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Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,647 Ratings  ·  203 Reviews
Told by a former high-level member of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown survivor, Seductive Poison is the "truly unforgettable" (Kirkus Review) story of how one woman was seduced by one of the most notorious cults in recent memory and how she found her way back to sanity.

From Waco to Heaven's Gate, the past decade has seen its share of cult tragedies. But none has been quit
...more
Kindle Edition, 368 pages
Published (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Maciek
Even though the horror of Jonestown happened more than three decades ago, it will not fade into oblivion. Over 900 Americans - almost a third of them young children - perished in foreign jungle of distant Guyana, in what was to be one of the largest mass suicides in history - though for many it was a mass murder, one which left a tragic stain on lives of hundreds of people across the nation, some of them mourning their loss to this day. Jonestown remains one of the most gruesome cult tragedies i ...more
Shaun
Feb 01, 2015 Shaun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
People do not knowingly join “cults” that will ultimately destroy and kill them. People join self-help groups, churches, political movements, college campus dinner socials, and the like, in an effort to be a part of something larger than themselves. It is mostly the innocent and naive who find themselves entrapped. In their openhearted endeavor to find meaning in their lives, they walk blindly into the promise of ultimate answers and a higher purpose. It is usually only gradually that a group t
...more
Sharon
Apr 23, 2012 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book should be required reading. Those who remember the horror of Jonestown remember mostly the bloated bodies piled upon each other, the stories of murder and mayhem that followed in the wake of the media hullabaloo. ALl too often I have heard the Jonestown cult members referred to as "crazies" or "mindless zombies". This book shows the slow and in many cases understandable development: how the initially benevolent aims and dreams of Jones' followers slowly turn to dependency on their lead ...more
Tori
Jun 24, 2009 Tori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Possible Spoilers...for anyone who didn't know how it ended:

This book was absolutely creepy, amazing, and so emotional, I wanted to throw it across the room or at least punch some of the characters in the face.


I have long been fascinated about Jonestown everytime it was discussed, but I never realized why I have been fascinated. I finally thought about picking up a book about it after a work lunch conversation about it early last week.

As I read this, I slowly realized the cause of my fascinatio
...more
Brenna
Jan 20, 2010 Brenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With a decisive bent toward the dramatic, Deborah Layton-Blakely pens her memoirs of time spent in Jonestown, and under the influence of the leader of the People's Temple church.

Seductive Poison begins in a somewhat autobiographical tone, containing Layton-Blakely's early family history – that of her German grandmother meeting her American husband, escaping Nazi Germany, and her sad final days of paranoia and despair. Layton-Blakely's earliest memories are related to the reader, seemingly innocu
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Margaret
The two events apart from the Vietnam war that impacted me were the Manson murders and the mass murder-suicide of over 900 followers of Jim Jones of Peoples Temple. I remember that day vividly and watching the unbelievable scenes on the television. I have since always been fascinated by cults and why people follow such groups and their leaders. A very good and detailed account written by a survivor, I was on the edge of my seat reading her story, especially of her escape mere months before the a ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
For some reason, my 8th grade social studies teacher taught us about Jonestown. The images of the almost one thousand dead bodies will forever be embedded into my memory (not sure what she was thinking or what the point was but I certainly remember). Still, how people "drink the koolaid" - joining cults and giving up their selfhood is endlessly fascinating to me.

Deborah Layton was actually in the jungle, in Guyana, with Jim Jones and the People's Temple, and got out before the mass suicide. How
...more
Kelsey Hanson
Dec 12, 2015 Kelsey Hanson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I had to stop reading this book several times because I was so frustrated. I wanted to scream at the people to run and to stop being so trusting. I do believe that Jim Jones was a master manipulator who targeted people who were lacking something in their lives or were trusting and somewhat naive. He also pulled a bait-and-switch sort of game that promised his members paradise and gave them a nightmare. This book does offer better reasons as to why they didn't leave confirming some of my earlier ...more
melissa
Feb 19, 2008 melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
oh so fantastic was this book that I held off reading the last 80 or so pages because I didn't want it to end. I've long been fascinated by Jim Jones and Jonestown (I think this has something to do with not having been allowed to watch the movie as a kid. See, parents? If you forbid your kids to do something they will end up knee-deep in strange cult fascination) but this book revealed so many things that I never knew before. Like, Peoples Temple was actually socialist organization? And Jonestow ...more
Lesley Harvey
Feb 07, 2008 Lesley Harvey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even if you are not the extreme Jonestown obsessive that I am, this autobiography of a woman who escaped Guyana is fucking badass. You can't not be interested, as far as I'm concerned.
Aj Sterkel
Nov 01, 2014 Aj Sterkel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
It's so difficult for me to review memoirs. I've avoided doing it because I don't know how. It's not fair to critique someone's memories, and a lot of people who write memoirs aren't professional writers, so it's difficult to critique the writing. This is one of the reasons why I don't read many memoirs. I'm never sure how to feel about them, and I feel bad if I don't like them.

