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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Manson comes the comprehensive, authoritative, and tragic story of preacher Jim Jones, who was responsible for the Jonestown Massacre - the largest murder-suicide in American history.

In the 1950s a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the Gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to Northern California. He became involved in electoral politics and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader.

In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones' life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost 1,000 of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November 1978 when more than 900 people died - including almost 300 infants and children - after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.

Guinn examined thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, including material released during the course of his research. He traveled to Jones' Indiana hometown, where he spoke to people never previously interviewed and uncovered fresh information from Jonestown survivors. He even visited the Jonestown site with the same pilot who flew there the day that Congressman Leo Ryan was murdered on Jones' orders. The Road to Jonestown is the definitive book about Jim Jones and the events that led to the tragedy at Jonestown.

©2017 Jeff Guinn (P)2017 Simon & Schuster

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An Important Accurate Historical Report

It was 39 years ago, November 18, 1978, when 918 people were discovered in Northwestern Guyana. Many of you reading this will not have been born yet but I was a young woman residing in the UK. I went to my local Newsagent and picked up my copy of Life magazine and started to read it on the bus traveling into work. I can remember to this day how I was mesmerized by the magazine's cover. It was an aerial photo of a jungle settlement with what looked like a mass of multicolored garbage. Little did I know at that moment that the ‘garbage’ was actually people. So many people. People, three layers deep.

The work that I was 'off to' was health care. The 'saver' of life. To see this carnage effected me beyond words. Over the years I have read, listened to and watched almost everything on this subject as I just have not been able to 'get my mind around it'. I have heard people say that Jim Jones was merely ‘nuts' or just 'plain crazy'. However I am starting to think that it was never as simple as that. Yes, he was the most base of men of that there is no doubt but when he first started out he appeared to care. His goal was service. service and more service. What confused me even more was when he was hoarding funds from The Temple he still chose to live in the jungle and not in a hotel close by with some relative comfort. What was he planning on doing with all of that incredible wealth?

Jeff Guinn has done some excellent ‘detective work’ sourcing new information plus merging it all together with data already known and of course the immense amount of rumors surrounding this whole Jonestown debacle. He has made sense , if one can, of Jim Jones's life making it a most readable piece.

This is my first time listening to George Newbern. It will not be my last. After reading some of the other reviews I noted that people mentioned that they had a problem with some of his pronunciation. Well, fear not...It would appear (even if Mr. Newbern realizes it or not) that he has a touch of the Anglophile in him! This voice Actor pronounces some words in such a way that it would made HRH Queen Elizabeth II so very proud!

A great American historical piece that is definitely worth investing your time in.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Religion, politics and death. The story of humans and their need to belong.

Charismatic individuals throughout history have succeeded in destroying the lives of entire generations. Jim Jones is no exception. This book explores the early years of Jones childhood and a glimpse into possible psychological effects of his upbringing. The Road to Jonestown is a must read for anyone fascinated with human behavior.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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How about a little pronunciation research?

While I was totally absorbed in this fascinating, very well researched book, I was dismayed by how often the reader mispronounced the names of prominent characters. Though he may have been directed to pronounce them in a certain way, the fact that they were the names of ACTUAL people who pronounced their names differently should have been researched and respected. Foremost among these errors was the incorrect pronunciation of the name of the late San Francisco mayor, George Moscone. Others were Herb Caen (initially, later corrected), Jackie Spier, and Richard Hongisto. Next time....maybe a little pre-recording research.

37 of 44 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 04-26-17

A detailed and balanced portrait

What made the experience of listening to Road to Jonestown the most enjoyable?

The comments from the former members of the People's Temple

What did you like best about this story?

The detailed portrait of Jones. We got to see him at his best and his worst. Like many, I was quick to think the worst of Jones. While I am not going to excuse what he did in Guyana, the author does give credit where it is due (such as the social programs to fight racism and addiction).

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The Life and Death of the People's Temple.

Any additional comments?

This might be better in print, just so you could keep track of who was involved with the People's Temple and in what capacity. However, it was a well written piece of history and was very even handed in how it handled the central figure of Jim Jones.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Good Doers Held Hostage By a Complex Disturbed Man

If you could sum up Road to Jonestown in three words, what would they be?

