Welcome. I knew I wasn’t the only one in the world completely obsessed with cults. Thanks for joining me today for a mind-boggling binge into the depths of psychological manipulation. Please be seated, would you like some punch?
Books I’ve Read or Am Reading Right This Second
Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a very poetic look into the mind of a woman desperately searching for something bigger than herself. We can all relate to the desire to find meaning, but at what point does that desire become self-deception?
“Following her conscientious-objector husband Lenny to the rural Eden of Evergreen Valley, California, Evelyn wants to be happy with their new life. Yet as the world is rocked by warfare and political assassinations, by racial discrimination and social upheaval, she finds herself disillusioned with Lenny’s passive ways — and anxious for a saviour.
“Enter the Reverend Jim Jones, the dynamic leader of a revolutionary church called Peoples Temple. As Evelyn grows closer to Jones, her marriage is just the first casualty of his rise to power.
“Meticulously researched, elegantly written, and utterly engrossing, Beautiful Revolutionary explores the allure of the real-life charismatic leader who would destroy so many. In masterful prose, Woollett painstakingly examines what happens when Evelyn is pulled into Jones’ orbit — an orbit it would prove impossible for her to leave. ” (Goodreads, 2019)
The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn is insanely in-depth. Don’t get overwhelmed by the details, pace yourself through this one. And if you want to journey with a friend, pop on Last Podcast On The Left. Their three-part Jonestown episodes follow closely to Guinn’s work and are, of course, horrifyingly hilarious.
“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’s life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand 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 nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred 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’s 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’s orders. The Road to Jonestown is the definitive book about Jim Jones and the events that led to the tragedy at Jonestown.” (Goodreads, 2017)
Girls by Emma Cline is one of my favorite novels of all time, thanks for asking. This book is proof of how much we fail women as a society. We’re told in movies, books and music that we’re nothing until a man notices us, so our lives are spent waiting to be noticed. But what if when we’re finally noticed, it’s by a manipulative narcissist? We cultivate pretty gardens of young, impressionable girls, easily susceptible to the Mansons of the world. I wrote a fawning review for this book on HYR a few years back, check it out here.
“Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.” (Goodreads, 2016)
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright is such a remarkable read. If you’ve seen the documentary, don’t sleep on the book, it’s just more of what you loved. Scientology is my favorite cult to date because it just carries on in spite of its obvious cult-status. We’re watching in real time how this thing implodes and I just can’t look away.
“A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the now-classic study of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, the Looming Tower. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard” (Goodreads, 2013).
Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark is a great reminder that you’re in a cult, call your dad. Though this isn’t a book about cults in the classic sense, Karen and Georgia from the super popular My Favorite Murder podcast are big into discussing cults. I love them and binged this whole thing on Audible in a matter of days. You can read my full review of this book here. SSDGM!
“Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.
In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.” (Goodreads, 2019)
Books I Want To Read ASAP Please Let Me Borrow Them Thanks
Breaking Free by Rachel Jeffs. “In this searing memoir of survival in the spirit of Stolen Innocence, the daughter of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed Prophet of the FLDS Church, takes you deep inside the secretive polygamist Mormon fundamentalist cult run by her family and how she escaped it.
“Born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Rachel Jeffs was raised in a strict patriarchal culture defined by subordinate sister wives and men they must obey. No one in this radical splinter sect of the Mormon Church was more powerful or terrifying than its leader Warren Jeffs—Rachel’s father.
“Living outside mainstream Mormonism and federal law, Jeffs arranged marriages between under-age girls and middle-aged and elderly members of his congregation. In 2006, he gained international notoriety when the FBI placed him on its Ten Most Wanted List. Though he is serving a life sentence for child sexual assault, Jeffs’ iron grip on the church remains firm, and his edicts to his followers increasingly restrictive and bizarre.” (Goodreads, 2017)
A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story by David Thibodeau. “For the first time ever, a survivor of the Waco massacre tells the inside story of Branch Davidians, David Koresh, and what really happened at the religious compound in Texas.
“When he first met the man who called himself David Koresh, David Thibodeau was drumming for a rock band that was going nowhere fast. Intrigued and frustrated with a stalled music career, Thibodeau gradually became a follower and moved to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He remained there until April 19, 1993, when the compound was stormed and burnt to the ground after a 51-day standoff.
