OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HELL: The Life and Death of Jim Jones by

OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HELL: The Life and Death of Jim Jones

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Catchy title, but forget the rest: this is just another sprawling, undisciplined account of Jonestown and All That, more informative than some, more chaotic and, in places, gratuitously nasty, than most. Reston starts with an abortive trip he made in Guyana to find an Amerindian who had supposedly taught jungle survival skills to the son of a Jonestown survivor. From there he wanders, as the whim takes him, to the trial of the People's temple executioner, Larry Layton (1979), to Jones' bogus faith-healings in Sacred Heart Church, Georgetown (1975), to the tragedy of Louis Gurvich, whose daughter fled to Jonestown (1977) and died there, to the furor over John Victor Stoen, a child whom Jones claimed to have fathered and whom he unquestionably kidnapped and took to his suicidal kingdom. And on and on. In the course of his scattershot narrative Reston does deliver some new mater/al, e.g., in transcripts from tapes of Jones' spacey, ranting sermons. He gives interesting details on Jones' medical condition, suggesting that by the White Night he was only weeks away from death, owing to drug abuse and a rare lung disease. And Reston has talked to a few survivors whom earlier reporters missed. But he also throws some very low blows. He argues that the Jonestown dead were not victims, but Jones' co-criminals, who should have known--and behaved--better. He caricatures Leo Ryan as a headline-hunting egoist, noting that ""the prevailing sentiment in the congressional cloakroom was that Ryan got exactly what he deserved."" Future biographers of Jones may wish to refer to Reston, but readers needn't bother.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
Publisher: Times Books