Thousand Lives Author Reflects on the Year Since Publication

It’s been a year since my book, A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown, was published by Free Press.

It was widely reviewed in the media and named a “Best Book” of 2011 by several newspapers. But the best feedback I’ve received are the emails from former Temple members or their loved ones thanking me for the humane portrayal of the people who perished in Jonestown. That is exactly what I set out to do – engage readers with the everyday people who ended up in Jonestown on a personal level.

Strangely, I miss working on the book. I miss the people I got to know while writing the book, either through hours of interviews, or by tracking them through Jonestown. At one point, I prided myself on knowing many residents’ names just by seeing their photographs. My compassion for them will always remain.

The last chapters were the hardest to write. I figured that if I could delay the ending, the Jonestown residents wouldn’t die. If only it were fiction.

The project is still enmeshed in my life: photographs of Temple members are mixed with my family pictures in iPhoto; the Temple album, He’s Able, is in my iTunes; and a map of Guyana is pinned to my office wall. I read Yeats for the first time, thanks to poetry-lover Edith Roller. And after repeatedly reading about Edith swapping chicken breasts for thighs at dinnertime, decided to try some myself. Edith was right – the dark meat is tastier.

I look forward to new developments and revelations in the Peoples Temple ever-evolving story, and thank everyone who helped me along the way.