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on 7 January 2013
Utterly compelling. Our own John Sweeney is practically revered in the United States for the investigations he has undertaken to expose the terrifying cult of Scientology which, because of America's enshrined sense of religious freedom, has been allowed to enter the mainstream with barely a whimper of protest. It's thanks to the courage of investigative reporters like Sweeney, Paulette Cooper, Tony Ortega, and others, and recent high profile articles in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair magazines that the abuses of the 'church' are now so widely recognised. This is one truly scary (and powerful, and wealthy beyond imagining) cult, made famous by its policy of love-bombing (with a view to ensnaring) celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, to name but a few.

In this book, Sweeney discusses the making of his original CoS documentary where he famously exploded in rage on-screen in response to intense psychological warfare from a church determined to crush his investigation and, subsequently, have him fired from the BBC. It's a testament to Sweeney that he refused to back down, despite admitting to being more afraid at that time than he had ever been when reporting from war zones around the globe, and the groundbreaking Panorama documentary, 'Scientology and Me' (and the follow-up, 'The Secrets of Scientology'), was the result.

Seriously fascinating stuff. Highly recommended to fans of secretive cult exposés, cracking investigative journalism, and free speech.
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on 24 April 2014
This book is a strange beast - the subject is fascinating but the writing is terrible. Although Sweeney may be a very good investigative journalist, and perhaps his other books are better, in Church of Fear he is incredibly repetitive. If I hear the phrases 'space alien satan' or 'exploding tomato' again I shall punch whoever utters them. All this is not helped by the typos that litter the Kindle edition, I felt as though I was reading a rough draft rather than a published book. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book but it certainly has weak points.
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on 7 January 2013
(Let me get one thing out of the way: I am not a neutral party, I'm part of the group that protested in England and I was in the background of the video taken from inside the Tottenham Court Rd shop for Mike Rinder's denial of David Miscavige being violent; my title refers to criminal convictions against the organisation itself, in France and in Canada.)

The main reason I recommend that people buy and read this book is to find out what it was like for John Sweeney to investigate this organisation. The information about previous lawsuits, about previous criminal behaviour and about behaviour which is presently the subject only of allegations (like David Miscavige's violence and his failing mental health) is present and correct, but it is not the new story. The story is the extents the scientology organisation would go to in order to stop John Sweeney from making a documentary at all. When John Sweeney cracked under pressure and lost his temper, the original documentary became about that event. This book is about the background for that event.

The BBC did know that the organisation would go far to stop any investigations, and they had indeed decided to see how bad the harassment would get. What makes this book interesting is that not only the private communications between the harassers and the person conveying the orders but also one of the main harassers who turned against the cult leader were available to John Sweeney for this book. An unintended side effect of this information from two sides is that harasser Tommy Davis appears to be almost a sympathetic character (do not, however, hesitate to seek out the audio recording of Tommy Davis boasting of how disconnection keeps victims in the cult, as he is threatening a doubting victim - search for: Tommy Davis recording disconnection).

Sweeney does make a serious effort to present evidence for and against the main thesis: that the scientology organisation is a brainwashing cult. "Brainwashing" is a foul word, but the usage is from the 1950s which fits the scientology organisation perfectly (read Hugh Urban The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion about how scientology never moved on from the 1950s). Sweeney repeatedly measures the information he gets presented from ex-members and from the organisation itself against the criteria for "brainwashing" and "cult." No conclusion is forced on the reader.

John Sweeney addresses many recent and serous allegations made against the organisation, and this in spite of the agenda being firmly about his behaviour. The organisation harassers appeared to be addressing only extremely narrow subjects :- Sweeney's repeated questions about "brainwashing" and "Xenu," and how Sweeney was a "bigot." There was a time where this tactic worked (Tommy Davis once brought a TV interview to a close over the questions about "Xenu") but as this books shows, by extensively quoting the allegations from Marc and Claire Headley, Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun, Debbie Cook and from others, the days of controlling the agenda of journalists by shouting at them are over. Even this book, which is to all purposes about a journalist shouting back at them, gains immeasurably from describing why the organisation is interesting (hint: it's not because of "Xenu").

Journalistic integrity and objectivity, while not really mission critical is respected in a thoroughly droll fashion. The press releases and various responses made by the organisation are quoted extensively. The style and content of the denials are completely over the top; the effect is such a degree of loss of credibility that there is a danger that one puts down this book and is ready to believe anything that the organisation denies. As for what the organisation itself says about its harassers and about itself (such as UK spokesperson Graham "Graeme" Wilson) it is best left to the high court apology read to Bonnie Woods where the organisation recognised inventing lies in order to harass a critic.

