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Stories from Jonestown Hardcover – 1 Feb 2013

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press (1 Feb. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816678081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816678082
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,141,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Leigh Fondakowski was the head writer of "The Laramie Project" and has been a member of the Tectonic Theatre Project since 1995. She is an Emmy-nominated coscreenwriter for the adaptation of "The Laramie Project" for HBO, and a cowriter of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later." Her play, "The People s Temple," created from the survivors interviews, has been performed under her direction at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Theatre Company, and the Guthrie Theatre."

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The story of Jonestown, the masacre and the survivors is incredibly moving and very powerful. I knew a little about the events of the masacre and refer to it when teaching psychology, but this tome goes well beyond a superficial recounting of the People's Temple members and the death of its followers. The author's interviews with people who had left the Temple and those who had stayed, and survived really delivers the human side of the story without needless sensationalising. Fondakowski has put years into the realisation of this book and her passion for it really shows. I had a real sense of getting to the truth in an unbiased way as I read story through the words of those who were there and those who still bear the scars of this terrible event. A highly recommended read for anyone interested in reading about these events and the Temple in much more depth than is typically available.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having read almost all literature on peoples temple, Jonestown and Jim Jones, and tried to get a comfortable perspective on it and the murder / suicides, this one helped me to gain some closure.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fantastic value for money. Very quick postage.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars 20 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jonestown Survivor's perspective of the book 10 Feb. 2013
By Laurak - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a Jonestown survivor. I met Leigh, Gregg, and Margo in 2002 when they visited me at my home in San Diego. My interview was wonderful. I felt free to discuss my deepest pain and my own truth. A few years later, I was able to see how Leigh had pulled together all the survivors' stories, and put them in her play "THE PEOPLES TEMPLE." She was very exacting and astute in picking up the message I wanted to share. Other survivors felt the same way. Her play was shown in Berkeley, and several other venues.

Last year, I heard that she had revisited our initial interviews and that she was creating a book. I was excited because I had already been impressed with her depth of understanding. I pre-ordered the book and received it this week. I have not been able to put the book down. I am so grateful that she created her book, mostly with exact quotes from the survivors. There is no better way to understand Peoples Temple - or our tangled feelings about Jonestown - than by reading her book.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Side to Jonestown! 31 Jan. 2013
By Sylviastel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read every available published book on Jonestown, the Peoples Temple, and Rev. Jim Jones. I found Leigh's book to be refreshing for a change. She had started basically from scratch to understand Jonestown and what really happened. She had put a human face on the people who comprised the Peoples Temple. She had sought to understand what motivated many of them. I admire and respect the author's ability to understand what really happened in November 1978.

On November 18, 1978, I was a five year old in New Jersey. On that day, 918 lives were lost in Jonestown, Guyana. The media had created a myth about Rev. Jim Jones and his people. Of course, it was a massacre and it wasn't suicide. People didn't willingly die but were pressured and forced to drink the cyanide. Everybody in the top hierarchy of Jim Jones had a careful plan to execute the unthinkable of murder-suicide.

Leigh and her team planned to develop a creative play in displaying the Peoples Temple to the public. Leigh would meet, interview, study, and examine the world of the Peoples Temple. She had survivors like Stephan Jones, Jim and Marceline's only natural son and Tim Carter. In reading their accounts, I began to understand why they are resistant to writing their own stories about Jonestown and the Peoples Temple. Stephan and Tim have a lot of guilt on their shoulders about what happened like a life sentence since 1978.

If you want to know about Jonestown, this book adds a level of humanity, compassion, and understanding to those who died and those who lived and remember a time and place long ago. The Peoples Temple provided more than just religious services. If you were poor, homeless, unemployed, hungry, and thirsty, you were fed, given a job, fed, and cared for. The Peoples Temple had counselors to help the members with job placement, training, and even rehab for drugs and alcohol. The Peoples Temple also provided medical services for it's members. There is a reason that the Peoples Temple attracted white liberals and African Americans of all ages.

Most of all, the Peoples Temple welcomed all and gave a sense of purpose for living to those who sought meaning like Tim Carter and others. In the end on November 18, 1978, the last person was Annie Moore who wrote "we died because you wouldn't let us live." If only things had been different, I think that's what we have to learn from Jonestown and the Peoples Temple in it's self-destruction. Like Leigh, I'm haunted by what happened in Jonestown to this day.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski 29 Jan. 2013
By J. G. Hughes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If, like me, you grew up in the 70s - or have ever used the term 'drank the Kool-Aid' - you are aware of what happened at Jonestown in Guyana on November 17-18, 1978.

Congressman Leo J. Ryan (D-CA) was on a fact-finding tour, investigating claims that Peoples Temple members were being held against their will. When, on the 17th, several people asked him to help them escape, orders were given to stop the exodus.

On the afternoon of the 18th, as the congressman, his entourage, and several Peoples Temple members were boarding two planes, gunfire erupted at the airstrip. Ryan, three newsmen, and a defector were killed; several more were wounded, some severely.