Ideals poisoned by paranoia. Ok 4 words, not 3!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Road to Jonestown?

The most memorable moment was the horrific final moments in Jonestown when so many died of cyanide poising in that massive murder/suicide. Was made even more horrific when the author quotes from a doctor who reveals what an agonizing way cyanide is to end ones life involving minutes of painful suffocation.

Which character – as performed by George Newbern – was your favorite?

No one particular character. George Newbern rather then acting out characters lends a solid pleasant even keeled voice though out which worked very well for this type of non-fiction work. Gave a very engaging performance which was understated and even handed in just the right way for me.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The deaths in Jonestown, what a sad ending to so many beautiful lives

Any additional comments?

I've been fascinated for years about Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple. Was Jim Jones a good man gone bad, or crazy from very early in life? Why would so many follow him and not heed earlier warning signs? My opinion after reading this book is that he really wanted to do good and believed in and practiced diversity and socialism. However, due to a troubled youth and drug abuse his inner demons involving paranoia and fear of abandonment and need for absolute control destroyed whatever ideals he fought for. At the same time as the author lays out, many of his followers would justify the bad things they experienced as being worth it for the greater good until it was too late and many were hostages in Jonestown. One thing I still don't understand is why Jim Jones hoarded so much money he gained and started stockpiling it away instead of using it for his people and socialistic aims while in Jonestown? Maybe he wanted to prove he could make Jonestown self sufficient and his ego could not admit that he needed to dip into his vast savings to make his dream work? Maybe it was part of his cruelty making his people live and work in such meager conditions? Don't know.As you can see, this book gave me a lot to think about and consider and I would recommend it for those who want a comprehensive look at the life of Jim Jones. After reading this book, I've gained a new found respect for the followers of Jim Jones and think it is easy to say we could never get caught up in something like this. As started before , people will put up/accept much if they feel they are sacrificing for the greater good. The best point the author made for me was that while Jim Jones has been compared to Hitler and Manson, the big difference is the followers of Jim Jones were striving for greatness not evil. Bless them all living and dead!!!!

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Intriguing and beautifully written

Captivating from beginning to the end. The author carefully traces Jones' slow rise and eventual demise. If you're interested in demagogues and their devoted followers, this book is perfect for you.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Very Interesting to Learn About the Events

What made the experience of listening to Road to Jonestown the most enjoyable?

I remember hearing the news of Jonestown and never really knew what led up to those horrific events so I was curious to really understand why people would have fallen prey to Jim Jones. This book really helped me to understand how he began as a person who truly wanted to help others, and how events in his life led him to view himself as God on earth.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

The author seemed to be repetitive in some parts of the story, and at times, I found myself saying, "OK, I get it, let's get on with the story." But, overall, it was still very informative and a compelling read.

Which character – as performed by George Newbern – was your favorite?

No favorites, Jim Jones was a monster.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Familiar Story with some Extras

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this to anyone who doesn't know a lot about Jonestown or Jim Jones. Having watched and studied the documentary Jonestown, a lot of this info was familiar. However, the book went into some childhood and marriage background that I didn't know about and was definitely an interesting listen.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

Everyone knows how this story ends, so I appreciated the author's detailed account of events. There weren't any elements of suspense, but the author was able to give a detailed account of the days events and keep me engaged through to the end.

What three words best describe George Newbern’s voice?

Soothing, steady, monotone

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Nice book, but some stereotypical descriptions

What did you like best about Road to Jonestown? What did you like least?

The book is quite thorough and well-researched. It is a gripping story, well told. The narration was excellent. What I liked least was the constant use of the words "slum" and "ghetto" as literal synonyms for black communities, all black communities. Not true. Even back then.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Road to Jonestown?

The ample, yet compelling background information about the ministry of Father Divine. I'd heard of him, but didn't know a lot about him. I learned quite a bit from this book. The information on Divine really puts a lot of Jim Jones's actions in context.

What does George Newbern bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He is good at conveying sarcasm and, just through his voice, pointing out how utterly illogical some people's statements, actions and attitudes were.

Did Road to Jonestown inspire you to do anything?

Keep researching

Any additional comments?

One minor point: I believe that Marceline Jones, the wife of Jim Jones, pronounced her name "Mar-si-lynn" not "Mar-si-lean."

