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Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple Paperback – 1 Dec 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books (Dec. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385489846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489843
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 612,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

" 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"

"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"

From the Inside Flap

Told by a former high-level member of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown survivor, Seductive Poison is the "truly unforgettable" ("Kirkus Review) story of how one woman was seduced by one of the most notorious cults in recent memory and how she found her way back to sanity.
From Waco to Heaven's Gate, the past decade has seen its share of cult tragedies. But none has been quite so dramatic or compelling as the Jonestown massacre of 1978, in which the Reverend Jim Jones and 913 of his disciples perished. Deborah Layton had been a member of the Peoples Temple for seven years when she departed for Jonestown, Guyana, the promised land nestled deep in the South American jungle. When she arrived, however, Layton saw that something was seriously wrong. Jones constantly spoke of a revolutionary mass suicide, and Layton knew only too well that he had enough control over the minds of the Jonestown residents to carry it out. But her pleas for help--and her sworn affidavit to the U.S. government--fell on skeptical ears. In this very personal account, Layton opens up the shadowy world of cults and shows how anyone can fall under their spell. Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and a riveting story of intrigue, power, and murder.

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Format: Paperback
In recent times, literally hundreds of books have been published relating to the widespread growth and influence of the differrent religious cults that have appeared during the last hundred or so years. Many but by no means all of these books have been written by ex cult members whose lives have been negatively affected by their time in the cult, and the majority are written with the intention of warning readers to avoid becoming embroiled in any such organisation.

Whilst all these books have value, perhaps more to the writers than the readers in some cases, there are a few that, despite referring to a particular religious group, provide an insight into how all such groups operate, as well as serving as a warning to all those contemplating joining one,

One of these is Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story Of Life And Death In The People's Temple, by Deborah Layton. Deborah was personally recruited by the groups leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, in 1970, and rose to a position of trust in the cult before her eventual escape from Jonestown, the compound in the Guyanese jungle where Jones had led his followers, in April 1978, a few months before 913 members of People's Temple, acting on the instructions of their deranged leader, committed mass murder/suicide.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book should be required reading. Those who remember the horror of Jonestown remember mostly the bloated bodies piled upon each other, the stories of murder and mayhem that followed in the wake of the media hullabaloo. ALl too often I have heard the Jonestown cult members referred to as "crazies" or "mindless zombies". This book shows the slow and in many cases understandable development: how the initially benevolent aims and dreams of JOnes' followers finally found themselves trapped in a jungle prison, a web if deceit and terror with a madman at its centre.
As Layton soelequently makes clear, the beginning is so often inoccuous. The followers believe they are doing the right thing; they innocently hand over money, free will, affection, to a leader unworthy of such. Jim Jones was at first not the devil he turned out to be; he did a lot of good. But the adulation went to his head; and thus the horrific outcome.
I have some experience with religious groups and cults; I would say there are three traps their leaders fall into. It might be sex, it might be money, and it might be power. In Jim Jones's case, it was all three, which made the outcome triply horrific.
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Format: Paperback
This is an immensely brave and well written book, which bears testimony to Deborah Layton's courage, not only in having escaped the Jonestown cult, but also for having been able to examine, in the years afterwards, her own motives and the personal history that led to her involvement in it. The book is almost unique in that respect.

Many of the books I have come across about Jonestown, Waco and other religious cults have been written by Christian academics so keen to excuse the cult members for their choices that they end up blaming the US authorities and wider society for failing to understand them and for 'harrassing' and 'persecuting' them into desperate actions. They present the cult members (or as they say, members of New Religious Movements) as brave, principled and even heroic individuals, and make little or no attempt to examine the individual responsibilities and motivations that lead to their eventual ends. Nothing is said of the bullying, emotional pressure, inventions of persecutory 'outsiders' and other forms of terror applied within the groups by the members to preserve coherence and to prevent 'defections'. While I think it pointless simply to apply abusive labels to people who join cults, neither do I support the view that society is to blame when collective paranoia overtakes them. Also, the tendency of such academics to call the US 'religiously intolerant' strikes me as odd, in a world where the Taliban operates.

