Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman is the obsessively detailed biography of the mad religious zealot who went down in infamy when he brainwashed nearly 1,000 followers into drinking poisoned Kool Aid.
The book is somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 pages. That didn’t scare me away, but as a casual reader, it was just too detailed for me. I made it about 150 pages in when I became so bored it was painful to read the book. So I admit: I skipped to the juicy bits at the end. Let’s be honest, the casual reader really only wants to know about how and why one man could convince 1,000 people to kill themselves.
Jim Jones was raised in small-town America, and was odd from an early age. He did not get along well with children his age, and he was obsessed with religion. He was especially drawn to the more Evangelical churches, and it wasn’t long before he was hosting his own revival meetings. Jones, like all cult leaders, was enigmatic and swift with his words. Intriguingly, Jones was not one hundred percent evil. In a time when racial prejudices were rampant and segregation commonplace, Jones had a true belief in the equality of men. He and his wife were the first white couple in America to legally adopt a black child. They also adopted three Korean children, a Native American child, and had one biological son.
The infamous Jonestown compound was created as a peaceful, utopian communist society. But Jones was an idealist, a megalomaniac, a drug addict, and severely paranoid. When plans for a mass exodus of the Temple to Russia fell through, Jones became convinced that intelligence organizations would raid their compound, killing members and stealing babies. He urged his followers to commit an “act of revolutionary suicide” by drinking Flavor Aid (not Kool Aid) laced with cyanide and sedatives.