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A man's progression into madness

If you could sum up Road to Jonestown in three words, what would they be?

Seduced by paranoia

What did you like best about this story?

I found it to very informational regarding Jones' early years. At first I thought this guy really had a bright future. I was impressed by his work into helping those w/addictions, integration of African Americans in communities, and his general position of intention to improve lives. Then came the drugs, the paranoia & the dissention into complete madness. Amazing to see the turn-around in this man's mind & how he managed to continue to fool most of his followers.

Which character – as performed by George Newbern – was your favorite?

His wife - she had to be a SAINT! To put up with his life, his relationships, his paranoia, she attempted to be the voice of reason & she stood up to him.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The Birth and The Death of the People's Temple

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • john
  • 11-19-17

Brilliantly read, outstandingly researched

This book has got to be the new staple for those interested in the infamous cult.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mrs
  • 08-10-17

Quite shocking

Such an incredibly sad story. Starting with (what came to be) a relatively large group of people - setting out with the best of intentions. This is the tale of their trials and tribulations under the leadership of one man. A word of warning: the ending is not for the faint hearted. It is very well researched, written and narrated. I recommend it for anyone who wants the full story behind this infamous man and his followers.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Calum Francis Dougan
  • 04-22-18

The definitive book on Jim & The Peoples Temple.

I've delved into a lot of information on Jonestown over the years. From 5 hour long podcasts to TV documentaries and this is by far the best coverage of Jim's life and also the lives followers I've come across. It's got a perfect balance of readability and detail. If you are interested in anything to do with Jonestown you'll find it here.

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Noushy-Pia
  • 04-21-18

Interesting

By the end of this audio book I was glad I had persevered and listened to it all. However, it does seem to drag in parts with detailed accounts of the upbringing and background of Jim Jones and some others. It is worth sticking with it, but I did feel disappointed that the chapters on events in Jonestown were left to the last 8 or so chapters and I would have enjoyed more details about how once they arrived at Jonestown the 918 who died had slowly been lead to their deaths. I was also disappointed that they skipped over the old lady who slept through the events that night presumed dead, as I have read other information about how she woke up to find the bodies. More information on her would have been an interesting addition.

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  • AnnieJuly
  • 09-26-17

Interesting...wee bit long

This was highly interesting. Extremely well narrated in an undistracting manner (forgive my voice "racism" but I often find American narrators cloying or whiny but this narrator had good diction). Well researched. I did find it a tad long because it delved into minutiae every step of way but I ended up sticking with it. A good means of learning about this fascinating man and awful tragedy.

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  • nyecamden
  • 09-14-17

Nuanced true horror

Gripping story of the Peoples Temple and Jamestown massacre that includes both the megalomania of Jim Jones, but also the idealism and good works of him and his followers. This book doesn't give an answer as to the why of the matter, but illuminates much of the how using testimony of survivors and other evidence. I appreciated the balanced feel. It feels more chilling to hear of a mass-murderer who was seemingly both good and evil than it is to have him depicted as purely monstrous.

In the closing few chapters - don't listen at bedtime! This truly is the stuff of nightmares.

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  • Moimeme
  • 08-13-17

A tale without precedent

Nearly 40 years following this tragedy it's easy to forget. Yet the horrors are no less comprehensible today than at the time. This narrative offers some insight into how a highly disturbed man failed to see through an altruistic (though flawed) vision which ultimately led to the slaughter of hundreds. Highly recommend.

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  • Sara Russell
  • 05-10-18

It drags on a touch.

The narration of this book itself is absolutely fine. However, this is a seriously long audiobook and I found myself losing interest about halfway through.
I'm a fast reader, so possibly had I been reading it, I might have finished it. But I'm not sure to be honest - it drags on a bit.
But on the positive, it is incredibly researched, well detailed and it does not use emotive language like "evil" or "brain washing" - it provides the facts.

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  • Erin
  • 03-01-18

Hefty, lengthy and ridiculously compelling

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Naturally the "incident" is the big moment in this book and it's written beautifully. It's incredibly sad, and goes into sufficient detail to make you stop whatever you're doing and get involved, to the point you feel for each and every person who lost their lives.