Nancy Oakes's Reviews > Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People

Raven by Tim Reiterman
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Jan 16, 09

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read in January, 2009

Tim Reiterman was one of the journalists who accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan to Jonestown in November of 1978. His book not only examines what happened there, but goes back to the childhood of Jim Jones and the beginnings of the movement known as the Peoples Temple so as to "capture the lure of the Temple, to convey the thinking and personalities of not just disgruntled defectors but also of the heartbroken loyalists with something positive to preserve and remember -- and to unmask the real Jim Jones. And I wanted to humanize them all to get at the truth, to make the ending comprehensible" (5). To achieve this goal, he and his co-author John Jacobs did 800+ interviews, reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, tape recordings, video, and film. The result is a phenomenal book.

What really interested me the most, I think, was Reiterman's examination, starting with Jones' boyhood, of how exactly Jones learned to get others to do exactly what he wanted them to do. The people who came to the Peoples Temple and who became followers of Jones early on weren't coerced or forced into it -- they all had various reasons for being there and for embracing Jones' message. However, it was what happened once they were inside that matters, as little by little Jones began to isolate them from the rest of the world so that they came to depend solely on him and the movement. Reiterman shows clearly how this occurred, and how Jones, along with his top tier of chosen people, manipulated things from inside.

He also shows how when there were attacks on the movement (from the media, "defectors", etc.), Jones' paranoia only made things worse, causing him to do and say things that only heightened their attackers' interests in the Peoples Temple. It was this type of paranoia that led Jones to Guyana and Jonestown and ultimately to the horrifying events of November 1978.

The narrative is at times chilling, but very clear, based mostly on first-hand evidence and testimony. I very highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in Jonestown, the Peoples Temple movement or in how otherwise intelligent people might find themselves in this sort of predicament.

Excellent reading; long, but well worth every second.
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