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

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3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  2,452 ratings  ·  510 reviews
“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 People's 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 s

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Hardcover, 307 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Free Press
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Yesenia Cordero I can say that I definitely was. I also could not believe that a thousand people could be so persuaded by one person to take their own lives, but I…moreI can say that I definitely was. I also could not believe that a thousand people could be so persuaded by one person to take their own lives, but I now see exactly how it happened. The first time I read it, I was in disbelief for the longest time, telling the story of Jonestown to every and any one who would listen to me. I don't think I actually wanted others to hear me, I just wanted to lay it out before myself and try to make sense of it. Then I reread the book for a school presentation, and I almost could not go through with it because of the disbelief and disgust I felt for what had happened, at the hands of this manipulative "pastor". And despite all the 'good-job's I was getting from people, after the presentation, the best I could do was sit and stare at nothing in particular. That book pulled me completely into a history that was both fascinating and disturbing, and it took a while to pull myself back out. So, in the end, I could say, YES. I have been very, very moved by the book.(less)
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Best Books of the Decade: 2010's
300th out of 2,252 books — 2,329 voters
A Thousand Lives by Julia ScheeresThe Orphan Conspiracies by James MorcanThe Orphan Trilogy by James MorcanThe Orphan Factory by James MorcanSix Years With God by Jeannie Mills
JIM JONES & JONESTOWN
1st out of 50 books — 6 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Regina
This is a well-researched and docuemnted book detailing the lives of Jim Jones's followers. The narrative is based on 50,000 pages of documents (diaries, notes, etc) released by the FBI and seized from Jonestown. The author has a good voice and is able to convey both Jim Jones's persuasiveness, at least his persuasiveness in the beginning, and the entrapped feeling his followers must have felt. I knew of the Jonestown tragedy since I was a kid, but I had always thought it was a willing mass suic ...more
Shaun
Death is not a fearful thing, it's living that's treacherous.
Jim Jones November 18, 1978

I was only seven when the massacre/mass suicide at Jonestown occurred, and while I always had a general sense of what happened, until reading this book, I lacked a true appreciation for the magnitude and bizarre nature of this tragedy.

From champion of the oppressed to drug-addled megalomaniac, Jim Jones was an enigma on many fronts. He started off speaking out against racism and segregation, and promoting
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Nancy
The Jonestown tragedy happened the week of my 13th birthday. At the time I remember the nation being stunned and the news stations reporting the details as they came available but the impact on an adolescent girl was less than cosmic. As I finished this book as a much older person I had a much different experience.

Combing threw tens of thousands of documents released to the public and also from tapes already public, the author pieced together Jim Jones' troubled childhood, his conversion to Evan
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Shauna
Obviously, some of my nonfiction tastes aren't for everybody; this work is fascinating and disturbing. The author had access to a huge trove of documents, audiotapes, photographs and more relating to Jonestown soon after they were declassified by the FBI. Jonestown was the ex-pat American settlement in Guyana where 900 people died in a mass murder-suicide in November 1978. Scheeres' book strikes a careful balance in avoiding hype (believe me, this story doesn't need any) and sensationalism, and ...more
Ryandake
this review refers to the audiobook version.

not the sort of book you can get some lively party chat out of, if you plan to get invited back.

Julia Scheeres has some unique credentials for writing about Jonestown: she and her adopted (black) brother were incarcerated in a fundamentalist Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic as adolescents. i can't think of another experience that would have so many resonances with Jonestown: coercion, powerlessness, religion, racial issues, sexism, bei
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Vikki
A compassionate account of the Jonestown tragedy, A THOUSAND LIVES humanizes the victims rather than painting them as stupid, docile, mindless pawns. Scheeres shows us exactly how the monumentally flawed Jones was able to draw them into his quest for a socialist/agrarian utopia, and then, in his growing drug addiction and paranoia, keep them isolated, scared, hungry, weak and tired enough to stay -- and eventually to die. This book is heartbreaking, disturbing and utterly fascinating.
Kurt
Sep 17, 2011 Kurt rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kurt by: Amazon Vine
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 reco
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Dimity
This is easily one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. It’s disturbing not just for the obvious ick factor of being about a mass coerced suicide/murder but because Scheeres convincingly demonstrates that not all of the dead were crazy fanatics and that many were woefully manipulated and misled over a period of years by the charismatic (and surprisingly influential with various government officials) Jim Jones. I didn’t really know anything about Jonestown beyond its use as a punchline in ...more
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a new church in Indianapolis called the Peoples Temple. Being charismatic and fully aware of how to influence people, he began preaching his idealistic beliefs and managed to quickly gather a good number of followers. Over the next twenty years, as the church moved from Indiana to California, and ultimately to its deathbed, Guyana, Jones would amass a huge number of followers, many willing to follow him to the ends of the earth, in the hopes of making the ...more
Carol
I vividly remember seeing news reports from the 1978 Jonestown massacre. I remember being especially perplexed at the notion that anyone could poison children, especially their own children, or that so many people could be induced to commit suicide together.

