THE CHILDREN OF JONESTOWN by Kenneth Wooden

THE CHILDREN OF JONESTOWN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A blistering indictment, messily but powerfully written, of the judges, politicians, and bureaucrats whose indifference, says Wooden, sent 276 children to their death in Jonestown. Wooden is a correspondent for the Chicago Sun-Times and an expert on institutional child abuse. The core of his argument seems hard to refute: the Rev. Jim Jones used children under 16 as the building blocks of his empire by 1) having parents sign their offspring over to him, making them the legal wards of various People's Temple members and thereby garnering a fortune in government checks; 2) reducing the children to slaves (round the clock fund-raising in California, stoop labor in Guyana); and 3) blackmailing the parents to follow him to Jonestown and otherwise remain loyal to the end. In the course of this horrendous exploitation Jones repeatedly flouted state and federal law (e.g., by removing foster care children from the country), but only a handful of people blew the whistle on him, or tried to, and no one in power actually did anything until Leo Ryan began his fateful investigation. Why? Wooden explains it all by a combination of official gutlessness, wrongheaded liberalism (even the San Francisco branch of the ACLU wanted to stop a mild expose of Jones from appearing in New West magazine), and wirepulling by Jones' henchmen. There's a lot of truth in this, it may even be completely true. The problem is that Wooden says nothing useful about the psychology of either Jones (whom he treats as a homicidal maniac, pure and simple) or his key aides, such as his team of lawyers or the head executioner, Dr. Larry Schacht, or the adult fanatics who killed themselves at his bidding. These are painful and possibly inscrutable mysteries, but unless they're looked into how can we reform the system that played into Jones' hands? All books on Jonestown are painful to read, but this one strikes at the root of the whole agony with pointed and disturbing questions.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1980
Publisher: McGraw-Hill