Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard.
At the book’s center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant L. Ron Hubbard–whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion tailor-made to prosper in the spiritually troubled post-World War II era. And his successor, David Miscavige–tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church in the face of ongoing scandals and continual legal assaults.
This book covers three kinds of crazy:
1. The crazy that is L. Ron Hubbard, his life, and the whys and hows of how he started Scientology
2. The crazy that is the current leadership of the church and their awful, horrific practices
3. The crazy that is Scientology’s harassment of people who leave the church or write anything remotely negative about it
I was worried the book would be a rehash of the New Yorker article but there is a lot more here, especially about the life of LRH. Defining a religion is hard, as the IRS will tell you, but Wright lays out why Scientology is more cult-y than other new religions like Mormonism.
I’m really glad that the New Yorker had such a role in this book because it’s famous fact checking team did an amazing job making it bulletproof. It leads to some repetitive footnotes (“The church categorically denies all charges of Miscavige’s abuse”, “Cruise, through his attorney, denies that he ever retreated from his commitment to Scientology”, “The church denies that blow drills exist”) and a raft-load of source notes but I hope they do their job of keeping Wright and his family safe from harassment.
All in all Going Clear is a gripping, informative read.