I’ve been watching a documentary TV series on HBO called The Vow about cult/multi-level marketing company NXIVM (pronounced: nex-ee-um). No one thinks they will ever join a cult. They are too smart. But these were smart folks, and they were duped. Anyway, it got me thinking about other cults and small religious movements. Here are a few interesting books I’ve read over the years.
Jeff Guinn, author of Manson (2014), provides an account Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. Though the author could dive deep into the psychological aspects of Jim Jones, he refrains(mostly), and explains how Jones rose to prominence in the Bay Area. Jones’ genuine want for equality and social justice was always undermined by his fraudulent practices, eventually leading to the death of more than 900 of his followers in a jungle in Guyana. This is a fascinating read about a tragic event.
Using a fictionalized version of the Mason family/Tate-LaBianca murders as an outline, Emma Cline writes about a teenage girl, her alienation from her family, and her gradual involvement in a cult that turns violent. Though most of us already know where the story is going this is an exploration of the precariousness of being a teen girl. Cline shows how a few life changing events can transpire and send one down the rabbit hole quickly. This is a rather dark coming-of-age story that is compelling despite the story’s familiarity.
A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist examines the world of Scientology, from its charismatic founder, L. Ron Hubbard, to its growth in popularity among celebrities in Hollywood. It was Scientology that I most thought of when watching The Vow, particularly because of the way members were treated when they left. Defectors were surveilled, bullied, and often taken to court, forcing them into years of litigation. This book explores Scientology’s deep dysfunction and machinations for control over its members.