Read this book to find out what are the topics that makes this organisation so fearful that they will spare no expense in order to harass reporters and what form this harassment took in one particular case.
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on 27 April 2014
This really is a superb piece of journalism, detailing as it does the dark and disturbing world of former and existing members of quite possibly the world's most controversial religion. How do you define religion, and is the Church of Scientology justified in calling itself that - what about their critics who state it is really more of a cult and what exactly is a cult, how are such things defined and where do you draw the line - all these things and more are discussed in this deeply disturbing piece of writing.

John Sweeney is best known for his Panorama documentary which is loosely based around this book - this should perhaps be written the other way around, for this book was written as a companion to those who watched that programme and saw his infamous "tomato" episode, where the echelons of the "Church" deliberately goaded him into losing his rag. Their covert surveillance of John's team and everything that they do is by far the most sinister and the almost Godlike persona that the Church leader has leave me in doubt as what side of the fence I sit on when deciding whether this is a cult or not. If you though really want to know, you will have to read this book for yourself.

It is somewhat difficult for me to rate this book, because on the one hand, it is difficult read, but on the other it Is most definitely one of the best written from a journalistic viewpoint that I have read in a long while. Because it does tend to waffle in places, I would probably give it 4.
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on 23 December 2013
This is really for those that watched and enjoyed the expose by Sweeney and Panorama a few years ago of the Church Of Scientology, in order to fully appreciate it.

It will have you shaking your head in disbelief that such an institution can freely exist in a modern society, and how so many people can be suckered into believing in its teachings when they are so obviously based on such abject fantasy.

Well worth the cover price being charged, and tenaciously written by the patient and amazingly reserved and not at all inexcusably exploding tomato he portrays himself as- John Sweeney.

A fine informative accompaniment to the programme.
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on 25 April 2014
For anybody who saw John Sweeney's Panorama meltdown whilst filming their Scientology investigation, this should be required reading. The build up to that incident, plus the post incident fallout, is all covered here along with a wealth of background information about this cult/religion (make your own decision once you've read the book). The primary feeling I have after finishing the book is admiration, not just for Sweeney but also for the Scientology 'defectors' he interviewed. The levels of intimidation and harassment they appear to have been subjected to by the 'church' really is disturbing.

The only reason this has a 4/5 review is that it doesn't appear to have been thoroughly proof read. There are quite a few spelling and grammatical errors that take the shine off an otherwise excellent book.
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on 15 January 2013
John Sweeney is a superb journalist, who combines passion for the truth with humour, an eye for nuance, and zeal for getting the story.
This book expands upon his excellent work on two editions of the BBC's 'Panorama', the first of which in 2007 led to his infamous shouting episode.
The book takes us behind the scenes, and fleshes out the background to his time spent investigating the church. It's scary, funny, thrilling and very necessary.
Sweeney is a rare beast: as good a broadcaster as he is a writer. His unfussy, self-deprecating style is a joy. His work is important. Do buy and read this.
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on 19 April 2014
As another reviewer mentioned, this is more or less an account of the author's experiences whilst gathering information and guestioning allegations made about Scientology by others, which would later be aired on tv. John Sweeney's style of writing took a while to get used to- I think he must write as he speaks- but I often chuckled at his sense of humour. As for the whole Scientology thing, well, what can you say? L. Ron Hubbard was clearly a crack-pot and con-man who fed on the vulnerabilities of others and bled them dry, both emotionally and financially. I feel disgusted that so many people spend possibly their whole lives like flies in a web, completely unable to escape and, if anything, it seems even more crazy since Hubbard's death. Unfortunately, having said this, it may now mean I am constantly followed and spied on by men in black suits! I hope this is not the case. I will let you know! (Good book. Four stars because of the writing style).
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on 19 April 2014
I found this book fascinating but decided to give it 5 stars because of the bravery it took to write it. I salute Mr Sweeney for his tenacity
to keep going under extreme provocation to expose this organisation.
This should be compulsory reading for all MPs and questions need to be asked in the House on why they can operate in this fashion in the UK.
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When John Sweeney's Panorama documentary about Scientology aired a few years ago I watched it and found it fascinating whilst being profoundly disturbing at the same time. I was keen to find out more, and when this book was recently discounted on Kindle I bought a copy.

For the most part, this book is the story of the documentary. It isn't a history of Scientology, but instead it covers the material in the Panorama show and more besides, plus it reveals more about what went on behind the scenes. Of course, there is no guarantee that the evidence presented in this book is completely true, but I found it fascinating nonetheless, and as with the TV programme it was often extremely disturbing. There are passages here which made my flesh crawl, and it often feels claustrophobic as Sweeney is almost driven crazy by the attention of his observers from the church and their attempts to break him.
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