By the end of the day, 914 people of all races, creeds, and ages lay dead. Some died voluntarily, by their own hand; some with a little ... assistance. And it wasn't only poison that took many of those lives.

But, that is not all there is to know.

More than a thousand people belonged to the Peoples Temple. On the day of the murder/suicide, some were in Georgetown on Temple business. Some had never left California. They are all survivors.

These are their stories.


The book starts with a brief history of Jonestown and of this project. It explains what is known of the time, of the origins of the Peoples Temple, and how Leigh Fondakowski came to be involved in 3-1/2 years of interviewing survivors.

A brief caveat: I received an uncorrected ebook for review. It is, therefore, entirely possible that the final, published product may vary from this version. With that said, this is an incredible book.

As I mentioned, I grew up around this story. I remember the news reports of the shooting at the airstrip. And watched with horror as the stories came in, complete with indescribable images.

We all bought into the 'mass suicide' and 'brainwashed cultists' labels prevalent in the media at the time. It was fascinating and educational, reading the stories of the people who were actually there. To learn why they joined Peoples Temple, what things were like in the beginning, and how life changed for many. If it did.

What struck me most, beyond the memories that it evoked, was the writing. There is an immediacy to the stories - from survivors, members' families, press, politicians, and community leaders - many of which have never been printed before. Time seems to travel backward, taking the reader along.

If you've never heard of Jonestown and the Peoples Temple, or you think you know what it was all about, I strongly recommend you read Stories from Jonestown. These are stories that needed to be told. And deserve to be shared.


About the Author
Leigh Fondakowski was the Head Writer of The Laramie Project and has been a member of Tectonic Theatre Project since 1995. She is an Emmy nominated co-screenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO, and a co-writer of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Her play, The People's Temple, has been performed under her direction at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Theater Company and The Guthrie Theater, and received the Glickman Award for Best New Play in the Bay Area in 2005. Another original play, I Think I Like Girls, premiered at Encore Theater in San Francisco under her direction and was voted one of the top 10 plays of 2002 by The Advocate. Leigh is a 2007 recipient of the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights and a 2009 Macdowell Colony Fellow. She is a visiting artist and an Imagine Fund fellow at the University of Minnesota, and has recently written a new play about 19th-century American actress Charlotte Cushman.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary electronic galley of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.com [...] professional readers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Highly Recommended - but not an easy book to read 30 Jan. 2013
By She Treads Softly - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" part of our lexicon it behooves us to go back and look at where that phrase originated. In Stories from Jonestown by Leigh Fondakowski we learn that it wasn't Kool-Aid, but was, in fact, poisoned Flavor-Aid that was used in the mass suicide/murder of over 900 followers of Jim Jones People's Temple agricultural project in Guyana on November 18, 1978. About half of those who died were children. Included in the 918 people who died were U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and three journalists who were accompanying Ryan on a fact-finding mission to Guyana.

Jim Jones group began as a Christian church in Indiana. He moved to San Francisco in the 1960s. While the group began as a integrated group who wanted to help the community, it soon changed into a much less altruistic socialist experiment. But this book is not about Jim Jones. It is about the survivors. Some of them still think the Peoples Temple was wonderful, others wonder at their blindness to the warning signs that there were problems and Jones was no longer the man or leader they thought they were following.

There are already numerous accounts written about Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple murder/suicide. In Stories from Jonestown, author Fondakowski focus is on interviewing the survivors. She points out that only they "can truly know what it means to survive a tragedy of this magnitude. These are the stories of the survivors. It is a privilege to tell them." Fondakowski, a playwright, spent over three years interviewing survivors, reviewing documents, and collecting letters trying to compose a complete picture of what happened while gathering material in order to write a play about their experiences. The book is a compilation of the many interviews and stories she collected.

Very Highly Recommended - but not an easy book to read

Since Stories from Jonestown is composed of interviews and materials gathered for Fondakowski's play, "The Peoples Temple," this book does not include extensive research or a complete chronological record into all the details of Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple. Readers who don't have previous knowledge of Jim Jones and what happened in 1978 might want to look into some other works that cover that information. This book is about the survivors, what they remember and how they are handling dealing with those memories. Recommended books by those who know include: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres; Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman; Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple by Rebecca Moore.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jonestown 15 Feb. 2013
By Mary E. Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Much has been written about Jonestown's final days in 1978. However, few have tracked down the survivors to find out how Jonestown affected their lives. Leigh has compiled numerous interviews on the subject, humanizing Jonestown's victims and survivors.

At times I found this book to be repetitive. It did not seem to be organized in any manner, other than relating Leigh's journey to interview these people. The stories were often similar, making it hard to remember the individual players. Instead of trying to include as many stories as possible, I wish the author had focused on showing divergent viewpoints. Overall, not a bad book, just one that could have used editing.
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