Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple Paperback – 1 Dec 1999
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" 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 Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and a riveting story of intrigue, power, and murder.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.