Thoroughly engrossing page-turner on the shape-shifting Church of Scientology and its despotic, possibly criminal hierarchy.
Rolling Stone contributing editor Reitman based this debut on an award-winning article she wrote for that magazine in 2006 amid a flurry of media interest in the normally press-averse organization as it launched an antic publicity campaign featuring the world’s most famous Scientologist, Tom Cruise. For most of its 50-plus-year history, Scientology not only avoided attention; it viciously attacked anyone who dared come after it with every means, legal and otherwise, at its disposal. Some say it has even managed to get away with murder (or manslaughter), indentured servitude of minors, brainwashing and the stalking of apostates. So how did such a notoriously thin-skinned and anti-social belief system acquire any believers at all? Reitman delves into the pop-psychology, positive-thinking origins of the cult in the early ’50s in the mind of science-fiction hack, truth-bender and would-be commodore of the planet L. Ron Hubbard. A complex, Ponzi-like structure of franchises and a catechism called the Bridge to Total Freedom requiring steep payment from pilgrims at every point along the way resulted in rapid financial growth. As the cult grew in size, its founder took to the sea, creating a society resembling a sci-fi dystopia, designed both to exalt himself and evade tax laws on the land. After Hubbard died an isolated and paranoid hermit, a young man named David Miscavige muscled his way to the top with the blunt aplomb of a Stalinist apparatchik, punctuating his ascendancy with consequent purges of perceived rivals. Reitman somehow manages to maintain an objective stance throughout the book. One of her sources is a charmingly (and surprisingly) independent-minded young second-generation Scientologist named Natalie, whom the author posits as representing an alternative, more recognizably human future of the church—if the top dogs don’t first succeed in blowing it all to bits.
A bizarre and complicated history told with masterful control.