Deborah Layton, having left Jonestown some time before its full murderous potential was revealed, was castigated on both sides: by cultists for having been a 'traitor' and by secular society for having been foolish enough to join the cult in the first place. She does not seek to excuse herself, but presents honestly what actually happened to her.
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By Thespionic TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Nov. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read the ‘Manson’ story as an opener regarding cults, I was interested to take the cult phenomenon to the next stage.
For the likes of you and I it is almost impossible to comprehend how anyone with half a brain could get sucked into something like this. I think it is fair to say that only certain kinds of intellect are susceptible and vulnerable to this type of brainwashing – but they are out there if you look long and hard enough and know what you are looking for … and cult leaders do know!
This book is a fascinating and very worthwhile read, and of course it's a very tragic tale. Whilst we learn a lot about the ways and so called ideals of Jim Jones, you never really discover what motivates him? I t certainly wasn’t money, even though he had millions of dollars at his disposal. It wasn’t the good life or even a comfortable life – all against his socialist values of course, but he was a fake! Was it a power trip or were he simply delusional and an ace manipulator? There’s no doubt he was cunningly clever, he could mix above his station – all were taken in by him. Did he simply lose his way and become s dictator?
So why did it all turn so sour and why couldn’t he just build his lovely little ‘socialist’ haven and treat his congregation with respect – he seemed to have the money and the wherewithal to do exactly that. Perhaps these people defy logic and can't be worked out?
I can only suggest that you read it and see what you think?
My only complaint about his excellent book is that there are no pictures of the devastation and carnage that Jonestown became, though there are plenty on the net. I do feel the end of this awful tale should have been shown here – it really would have finished this read off perfectly and
emphasised the tragedy of it all. Some of the overhead shots of the aftermath will stay with me forever!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9e2dc654) out of 5 stars 335 reviews
125 of 134 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e32e1ec) out of 5 stars Required Reading. A vaccine for the human mind... 8 April 2001
By sneaker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Writing a review of Deborah Layton's "Seductive Poison" is not easy for me, because I can't think of any words that will be superlative enough to do justice to this book and to compliment the author on being so courageous and for so eloquently sharing intimate details of her experience of life in and her escape from a destructive cult.
I didn't know *anything* about cults or anything about Jonestown for that matter (I was not only too young at the time these events took place but also literally on the other side of the world) till a few weeks ago when I feared that someone who I loved and still love dearly may be in a cultic group. A search on Amazon led me to Deborah Layton's book and reading Seductive Poison combined with the events happening concurrently in my life can only be described as a life-changing experience.
Deborah Layton's account of life in and her escape from Jonestown is the most moving of any personal accounts I have ever read and I will admit that there were parts of the book that had me in tears... which says a lot. When I first read this book I was convinced that the book is just that... it's *a story which happened to someone else* and things like this don't happen today...until I started experiencing the effect of a mind-control group first hand -- happening to someone very close to me. If you ever do the mistake of thinking that this cannot happen to you... be sure to catch yourself, because 23 years later, after Jonestown, after Waco, after Heaven's Gate and numerous others... it's the same mind-control techniques and the same deceit and debauchery that is just as much prevalent today as it was then and potentially even more refined than it used to be.
Seductive Poison helped me understand what a cult is and made me realize that I cannot try and deal with the situation I was faced with using the rules I knew so far. The rationalism and logic that you would expect to always be present and help a person make their own informed decisions and judgments are sometimes suspended - and always suspended when an individual is under a situation of being under the control of a destructive mind-control group or even an the influence of an individual. I never realized that until I read Deborah Layton's experience.
Seductive Poison should be required reading in high-schools / colleges, just so more people are aware of the dangers lurking about them. I have personally bought over a dozen copies of this book to hand out to friends and family (Amazon must really love me by now!) and I don't think I'm done handing it out to people yet, because in my opinion, this book is a vaccine for the human mind and it is critical for *any* person living in today's society - in any country, in any environment - to develop some level of immunity which allows them to recognize a destructive situation before they get sucked in too deep.
I'll end with a quote from an email I sent shortly after reading Seductive Poison and co-relating events in my life: "The mind is a very fragile thing, and I strongly believe that no stimulus and no words can go by without affecting a person -- I don't claim to know more or less about what is true or not, but I do believe in being pragmatic and using ones own judgment and critical thinking to set the boundaries for our actions."
And last but not least, to Deborah Layton - thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experience with all of us and thank you for being the amazing person I know you are.
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e32e240) out of 5 stars EYE OPENING ABOUT RELIGIOUS CULTS 14 Aug. 2005
By Denis Benchimol Minev - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Deborah Layton was very corageous and thorough in writing this very interesting book about the Jonestown mass suicide. She was only a young woman when she first got in touch with Jim Jones's temple and got involved deeply with it.

