Told by a former high-level member of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown survivor, Seductive Poison is the "truly unforgettable" (Kirkus Review) story of how one woman was seduced by one of the most notorious cults in recent memory and how she found her way back to sanity.
From Waco to Heaven's Gate, the past decade has seen its share of cult tragedies. But none has been quite so dramatic or compelling as the Jonestown massacre of 1978, in which the Reverend Jim Jones and 913 of his disciples perished. Deborah Layton had been a member of the Peoples Temple for seven years when she departed for Jonestown, Guyana, the promised land nestled deep in the South American jungle. When she arrived, however, Layton saw that something was seriously wrong. Jones constantly spoke of a revolutionary mass suicide, and Layton knew only too well that he had enough control over the minds of the Jonestown residents to carry it out. But her pleas for help–and her sworn affidavit to the U.S. government–fell on skeptical ears. In this very personal account, Layton opens up the shadowy world of cults and shows how anyone can fall under their spell. Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and a riveting story of intrigue, power, and murder.
User Ratings and Reviews
3 Stars Really?
I bought this book after watching the "Witness to Jonestown" documentary on MSNBC a few weeks ago. Layton was one of the featured former members, and I had high hopes for her book after seeing the high ratings it earned here. It didn't entirely disappoint — the section that dealt specifically with Layton's escape was excellent, really suspenseful and riveting. I found myself holding my breath through whole paragraphs.
Unfortunately, I had some real problems with this book — namely Layton herself, the beginning, and her distortion of reality over her brother. The first section of the book is all about Layton, her privileged childhood, her excellent eduction, and what a completely ungrateful brat she was. I disliked her from the start, and unfortunately this never changes. Some of her decisions are utterly horrifying, such as leaving her dying mother behind to die in agony, alone in the hell of Jonestwon. Also, while Layton is clearly an intelligent and educated person, she swallowed (or claims to have swallowed) laughable nonsense like "all men but Jim are homosexuals." WHAT? I found that hard to believe, but she insists that she was an innocent naif who knew nothing of the world (unlikely) and couldn't have known better. Also, she never objected to people being humiliated and beaten before she was living in Jonestown. It wasn't until her own life was miserable that she decided that those things might be a problem.
And then her "oh well, they didn't die" attitude towards her brother's victims (nice how she doesn't mention that he SHOT THEM IN THE BACK, huh?) stripped away the last bit of respect that I had for her. The final section of the book, which might have been better used for discussion on what she's learned from her ordeal, is spent trying to convince us that her brother is wrongly imprisoned. I personally have no problem with someone serving a long sentence for the attempted murder of two people, and was all the more irritated with this author for her questionable moral barometer.
4 Stars Insight into the mind of a follower.
I had always wondered how and why people were suckered into joining Jim Jones's cult, what life was like in Jonestown, and how in the world Deborah Layton escaped. This book gave me an insider's view, exactly what I was looking for.
Early in the book, I found the story unconvincing, perhaps fodder for a skit on Saturday Night Live. The idea that in one People's Temple meeting, she became a convert, I thought was possible. However, the moment of her conversion was unbelievable. Jim Jones tries to persuade her to join, so cheesy I wanted to gag. But then again, this is her story, and this is what convinced her to join. I must accept it as she explains it, the idea that anyone could become a victim becoming less of a reality. Some people are susceptible to such ruses — the na