Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People
By Tim Reiterman
Why this book?
Raven is the best, most comprehensive, and most thoroughly researched book on Jim Jones, Jonestown, and Peoples Temple. Reiterman is a fine investigative journalist who was part of a group to visit Jonestown, Guyana in November of 1978. The visitors included, among others, eight members of the press; Congressman Leo Ryan and his aide Jackie Speier; and thirteen representatives of the “Concerned Relatives,” their own name for the group. Every member of the group had defected from the Temple in San Francisco. Only some of these visitors—Reiterman and a few of the other journalists, Ryan and Speier, and a small number of the group of relatives—were finally and reluctantly admitted in by Jones, on the stern advice of Jones’s lawyers. The Concerned Relatives were there to see if—as they strongly suspected—those in Jonestown were being held against their will. The journalists wanted to find the truth about life in the jungle community and Jim Jones. Ryan was the kind of politician who liked to find out the truth personally.
Reiterman, with others, toured the camp, and interviewed people in Jonestown, including Jones. As the visitors were on their way out, boarding the two small planes to carry them to Guyana’s capital, they were ambushed. Five people died in the shooting attack at the tiny airstrip outside of Jonestown, including Congressman Ryan, three of the journalists, and one of Jonestown residents who had joined the group of those wanting to leave.
Back in the US Jacobs and Reiterman carefully researched Jones’s past and interviewed survivors and others connected to the story. Raven is where Ron and I first learned that it was one of our San Francisco high school students, Monica Bagby, who with her friend Vern Gosney, sparked other Jonestowners to sign the list of those courageous enough to slip a note to a reporter, “Help us get out of Jonestown,” and signed their names. Raven is where we began to discover more about our students’ lives in the jungle compound. The book tells the stories of many in Jonestown, and traces the events that led up to the last chapter, titled, “Holocaust.”
Too many have dismissed the death of 918 people, one-half of them in their twenties or younger, 1/3 of them children, under 18, as mindless followers of a crazed leader. Raven is the best book to seek out if you want to understand the complicated story of Jim Jones, Jonestown, the Temple, and its people. There are extensive notes, a list of sources, and a comprehensive index.
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