Mark Lane, an attorney who briefly represented Peoples Temple during its final months and who was in Jonestown on the final day, has re-released his autobiographical account of his role in the tragedy. The new version of his 1980 book, The Strongest Poison, is functionally identical to the original, and does not include anything new, such as an updated introduction, an afterward, or any insights he may have gained in the intervening 34 years.
The differences between the two editions are superficial, literally on the covers. The original day-glow fluorescent coloring has been replaced with a photograph of a Brazilian mountain range – at least he got the continent right – and a subtitle has been added: “How I survived the Jonestown Guyana Massacre.” The back cover of the original version featured a copy of a Justice Department letter to The New York Times, denying the agency’s involvement in a news story about Lane. This has been replaced with a short slug reading “Almost 1,000 Americans Died in Jonestown, Guyana. I was there. I was allowed to escape so that I could tell the truth about the massacre. I was spared so that I could write this book.” Also, the ‘about the author’ blurb has been updated to include a few of Lane’s post-Jonestown activities.
What is conspicuously missing from this new version is any type of proofreading. The most glaring error is a footnote in the introduction that references the DOJ letter: “This letter is published in full on the back of the jacket of this book.” That may make sense for the original edition, but recall that said letter has been expunged from the back cover. The new version has formatting errors galore and is rife with typos – none of which occur in the original edition. Commas become periods, “$15,000” becomes “$1$,000”, hyphenated words suddenly blend together, etc. Such errors are the hallmark of a software process known as Optical Character Recognition. Publishers use OCR to scan physically-printed text into an electronic format, but unfortunately the software is notorious for mistaking commas for periods, the number “1” for the letter “l”, etc. Since The Strongest Poison’s publisher has changed from Morrow to The Lane Group, LLC, it would seem a safe speculation that the book’s original copyright was about to expire so Lane formed his own publishing group, ran a quick OCR on a copy, and churned this out just to keep it in print.
That said, versions of the original book are still available for as low as one cent. If you don’t want to be bothered with the massive amounts of formatting faux pas and typographic glitches, you can pick up a copy of the original and pay more for shipping than the original text.
(Matthew Thomas Farrell is a regular contributor to this website. His other article in this edition of the jtr bulletin is The Sacrament: Art Imitates Life, Part 665. His earlier writings for this site are collected here. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)