Fortunately, I liked this one. This book obviously wasn't written by someone who has a ton of experience with writing b
...more
Debb
May 02, 2014 Debb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
If there is a book on why you should never join a cult, it is this one. Jim Jones managed to gather nearly a 1000 people into his clutches by brainwashing, finding the flaws in people and negating them by using a skill to make them feel more confident. This man is truly scary and very evil. Most people know how the end turns out before reading this book but what we didn't know is how he managed to do what he did.
Edgar Trevizo
Apr 07, 2015 Edgar Trevizo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is, simply, a terrorific book... Every time we have to remind ourselves we are actually reading a non-fiction book, because it reads as a novel, a thriller, a horror story, and because it is too hard to believe that all of those atrocities actually took place as accounted. Looking back, maybe it was even worse.
Karyl
A fascinating look at how deeply Jim Jones's indoctrination got into the hearts and souls of his people. I've read several other accounts of the massacre at Jonestown, most recently Stories from Jonestown, and it's amazing how his people followed him so blindly. But when he deprives them of nourishing food, feeding them on as little as possible, works them to the bone day after day, and keeps them up every night with various "White Night" drills, it's no wonder that none of them were thinking ve ...more
Margie
It's really hard to rate this book. Layton is not a writer, but an eyewitness and survivor. The writing is not bad; it's just not a finely crafted work by someone along the lines of Jon Krakauer. Her story, though, is compelling and important.
Rachel Shamley-Kulik
So I have this thing about cults. Mostly that I’m obsessed with them, and while I knew the story of where “don’t drink the Kool Aid” came from (sort of) before I knew about Jonestown, I honestly had no idea the extent of it. I, like most people, seem to be addicted to Netflix documentaries, and I found some on Jonestown and decided to watch. I was entranced. This was after I watched a crap ton of documentaries on North Korea, so I was just in the right mind set I think. But, when I got “Going Cl ...more
Suzi
May 17, 2011 Suzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this book was a great inside look of what it was like to be a part of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown. It kept my attention the entire time, and for the last 100 pages or so, the events got so intense that I could not put the book down. From this book I take away a heightened awareness of how people can be deceived into doing certain things and then trapped from escaping the deceiving party. I believe that this type of deception and entrapment can happen at a less severe level, such as in ...more
Rebecca
Jul 08, 2012 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the second book I read about Jonestown, an autobiography from a survivor of Jonestown who was in the upper ranks of Jim Jones' organization, and whose brother is still in jail for killing the Congressman on the day Jonestown "drank the kool-aid." While "A Thousand Lives" offered a comprehensive view of how the church came to be, this book offers insight into how one individual came to be a believer and the effects it has had on every aspect of her life since then. She provides great det ...more
Kristen Schrader (Wenke)
Much like watching Titanic, we all know the ending of the story of Jonestown. But in a story of no or few survivors, those left ask "Why?". I've been intrigued by the story of Jim Jones for a number of years, and like most people I'm always baffled at how normal people could have fallen for him. How could they not see that he was out of his mind? Why would anyone participate in a mass suicide?
Deborah Layton bravely recounts her story of how she went from a troubled out-of-place teenager to a te
...more
Terri
May 26, 2008 Terri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Deborah was a rebellious 16 year old when she met Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple. As time went by she became a trusted member of his inner circle. But as he grew more paranoid and erratic, things started to change. After being in Guyana a while and seeing the overwork, malnutrition and harsh conditions, she bagan to question his message. Eventually fleeing at risk of her life. Only hardly enyone belived her stories. Jim Joens was charismatic and the could not believe he did what she was saying ...more
Leslie
Dec 01, 2008 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Jonestown tragedy happened a few years before I was born, so prior to reading this book I knew very little about the People's Temple and Jim Jones. I saw a news story one day that marked the twentieth anniversary of the mass suicide, and I poked around online until I came across Deborah Layton's book.

Layton was a privileged, rebellious teenager when she was introduced to the People's Temple and the world of its charismatic leader, Jim Jones. She is a talented and passionate storyteller, trac
...more
Randy
Jan 14, 2010 Randy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think it's a good idea to start the year with a cult book. Get's one grounded so one can't be hoodwinked by some silver tongued devil who wants you to sign over your social security check, proceeds from the sale of your house and who then convinces you that safety lies in the steamy jungles of Guyana where he will harangue you day and night via a loud speaker and keep you protein deficient and sleep deprived and rehearse you in drinking the Kool-aid. The horrific mass suicide in Jonestown adde ...more
Old_airman
A must read book for all who are students of power and abuse of power.

