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What to Read after Bingeing Wild Wild Country

by  | June 22

I am obsessed with cults. Reading about them, watching programs about them, and talking about them. The only thing you won’t catch me doing when it comes to cults is joining one.  No, thank you! (I’m not a joiner and I don’t want people telling me what to do.)

When I heard about Netflix’s new documentary series Wild Wild Country, an exposé about the lndian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (AKA Osho),  I was so excited that I started shaking. And Wild Wild Country did not disappoint. It covers all of the essential topics for cult exposés and more—a charismatic figure, orgies, bio-terrorism, assassination plots, and followers that donated all of their money so the Bhagwan could travel in style. He had a fleet of gold Rolls-Royces!

After I finished my binge, I started to wonder where my fascination with cults came from and which books fueled my passion.

The Road to Jonestown

The Road to Jonestown

by Jeff Guinn

l think it all started when I was around four years old. I remember watching TV with my grandmother and seeing footage of what seemed like hundreds of people lying on the ground. I asked my grandma what had happened and she said that Jim Jones got all of his followers at Jonestown in Guyana to drink some Kool-Aid with poison in it. This was the 70s and people didn’t shelter their children from the news like they do today. You watched what your parents watched, and if they happened to be watching the aftermath of a mass suicide, you were along for the ride.

After the news segment ended, I had so many questions for my granny!

Who was Jim Jones? Where was Guyana? How do you get a town named after you? Why would someone drink something they knew was poisonous just because someone told them to? Why didn’t they just run away?

Read The Road to Jonestown and you will also have all the answers to these burning questions, and you won’t have to bug your very patient grandma like I did.

Not-so-fun fact: “Drinking the Kool-Aid” became an expression after the suicides, but the Jonestown followers didn’t actually drink Kool-Aid. They drank Flavor Aid mixed with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan.

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Manson

Manson

by Jeff Guinn

I feel like Jeff Guinn and I would be good friends. Anyone who has written a book about Jim Jones and Charles Manson would be a welcome dinner guest at my house. Jeff, if you’re reading this…you have a standing invitation to my place in Brooklyn.

Most people know the Charles Manson story: his harem of young women who followed his every word, the fact that he ordered his followers (called the Family) to commit brutal murders, including Hollywood actress Sharon Tate. The Family thought Manson was God and these murders would bring about a race war called Helter Skelter. Crazy, right?

One of the things I’ve always wanted to know about cult leaders like Manson is what their home lives were like to make them turn out the way they did. What were their childhoods like? Did they just come out of the womb running things and exuding charisma that convinces vulnerable people to do their evil bidding?

Manson not only covers the murders, but also delves into his roots. Guinn features interviews from Manson’s biological family members who have never been interviewed before, like Manson’s sister and cousin. He also meets with childhood friends, cellmates, and former members of the Manson Family.

Not-so-fun fact: Jim Jones and Charles Manson both lived in Indiana, and so did I! Does this mean I have the potential to be a cult leader?

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Captive

Captive

by Catherine Oxenberg

Often people join cults because their parents are in them and they have no choice but to join the community. When I was growing up my mother dragged me to a lot of spiritual/New Age-esque workshops. We had our auras read, we ate vegetarian meals at the local Hare Krishna temple, and we spent a lot of weekends at retreats where my mom participated in purification ceremonies at sweat lodges. My mom never really stuck with any of these groups, because “Good luck!” to the person who tries to get my mother to give up all of her hard-earned dollars to someone, no matter how charming.

Having been my mother’s sidekick on her spiritual quests, I could really relate to this new title from actress Catherine Oxenberg, Captive. Oxenberg also took her daughter India to a seminar run by a multi-level marketing company called NXIVM. The seminar was advertised as a course to help with professional development, but it was actually a front for a secret cult. The leader of NXIVM, Keith Raniere, had multiple relationships with women whom he kept on starvation diets, branded with his initials, and actually called his slaves. Once Oxenberg found out the truth about NXIVM, it was too late for her daughter. She was already brainwashed by Raniere. Captive is all about Oxenberg’s struggle to free her daughter from the cult’s clutches. I cannot wait to read this book when it comes out in August, and I will probably get my mom a copy, too!

Fun fact: Catherine Oxenberg was on Dynasty, and my mother and I watched a lot of Dynasty when I was growing up.

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