillful historian and as a compassionate human being. She synthesizes hours of audio recordings and written documents into a gut-wrenching tragedy that will linger with the reader. The true strength of her work is the constant tension between the hope of the individual characters and the inevitable doom that presses down on every page. Scheeres truly loves the victims of the massacre, and she is clearly determined to present them in sympathetic ways, sharing stories of simple people who came to Peoples Temple because it offered real racial integration, miraculous healings, and loving community. They believed in a socialism that affirmed the value of every human being, and they were willing to sign away all of their possessions for the cause.

As the group developed, though, things got darker, and Scheeres brings in an impressive level of detail in her examples. She writes about demonstrably fake "healings" and sham "assassination attempts" that Jones fabricated to make his followers feel persecuted by outsiders. There are heart-dropping scenes when church members are forced to sign blank pieces of paper, knowing that if they desert their communities, then the church leaders will type confessions (to murder, child molestation, or any other crimes) and deliver them to authorities.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Thom on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As a young survivor of this tragedy (17 years of age at the time), I found Julia Sheere's ability to summarize and tell the events to be quite compelling. I myself who was there, learned a great deal more of the inside workings and manipulations which occurred.
I am finally satisfied some body such as Julia took hold of the history of events and told them in such a manner to express we went to Jones Town - Because we had dreams of a better life! Not to die for some satanical, egomaniac!
Thank you Julia!
Thom Bogue
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By LMS on September 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of those books that you don't read for pleasure. To say that what happened at Jonestone was a tragedy is an understatement of incredible proportion. That goes without saying. Even though I once watched a documentary on television about Jonestown, I didn't know much about it. (I was only 2 years old in 1978). As I watched that documentary, I remember thinking "Why didn't they just leave?" This book helped me realize that the answer to that question is far more complex than it seems. The people at Jonestown left the United States in search of a dream. They wanted to live in a utopia of racial equality and harmony. By the time they realized just how dangerous and unstable Jim Jones really was, the settlement had become pretty much like a concentration camp. It can be easy to judge people who get involved with cults as stupid and naive. We tell ourselves that we would never get into a situation like that. But I think reality is that all humans need to believe in something. I think if the circumstances were right, anyone could be duped by a cult. That is why books like this are so important. I think it is so important to recognize the warning signs of a cult and to be proactive. Cult leaders like Jim Jones will often brainwash their followers, control them through brainwashing and some type of abuse, and isolate them from family and friends. I hope that people will read books like this and that something good will eventually come out of something so horrific and tragedy. I think it is also important to remember that that these were real people. They were someone's friend, mother or father, son or daughter, grandparents, and friends. They had lives and names. Hindsight is always 20/20 and it's easy to look back and see the clear warning signs.Read more ›
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Julie Merilatt VINE VOICE on September 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Scheeres does a brilliant job outlining the events leading up to the Jonestown massacre. I can only imagine how daunting it was to sift through thousands of pages of document and hundreds of tapes and interviews, much of which was recently released by the FBI, to create this concise yet comprehensive depiction of Jim Jones' ministry and the subsequent tragedy.

Jones' success in rehabilitating criminals and drug addicts and his acceptance of followers of all ages and races was initially inspiring. What began as a Christian mission of love and an opposition to discrimination turned into "Divine Socialism." Those who were initially drawn to Jones' faith healing and message of inclusion were pawns in his deceptive practices. As his thirst for power and his drug use and worsened, his paranoia increased, leading to his mistrust in the U.S. and thus his desire to emigrate to his colony in Guyana. He successfully convinced a majority of disciples to relocate to this socialist "paradise" only to find themselves in crowded compound with not enough to eat and their leader contemplating his final solution of "revolutionary suicide." These poor gullible folks were led to believe that they were under siege and that their children would be tortured. Jim Jones' deception and paranoid delusions led to the death of over 900 people including more than 300 children who were killed against their will. This is a sad piece of history but one that Scheeres conveys with essential background and appropriate gravity.
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