Just prior to reading Seductive Poison, I finished Unbroken, http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/86..., a story of an American service man in Japanese POW camps. Although the stories were quite different, the central characters were demoralized and reduced to living for today. Both lives were controlled and ultimately could have been ended at the hands of the protagonist.

I remember going to college in San Francisco during this
...more
Liz
Jul 19, 2014 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read another book about Jonestown which was thoroughly researched and pretty engaging. This book was a different experience, as it was written by a woman who was involved with the Peoples Temple from her late teens, and was close to (perhaps sometimes in) the inner circle around Jim Jones. It's a fascinating story, detailing the extensive manipulation and fear tactics that were used to keep members loyal. One of the most interesting parts of the story is Layton's escape from Jonestown (about s ...more
Rena
Mar 04, 2009 Rena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing! I could not put this book down. There are undoubtedly dozens of books out there dealing with Jonestown, but this one is written by a true insider. Layton chronicles her upbringing in order to contextualize how it was that she was lured into the People's Temple at the age of 17. As she chronicles her experiences within the cult, she speaks of her mindset and emotions as they were occuring at each very moment, not through hindsight's 20/20 vision. I'm sure that any book about Jonestown wo ...more
AdiTurbo
Sep 17, 2015 AdiTurbo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tragic, deeply disturbing, heart-wrenching, reads like a thriller at some points. I am so sorry this happened to these poor people. An important read to warn people never to let anyone take control of their freedom of thought, never put their full trust in anyone promising heaven, on Earth or above.
TheSaint
Feb 18, 2009 TheSaint rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, adult
They had to eat bug-infested rice. They had to use a communal outhouse with no privacy. They worked all day long, using hand tools clearing the jungle of Guyana for their “Paradise.” Why would the followers of Jim Jones subject themselves to such a horrible life? In Seductive Poison, Deborah Layton, a one-time member of The Peoples’ Temple, attempts to explain how so many people found themselves far from home, family and comfort and absolutely unable to escape -- even to the point of a forced ma ...more
Kelly
I've been strangely, morbidly fascinated by the story of Jonestown since first hearing about it sometime in early adolescence. Layton's account, while not wonderfully written by any means, is at least unflinchingly honest. The somewhat unstructured, run-together writing also captures some of the confusion of Layton's position. I was surprised to discover how young Layton and many of the others high up in the Peoples Temple were at the time of the events. I'm not sure if cults have to pray mostly ...more
Amber Claycomb
Jul 18, 2016 Amber Claycomb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was such an engrossing memoir, all the details she included never felt like overkill or like she was just trying to fill space, every detail she talked about made you feel like you needed to know this and every little thing that happened as one of the surviving members that could tell the story.

I never once felt like she was trying to shock the audience with the awful details of what she went through, or was looking for attention, her method of writing simply made you feel like she was writ
...more
Sharon Buchbinder
May 07, 2011 Sharon Buchbinder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cults
A riveting read written by one of the few survivors of the Jonestown/People's Temple cult, this book describes the beginning, middle and final unhinging of a cult and its charismatic leader. At the end the question that will run through the reader's mind over and over again is: What would I have done? Thanks to Ms. Layton for her courage in surviving and writing this harrowing and chilling cautionary tale.
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South Shore Readers: Discussion: Seductive Poison 8 19 Mar 25, 2012 09:14AM  
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“When your own thoughts are forbidden, when your questions are not allowed and our doubts are punished, when contacts with friendships outside of the organization are censored, we are being abused, for the ends never justify the means. When our heart aches knowing we have made friendships and secret attachments that will be forever forbidden if we leave, we are in danger. When we consider staying in a group because we cannot bear the loss, disappointment and sorrow our leaving will cause for ourselves and those we have come to love, we are in a cult… If there is any lesson to be learned it is that an ideal can never be brought about by fear, abuse, and the threat of retribution. When family and friends are used as a weapon in order to force us to stay in an organization, something has gone terribly wrong.” 4 likes
“People do not knowingly join “cults” that will ultimately destroy and kill them. People join self-help groups, churches, political movements, college campus dinner socials, and the like, in an effort to be a part of something larger than themselves. It is mostly the innocent and naive who find themselves entrapped. In their openhearted endeavor to find meaning in their lives, they walk blindly into the promise of ultimate answers and a higher purpose. It is usually only gradually that a group turns into or reveals itself as a cult, becomes malignant, but by then it is often too late.” 3 likes
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