I first posted this review on my Goodreads account over here.
This review is going to be necessarily short–a reflection of the amount of passion I felt for the book while reading it (and also a reflection of the fact that I finished it a month ago, and my memory is fading fast). So I apologize for the disjointedness of this review.
First, I knew nothing about Scientology going into this book besides it’s Tom Cruise’s thing. I’m pretty sure I may have been mixing it up or conflating it with Church of Christ Scientists, a group that I know even less about. I still feel like I don’t know a lot, but I know more than I did, and probably considerably more than the leaders of Scientology would like me to. This book’s original incarnation was as an article for Rolling Stone, and sometimes it shows, in its brevity over certain aspects, and skipping around in time (this could also be a reflection of gaps in the author’s research, Scientology being notoriously secretive). I could have done with a large-scale portrait of the Church’s structure much earlier than I actually got it, for example. And it’s not until the very end of the book that Reitman talks to Scientologists who are still part of the organization, rather than ex-Scientologists, providing (or attempting to provide) some balance to the narrative. So beware of bias. But that said: Reitman is a credible, established journalist; and Scientology is a notoriously lawsuit-happy organization. So I believe that what she says are facts. I had to keep reminding myself of this as I read the book, because some of the events she describes are disturbing, to say the least. The question of “What the hell is going on?!” keeps you reading–but unfortunately, what’s going on is so troublesome that you never feel like you have a good handle on it. You are uncomfortably aware, throughout the whole book, that however many sources Reitman had, she is now your one source on this organization, and I desperately want corroboration on some things. So I’ll be reading more.
Worth reading? Yes. Satisfying? Not so much, though I don’t think that’s Reitman’s fault.