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

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9780385489836: Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in The Peoples Temple
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Twenty years ago, on November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, a commune in the depths of the Guyanese jungle, 913 followers of the Reverend Jim Jones obeyed his orders to take their own lives, dutifully swallowing fruit-flavored punch laced with cyanide. It was the worst mass suicide in modern history. The Peoples Temple had started out years before as a respectable church involved in community service and civil rights activism. Jim Jones's followers grew in number, and the organization gained prominence in the San Francisco community, recognized by such high-profile figures as Mayor George Moscone and First Lady Rosalyn Carter. But by the time Jones and his followers had begun their emigration to the "promised land" in Guyana, the group had become increasingly militant and paranoid.

Deborah Layton saw that something was seriously wrong the minute she arrived in Jonestown, and six months before the massacre, she escaped the guarded compound she had imagined would be paradise. Her warnings to the press and to the U.S. State Department of an impending disaster fell on disbelieving ears: Exactly four days after her testimony in Washington, D.C., Congressman Leo Ryan, three reporters, and over nine hundred Peoples Temple members, including Layton's mother and countless friends, were dead. Layton's return to the world outside of the Peoples Temple was slow and painful. Her brother remains in prison, the only person alive today held accountable for the tragedy. After years of shame and silence, she is finally telling her story.

From Waco to Heaven's Gate, the past decade has seen its share of cult tragedies, but none quite so dramatic or compelling as Jonestown. In this very personal account, Layton opens up the shadowy world of cults that pervade our existence and shows how any race, culture, or class of individuals can fall victim to a cult's strange allure. Vividly written and powerfully told, Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and an enthralling story of intrigue, power, and murder.

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Review:

Deborah Layton was, by her own account, a typical rebellious youth, with nothing in her dossier to indicate that she would eventually find herself in Jim Jones's People's Temple in Guyana, looking for a way out of the green hell that had become the People's Temple Agricultural Project. She barely escaped in June 1978. Within months, more than 900 people drank Jones's cyanide punch and committed "revolutionary suicide" in the face of mounting stateside pressure on the cult, some of it prompted by Layton's own testimonials upon her safe return home. Her brother, Larry, also survived, and as one of the few left alive in Guyana became a scapegoat for Jones's crimes; he is now serving a life sentence in federal prison.

There is a simple naiveté at the root of Seductive Poison. Layton's own youthful innocence, foremost, but also the desire to trust another person, the need for belonging and meaning, which led so many perfectly normal Americans to place their faith in a suicidal madman. Far from confirming the simplistically monstrous Jones of the public imagination, Layton paints the man as a dark, twisted shaman, by turns soothing, then suddenly malevolent and petty, with a hugely sadistic streak that belied his perfectly coifed hair, expensive suits, and impressive political connections. The scenes in which she describes her escape and flight to safety are wrenching, her last-minute conversation with Jones and his seductive appeal for her to return home to Jonestown are chilling, and her fear and indecision are still palpable on the printed page. For Layton to recount tales this personal and horrifying must have been tremendously difficult. For her to lift those recollections above the bargain-basement freak-show reputation the People's Temple has achieved in the popular imagination and depict them with the power of great tragedy is nothing but extraordinary. --Tjames Madison

From the Back Cover:

"A suspenseful tale of escape that reads like a satisfying thriller, Layton's account is the most important personal testimony to emerge from the Jonestown tragedy." --Chicago Tribune

"A fascinating account of a debacle that continues to resonate." --Entertainment Weekly

"Shattering." --The Boston Globe

"Vividly written and powerfully told." --Librarby Journal

"An emotionally articulate and gripping account." --The Nation

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