The book is written in a way that the reader can follow each step of a member joining the cult, so we can track every single decision made and question it. It is interesting to note, following her narrative, that there seemed to be no highly unreasonable decisions, just a sequence of commitments that drove the temple members deeper and deeper into the psychological orbit of the reverend. From San Francisco to international banking transactions to hide Jim's money, to obsessively worrying about an imminent governemtn attack, the reader follows people who would otherwise be reasonable and kind doing outrageously aggressive and violent actions, even including physical torture.

There is also, unexpectedly, a high suspense section in the end, when Deborah escapes the compound in Guyana to try to come back to the US. Though I suppose she is a first time writer, she was quite capable of transmitting the gut wrenching circumstances of her escape.

This is an eye opening book, one that you will find yourself thinking about for at least a couple of months after reading it.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ea8e4e0) out of 5 stars Journey to Hell and Back 6 Jun. 2002
By Isaac M. Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Deborah Layton's book is a painfully honest story written by a woman whose youthful search for meaning brought her under the spell of a seductive preacher. It is not just a book about Jonestown; it is a book about a soul in search of something beyond herself, her journey into hell, and her eventual escape and redemption. Ms. Layton bares all to the reader in a way that makes one almost blush at what you are shown. That style makes it difficult to put this book down. You can sense, and often smile at, her youthful feistiness and willfulness; she was among the kids who counted the money and had a lot of fun doing it at Jones' rallies. Yet, you suffer with her inability to speak up, to be other than subservient when 'Father' Jones subjected her to indignities in the back of a bus: you wonder about the disconnect between her fine mind and the awful reality she had bought into. Almost palpable is the troubled relationship between the adolescent girl and her parents, early on; and later the intense love and finally the regret that came with knowing that her own mother, who also fell under the sway of Jones, was left behind in danger. In the end, you fret and worry when, at last, she decides to escape and you turn each page, captivated by the suspenseful retelling, hoping against hope that she makes it! Of course, it's no secret that she makes it; but the book suspends reality and leaves you praying for what you know already happened! That's good writing.
Seductive Poison is an important book for at least two reasons. First, it teaches us that truly decent people seeking to find an outlet for their altruism and meaning for their lives are susceptible to the self-aggrandizing - a lesson that all should learn, early on. Secondly, it teaches us not to set aside our reason and common sense, even in the search for and in the name of faith. This abdication of reason, and the ease with which we set it aside, is potentially our most fatal flaw.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e32e4c8) out of 5 stars BRAVO! A Powerful story of resilience and strength 23 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Deborah Layton's haunting memoir paints a poignant picture of her youth and seven years in the Peoples Temple. This poignant and heart-rendering testament to resiliency and determination is populated with wonderful and memorable characters. I fell in love with the savvy black grandmother, Mary who took Deborah and her mother under her protective wing; Lee, the Jonestown workcamp leader who lent humanity to a horrendous situation; and with Deborah, the lost and misguided innocent who finally gets-it and escapes to warn the world of Jim Jones evil intentions. I gasped, laughed, cried and wiped sweat from my brow as I read on through the night, unable to put this remarkbale book down. BRAVO!
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e6543b4) out of 5 stars A very moving story and a heart pounding thriller of a read 2 Nov. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This memoir allowed me to understand what happened twenty years ago and how intelligent people could get involved. I didn't realize that Jim Jones was the Head of the San Francisco Housing Authority, nor that he was supported by important politicians both in San Francisco and Washington DC. He was an impressive "Player" on the political scene and had many high profile folks eating out of his hand: Like Willie Brown, the Chief of police, Hongisto and those who just didn't know, like Angela Davis, Eldridge Clever, Dennis Banks and Roseline Carter. This book was a real eye opener for me.
Seductive Poison is heart-breakingly honest and tells a story so few people actually know. I had heard about "what happened" and then just dismissed the members as a bunch of uneducated lower class people. I now know I was dead wrong. I can see where this could have happened to someone like me had I been in California during the 60's. The country was in turmoil over the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, free speech and People's Temple fit right in by pooling from the disenchanted, disinfranchised & young hopeful college kids who wanted to make a difference. I know that feeling even now in my own search for meaning and purpose. In so many religions we are taught to think of others, help them, get involved and that is what the members of Jone's group believed they were doing. To think so many well intentioned people were gradually deceived then islolated and murdered in a far off country is heartbreaking.
I recommend this book highly! It's a heartpouding thriller of a read.
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