Scheeres has an interesting take on the issue: she is the author of Jesusland, a memoir in which she discusses her own upbringing as the child of conservative/fundamentalist Christian parents, including a time during which she and her brothe
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Jennifer W
How do you review a book like this? It is meticulously researched, the people's own words are on the pages. The years of abuse, rape, trauma, coercion and many, many lies are laid bare. To the outside viewer, clearly Jones was mad, but unfortunately, the people living at Jonestown didn't have that perspective. Even the ones who could rationally realize that something was desperately wrong had no recourse. They were trapped in a jungle with no money, no passports, and often would risk leaving the ...more
Paul Pessolano
“A Thousand Lives” by Julia Scheeres, published by Free Press.

Category – Religion/ Biography/True Crime

WOW and double WOW!!!!!! I read this book in one night finding it absolutely impossible to put down. If you were born after 1980 you probably have little or no knowledge of Jim Jones and the Jonestown murder/suicides; however that should not be a problem because the story is as real and poignant as it was back then.

Jim Jones became a Pentecostal preacher, starting in Indiana and moving to Calif
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Bonnie Irwin
I still remember when I first heard of the Jonestown massacre. It was the morning after the big game (Cal vs. Stanford), and several Stanford friends had spent the night in my dorm room. As I read the chilling headline in the Chronicle and looked at the picture, a chill ran through me. The late 70s and early 80s saw several religious cults in and around Berkeley, but I had never heard of the People's Temple until that morning. Scheeres' treatment of the story is detailed and sensitive, based on ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
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

This is about Jonestown, Jim Jones, and how he took almost a thousand lives. We remember it as a mass suicide, and the phrase "drinking the kool aid," has come to mean someone who mindlessly swallows lies and obeys because that's how the poison was administered. I think this is one of saddest stories I've read in a long time--and considering my recent reading has included tales of ge
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Michele Weiner
This is not a great book. The biggest surprise to me was the extent to which Jim Jones revealed his insanity and depravity long before he took his whole kit-and-caboodle to Guyana. What makes people ignore all evidence and believe impossible things? People let Jones split up their families, take their money, and abuse them, and still they stayed. They watched him fake healing and mistreat members. Very few left the temple. Why?? It's not so simple as a mere lack of education or sophistication. M ...more
Susan
It never ceases to amaze me how we let ourselves be lead by maniacs and monsters, even when we say we'll never allow it to happen again. This nonfiction book about charismatic Jim Jones and his followers, their eventual deaths at Jonestown, is a prime example. Fascinating, horrifying, and tragic beyond words. Good people wanted someone to believe in, and thought they found their answer in Jones. And initially, perhaps they had - someone who believes in equality, in fairness, in treating people r ...more
Sara
I was fortunate to win a copy of this book on Goodreads, and boy, my excitement was well placed.

I thought I knew a lot about the Jonestown Massacre. I was wrong. This book put faces and personal stories and recollections on one of the worst murder-suicides in history, and that just made it that much spookier.

The author starts out the book stating she will not use the word "cult" unless it's in reference of a direct quote from one of her sources. This right away gave her some credibility in my ey
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Elizabeth
I continually find it fascinating how weak minded people can be. I just finished reading a book about people falling under Hitler's spell and now here's a book with the same theme.

So what makes a person so weak-minded is what I would like to see an answer to. This book showed the results of following a truly insane person. It's amazing how much he fooled people, especially public figures who turned a blind eye.

It was a very factual read and as I read what Jones said and did, why didn't people ge
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Pamela_b_lawrencemsn.com
Ms. Scheeres has given the victims of Jonestown their nobility back. This was her stated goal, and she pulled it off. Jim Jones was preaching racial equality very early, and in fact was instrumental in supporting integration in Indianapolis. Through his charisma and message of a discrimination-free world, one with gender equality, he attracted a diverse group of,worshippers. In California he acquired supporters who had gotten involved with drugs and crime, and turned them around. He was very pol ...more
Bing
Fascinating topic. Scheeres did not quite pull off the masterful job of following multiple lives through time as David Cullen did in "Columbine." The pace felt rushed during the time before Jones & Co. moved to Guyana, then repetitive in describing what life in Guyana was like.

