I've had a long standing fascination with Scientology. I remember being approached when I was about 14 and asked if I wanted a "stress test" on the high street of my home town. In London I worked just around the corner from the Tottenham Court Road Church of Scientology and would regularly see their members leafleting in the local area. I can't say my impression of them is particularly favourable, and nothing I've read has ever suggested they are anything other than what they seem to be, a pyramid scheme designed to exploit their membership.
There are of course plenty of books on Scientology, however, the majority of them are survivors accounts, and are thus subject to the sort of biases you might well expect of people who have been stripped of their money and dignity by people they once respected. Janet Reitman's book is a true history of the organisation however, and a very important and honest one. Comprising of interviews both of current and former members it tries to tease out the details of the organisation.
The first half is a biography of L. Ron Hubbard. Clearly a deeply flawed and troubled individual, he spent much of his life lying to those around him and using his considerable charm to live beyond his means. Clearly highly intelligent and manipulative he was able to chart a strange life course through which intersected with the lives of the rich and the famous. After his first abortive run at creating a cult like entity through Dianetics he learned his lessons and went on to create the Church of Scientology.
The second half is a look at the modern institution and how it functions. It paints a picture of an organisation in rapid decline, which is at the same time finding new ways to make money. More a corporation than a faith (at least to its leadership), it has done well taking money from the faithful and investing it in property and other assets from which to make yet more money.
There is a touching poignancy to the book, since many of the people being interviewed clearly do have faith, and who are we to argue with that? Sadly their faith protects an organisation which has killed, either maliciously or due to the bizarre practices they maintain.
This book is an important history of events which need to be examined in greater detail. It goes where law enforcement and law makers are clearly too afraid to go and asks questions which often have difficult answers. I highly recommend it.