“In this book, Thibodeau explores why so many people came to believe that Koresh was divinely inspired. We meet the men, women, and children of Mt. Carmel. We get inside the day-to-day life of the community. Thibodeau is brutally honest about himself, Koresh, and the other members, and the result is a revelatory look at life inside a cult.” (Goodreads, 2015)
Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult. “In 2011, Catherine joined her daughter, India, at a leadership seminar for a new organization called NXIVM. Her twenty-year-old daughter was on the threshold of building a new company and they both thought this program might help her achieve her dream. But quickly, Catherine saw a sinister side to what appeared to be a self-help organization designed to help its clients become the best versions of themselves.
“Catherine watched in horror as her daughter fell further and further down the rabbit hole, becoming brainwashed by the organization’s charismatic leader. Despite Catherine’s best efforts, India was drawn deeper into the cult, eventually joining a secret, elite “sorority” of women members who are ordered to maintain a restricted diet, recruit other women as “slaves,” and are branded with their leader’s initials.
“In Captive, Catherine shares every parent’s worst nightmare, and the lengths that a mother will go to save her child. Featuring interviews with past members of NXIVM and experts in the field of cults, Oxenberg attempts to draw back the curtain on how these groups continue to lure in members. She relates her continuing journey to try to reach her daughter, to save her from what she believes is a dangerous, mind-controlling cult.” (Goodreads, 2016)
Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties. “In this poignant and disturbing memoir of lost innocence, coercion, survival, and healing, Dianne Lake chronicles her years with Charles Manson, revealing for the first time how she became the youngest member of his Family and offering new insights into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminals and life as one of his “girls”
“At age fourteen Dianne Lake—with little more than a note in her pocket from her hippie parents granting her permission to leave them—became one of “Charlie’s girls,” a devoted acolyte of cult leader Charles Manson. Over the course of two years, the impressionable teenager endured manipulation, psychological control, and physical abuse as the harsh realities and looming darkness of Charles Manson’s true nature revealed itself. From Spahn ranch and the group acid trips, to the Beatles’ White Album and Manson’s dangerous messiah-complex, Dianne tells the riveting story of the group’s descent into madness as she lived it.” (Goodreads, 2017)
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. “It was a clear spring day, Monday, March 20, 1995, when five members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo conducted chemical warfare on the Tokyo subway system using sarin, a poison gas twenty-six times as deadly as cyanide. The unthinkable had happened, a major urban transit system had become the target of a terrorist attack.
“In an attempt to discover why, Haruki Murakami, internationally acclaimed author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and arguably Japan’s most important contemporary novelist, talked to the people who lived through the catastrophe—from a Subway Authority employee with survivor guilt, to a fashion salesman with more venom for the media than for the perpetrators, to a young cult member who vehemently condemns the attack though he has not quit Aum. Through these and many other voices, Murakami exposes intriguing aspects of the Japanese psyche. And as he discerns the fundamental issues leading to the attack, we achieve a clear vision of an event that could occur anytime, anywhere. Hauntingly compelling and inescapably important, Underground is a powerful work of journalistic literature from one of the world’s most perceptive writers.” (Goodreads, 2003)
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst. “On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a senior in college and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The already sensational story took the first of many incredible twists on April 3, when the group released a tape of Patty saying she had joined the SLA and had adopted the nom de guerre “Tania.”
“The weird turns of the tale are truly astonishing — the Hearst family trying to secure Patty’s release by feeding all the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free; the photographs capturing “Tania” wielding a machine gun during a bank robbery; a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey; the largest police shoot-out in American history; the first breaking news event to be broadcast live on television stations across the country; Patty’s year on the lam, running from authorities; and her circuslike trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the phrase “Stockholm syndrome” entered the lexicon. American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst.” (Goodreads, 2016)
Further Offerings to the Media Gods
- You Must Remember This Podcast is breathtaking, but particularly Karina’s episodes about the Manson murders are on point.
- The Gateway Are you invited to the internet cult?
- Cults A fresh cult every episode, you can’t go wrong.
- Heaven’s Gate An in-depth look into the UFO cult.
- Uncover: Escaping NXIM This series was so, so good.
Movies & More
- Have you seen the Nicholas Cage movie Mandy? Because I have, and I regret every second of it. You should too.
- Martha Marcy May Marlene stars a very capable Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman struggling after escaping a cult.
- OH MY GOD The Invitation was so good, please go watch it on Netflix right now. It’s a gory horror flick, but with the best suicide cult flavor.
- 13 Best Cult Documentaries to Watch Right Now
- Bustle thinks that if you exhibit these personality traits, you’re more likely to join a cult.
- The Internet is a horrible place—you can make a cult or just read this dude’s journey on how he started one, joined it, and is now deprogramming.
Thanks for sharing in my cult fascination. Make sure to comment below with any more offerings for our fellow members.