Still, it was interesting enough that I kept reading to the end. If you have any interest in the Jonestown murder-suicides, you will gain lots of knowledge and detail from reading this.
Stephen
The news media mostly portray any one who died at Jonestown as a cultist kook who basically deserved what they got. I never really bought into that and always felt a deep sadness for what happened to those people. The People's Temple performed much good during their time in Indiana all the way up through their time in Redwood Valley, CA. In Indiana they were a truly integrated congregation that actually walked the walk. In Redwood Valley they started adding some more socialist principals which a ...more
Kavita
Everyone has heard about Jonestown - the cult of death. It is one of the biggest non state sponsored mass murder-suicide that took place in the previous century. This book is an attempt to humanise the victims of the tragedy and put their motives and desires in joining Jim Jones in perspective. The author has used FBI files, audio recordings from Jonestown and personal memoirs extensively in her research.

The research was extensive and the story is told in a narrative format. Though interestingly
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Kelsey Hanson
I first became aware of the Jonestown tragedy when I was in high school. We were studying cults in a psychology class and I remember just feeling sick after every class until the unit was over. For this book, the author tries to make the argument that this was not a "cult" but her book does not convince me. I don't think it started out that way. It seems that people were almost too open-minded during the 1960s. It seems as though many people did not have the gift of cynicism and many other peopl ...more
Sarah
This is a terrifying book, and you need to read it.

I was not yet born when Jonestown happened, and as such I suppose I have always been sheltered from the horror of what happened. For me, Jonestown has always been a poor punchline to a Kool-Aid joke.

After reading A Thousand Lives, it's a joke I'll never make again.

There's so much to gather from reading this book - from the overwhelming racism they faced that made African-Americans susceptible prey to Jim Jones' predatory nature, to the lofty i
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Chocolate & Croissants
Wow, is the first word that comes to mind. Not necessarily in a good way, but not in a bad way either. Wow! that someone could have so much control over the lives of others. Control enough to isolate them and institute a mass suicide/murder.I first heard of the "Jonestown" suicides as a teenager. Living outside the United States at the time, I did not learn much about Jim Jones (the leader of the Peoples Temple) but just heard how a religious group of individuals drank the poisonous vat of purpl ...more
Amie
Julia Scheeres, a former resident of a religious rehabilitation camp in the Dominican Republic, utilizes diaries, letters and tapes, along with survivor interviews to tell the story of the followers of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Jones led his church into the jungles of Guyana with a dream to create a utopian society. Instead, he pulled his followers into his paranoid, insane world, eventually bringing about the mass murder/suicide of the men, women and children living in Jonestown. A Tho ...more
Darcia Helle
I was in my mid teens when the tragedy at Jonestown took place. Much of the news back then portrayed these people as blind followers who willingly committed mass suicide. We've since come to know that this type of blanket statement does not come close to describing the real events. With 'A Thousand Lives', Julia Scheeres sifts through 50,000 pages of recently released documents, as well as audio tapes, to give us a clearer understanding of this tragedy.

We meet Jim Jones at his best, in his early
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Imogen
While I can tell I'm going against the grain here by giving this book a lower score, I'll try to do my best to justify my reasoning behind this action.

First off, I understand this is a non-fiction piece about Jonestown, but this woman had a LOT of material to work with, and I felt like she only summarized what the survivors (or victims) said or did instead of letting them tell us. There were only a few parts in the book where we actually read word-for-word what Jones himself had said to the mas
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Sarah Finch
This was an extraordinarily disturbing read. I was glancingly familiar with the story of Jim Jones and the People's Temple and Jonestown, but the details were beyond my reach until I read this book. Now that I have finished it, I find myself amazed that Scheeres managed to tell, in great detail, a story spanning many years and two continents in only 250 pages of text. She is a truly masterful author, especially when it comes to ratcheting up the dread and the tension as the story moves towards t ...more
Caitlin
I have very clear memories of the events at Jonestown. I was 15 and in our house we watched all kinds of news. Everything about Jonestown was shocking and difficult to understand and I remember how the reports focused on Jim Jones and portrayed his followers as weak, unintelligent, uneducated, and easily swayed and bamboozled by their charismatic insane leader.

I've read a few things about Jonestown, but most of what's written is either sensationalistic garbage or extremely academic and dry. Ms.
...more
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