Most people understand Peoples Temple through its violent end in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978, where more than 900 Americans committed murder and suicide in a jungle commune. Media coverage of the event sensationalized the group and obscured the background of those who died. The view that emerged thirty years ago continues to dominate understanding of Jonestown today, despite dozens of books, articles, and documentaries that have appeared. This book provides a fresh perspective on Peoples Temple and Jonestown, locating the group within the context of religion in America and offering a contemporary history that corrects the inaccuracies often associated with the group and its demise.
Although Peoples Temple has some of the characteristics many associate with cults, it also shares many characteristics of Black Religion in America. Moreover, it is crucial to understand the organization within the social and political movements of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Race, class, colonialism, gender, and other issues dominated the times, and so dominated the consciousness of the members of Peoples Temple. Here, Moore, who lost three family members in the events in Guyana, offers a framework of U.S. social, cultural, and political history that helps readers better understand Peoples Temple and its members.
Reviews"Moore provides a superbly balanced, informed, and accessible introduction to understanding many dimensions of the Peoples Temple story. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."—Choice, November 1, 2009
"Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple will be of use for courses in advanced sociology or social psychology that specialize their focus on phenomena such as religious cults. It also will be a worthy read for professionals in those disciplines, as well as students and scholars of religion who are interested in the intersection of theology and social behavior."—PsycCRITIQUES, February 17, 2010
"Part reportage and part critical historiography, Moore's account moves expertly through thickets of evidence, from newspapers and government reports to Jonestown recordings and first-person accounts. … Through Moore's judicious rendering, the story of Peoples Temple is no longer mere madness. Instead, it appears as a utopian journey whose catastrophic millennialism belies its Midwestern origins, as wells as its optimistic advertisements of progress, communal labor, and real equality."—Indiana Magazine of History, December 1, 2010
"As one of a few survivors, I continue to learn details and facts that were hidden from me. I learned many new details when I read the book. An ever-growing group is collaborating to put the pieces together in a mosaic that will bring together the truest picture we can make. Rebecca's book will be one of the cornerstones used to build an understanding of the facts, not the media blitz, and not a simplistic view of the horror of the ending. Those who lost their lives in Guyana and those whose lives were decimated here in the United States deserve more than that, and Rebecca articulately puts the facts together to so that we can envision and understand the community as it lived."—Laura Johnston Kohl
Jonestown and Peoples Temple survivor
"Rebecca Moore provides the fullest account we have of the career of Peoples Temple. In a sympathetic but critical manner, she charts its beginnings in Indianapolis, its transformations in California, the tragic events at Jonestown in the Guyanese jungle, and the afterlives of Peoples Temple in American cultural memory. Drawing on scholarly and popular sources, interviews, archives, and a trove of materials released by the U. S. government in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, she tells a rich and detailed story that captures both the horror and humanity of Peoples Temple. This is the place to start for anyone interested in Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, or Jonestown."—Eugene V. Gallagher
Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies, Connecticut College
"Rebecca Moore's thoughtful, balanced book makes a significant contribution to recent scholarship aimed at redressing the sensationalism of many previous accounts of Peoples Temple and Jonestown. This book deepens our understanding of the tragedy of Jonestown by refusing to reduce the story to that single ending. This eye to human complexity also guides the book into the present, examining the lives of survivors, the state of current research and scholarship, and the figure of Peoples Temple as it appears in contemporary artistic and cultural work. Moore also provides the reader with enough resources to open a multitude of avenues to further research. Accessible to the student historian, her perspective prompts wide-ranging and important questions on our contemporary practices and ways of thinking about religion, community, and memory."—Tanya Hollis
Archivist/Manuscripts Librarian, California Historical Society