30 Books in 30 Days, Vol. 3
I liked this but it didn’t really deliver what it promised. We do see “inside the world’s most notorious groups” (there were quite a lot of non-American cults in here, which was a pleasant surprise), but I think it is disingenuous of the subtitle to imply that this book tries to understand why people joined these cults, at least in any way beyond the most shallow and obvious (vulnerable people are catnip to cult leaders, who seek them out). This book is a lot less nuanced than that, reading more like a series of unconnected histories of each cult than any unified exploration of humanity’s relationships to cults.
Each cult is explored in long chapters with almost zero comparative analysis between them, and there are about ten of them (I didn’t count). My ability to pay attention to the various chapters varied wildly. I think there must be something going on with the style here, though I can’t pinpoint exactly what, that meant the less familiar I was with whatever group a chapter was about, the less it was able to hold my attention. No surprise, the two that are sticking with me most vividly are the ones about Charles Manson (which opens up the book) and Keith Raniere. Each chapter follows a pattern: Learn about the cult leader from childhood and then follow as they form the cult, and then eventually lead the cult to grisly ends. We actually get more about the psychology of the leaders than we do the followers, so the title really is misleading.
I listened to the audio version, which was well done. Each cult gets a separate narrator and they all did good jobs.