Janet Reitman’s new book about Scientology has been garnering strong reviews. Tony Ortega at the Village Voice was the first to write of its virtues:
Reitman’s book delivers all it promises, and it promises a lot.
“It has been my goal to write the first objective modern history of the Church of Scientology,” Reitman proclaims in her introduction. “It is the goal of Inside Scientology to translate [L. Ron Hubbard’s arcane] language and separate myth from fact.”
That’s a big project. And by the end of its 369 pages, you should be convinced that Reitman has not only made good on her goals, but has put together the most masterfully written, narratively rewarding, and thorough yarn about L. Ron Hubbard, David Miscavige, and Scientology and its strange past, present, and possible future.
Having said that, this longtime Scientology-watcher must admit to some early misgivings with Ms. Reitman’s hefty book. Just a few pages after promising to deliver so much, on page 3 of the advance copy Reitman got the year of L. Ron Hubbard’s death wrong. (I was promised a final copy of the book, and chances are this error will be fixed.) And in the ensuing pages of Hubbard’s early history, there were several glaring omissions that had me worried about her approach. How, I wondered, do you mention Hubbard’s college career without pointing out that the self-proclaimed “nuclear physicist” had failed the only class in nuclear physics that he attempted? How also do you spend several pages recounting the infamous occult collaboration between Hubbard and Cal Tech rocket scientist Jack Parsons and leave out the best part, their kinky attempt to create a “moonchild?”
Gradually, however, it became clear that what Reitman had chosen to put in her book was building to the best overall narrative about Hubbard and his creation since such early pioneers as Russell Miller (Barefaced Messiah) and, in particular, Jon Atack’s masterful account of the church’s early years, A Piece of Blue Sky. Both books, especially Atack’s, are not easy to find. Reitman’s will be in bookstores all over the country.
That should present a serious problem for Scientology’s current dictator, David Miscavige. He does not come off well in this book at all.
If Hubbard’s final years turned him into a pathetic, secretive, paranoid germophobe who resembled an end-stage Howard Hughes, the science fiction writer was at least worldly enough to know how to bend his own rules rather than alienate loyal followers. Miscavige, on the other hand, comes off as a case of arrested development who is so dictatorial and unwavering, he’s scared off legions of followers in what Reitman calls a “mass exodus.”
Along the way, Reitman revisits many of the familiar milestones of Scientology’s history, but has done such a good job with original research and interviewing eyewitnesses from every era of the organization’s development that she can weave a page-turning narrative no matter how arcane the material.
Using the personal stories of recent defectors such as Jeff Hawkins, Marc Headley and his wife Claire — all familiar to Voice readers — and many others, older periods of the church’s evolution are made new and exciting. Hawkins, for example. provides the personal touch that helps explain how Hubbard moved the central hub of his creation from a large manor in England to a ship that plied the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and finally ended up taking over a town in Florida.
For me, the book really kicked into high gear with Reitman’s thorough and gripping tale about how David Miscavige emerged as a gung-ho young member of the Sea Org and then engineered his way to the highest levels of the church, ultimately toppling Pat Broeker as Hubbard’s assumed successor after Hubbard’s death in 1986. I’ve never seen this history told so well and with such authority.
Read Tony’s full review and his followup interview with Janet Reitman. He’s also been posting almost daily stories on Scientology at his Running Scared blog. Tons of great info I haven’t had a chance to mention yet here on XENU TV. Check out all his full coverage.
Now Kim Christensen praises the book for the Tribune Newspapers:
That Scientology has endured for six decades, attracting generations of devotees despite a legacy of secrecy and widespread allegations of intimidation and abuse of its own members, is in itself remarkable. Then again, as Janet Reitman demonstrates in “Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion,” the church has always found a way, through a “combination of flexibility and mystery” to morph with the times: In its early days in Los Angeles, it reached out to free spirits and hippies, later to celebrities and, more recently, to African Americans and legislators.
Reitman’s book, which grew out of an article the Rolling Stone contributing editor wrote in 2006, is a well-researched and compelling read, especially for those who start with little knowledge about Scientology, Hubbard or his successor, David Miscavige. While it lacks blockbuster revelations, it mostly delivers on Reitman’s promise of an “objective modern history” of the church.
Intertwined with the church’s history is that of Miscavige, who spent his teenage years as one of Hubbard’s cadre of young aides. He was 25 when he assumed control in 1986, when “LRH” died as a paranoid recluse on a ranch in Creston, Calif., under investigation by the IRS. Miscavige went on to be instrumental in ending “the war” with the IRS and securing the tax-exempt status that deemed Scientology a church.
Sometimes called “the pope of Scientology,” Miscavige in the book lives up to previous reports depicting him as a small but intimidating leader, an occasionally unhinged little tyrant alleged to have frequently whomped his top execs. He is said to live much higher on the hog than anyone else, including the elite “Sea Org” members posted to Scientology’s international headquarters near Hemet. Even his beagles, Jelly and Safi, who wore “tiny blue sweaters with commander’s bars,” fare better than people who have signed billion-year contracts with the church: “Miscavige was known to make his staffers salute the dogs, who held ranks higher than those of many people on the base.”