Reviews for Going Clear : Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief


Booklist Reviews 2013 February #2
*Starred Review* Immersed in this book, the reader is drawn along by tantalizing revelations while simultaneously exhausted, longing for escape from its cloistered world--mirroring the accounts of many former Scientologists on the record, here. In efficient, unemotional prose, Wright begins with the biography of founder L. Ron Hubbard: his days as a prodigiously prolific writer of pulp fiction, his odd military career, the publication of his breakthrough self-help book Dianetics (1950), and the influence, riches, and controversy that have followed since he founded the Church of Scientology in 1954. For those aware of Scientology through its celebrity adherents (Tom Cruise and John Travolta are the best known) rather than its works, the sheer scope of the church's influence and activities will prove jaw-dropping. Wright paints a picture of organizational chaos and a leader, David Miscavige, who rules by violence and intimidation; of file-gathering paranoia and vengefulness toward apostates and critics; of victories over perceived enemies, including the U.S. government, won through persuasion, ruthless litigation, and dirty tricks. Even more shocking may be the portrayal of the Sea Org, a cadre of true believers whose members sign contracts for a billion years of service, and toil in conditions of indentured servitude, punished mercilessly for inadvertent psychic offenses. Their treatment is a far cry from the coddling afforded to the much-courted celebrities. (Wright does point out that, for whatever reason, most Sea Org members remain in service voluntarily.) Page after page of damaging testimony, often from formerly high-ranking officers, is footnoted with blanket denials from the church and other parties (e.g., "The church categorically denies all charges of Miscavige's abuse" and "Cruise, through his attorney, denies that he ever retreated from his commitment to Scientology"). Readers will have to decide whether to believe the Pulitzer-winning author's carefully sourced reporting, or the church's rebuttals. But, quoting Paul Haggis, the Academy Award-winning film director and former Scientologist whom Wright first profiled in the New Yorker: "if only a fraction of these accusations are true, we are talking about serious, indefensible human and civil rights violations." Going Clear offers a fascinating look behind the curtain of an organization whose ambition and influence are often at odds with its secretive ways. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The publisher's announced first printing of 150,000 seems right on the money. Wright will be promoting the book on a seven-city tour, but its reputation precedes him. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 February
A defining look at Scientology

What do Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Katie Holmes and Kirstie Alley have in common? Yes, they are all celebrities. But they have also been linked to the Church of Scientology, a controversial religion that some critics call a cult. And there are plenty of juicy stories about these and other celebrities in Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.

The book is an in-depth examination of a mysterious, murky religion that, despite its relatively small membership, “plays an outsize role in the cast of new religions,” says Wright. The Church of Scientology attracts a lot of attention by aggressively courting celebrities. In Going Clear, we read of Cruise being recruited by the church, and how his girlfriends and wives, Kidman and Holmes among them, are indoctrinated, only to later leave Cruise, and Scientology, behind. Then there is Travolta, who displays his devotion to Scientology by starring in the movie Battlefield Earth, based on the science fiction novel of the same name by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Going Clear is much more than a celebrity tell-all, however. Wright is a gifted writer for The New Yorker, whose deep and thorough reporting won him the Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower, an investigation of al-??Qaeda and 9/11. Going Clear doesn’t simply recast stories about celebrities and Scientology, but takes us inside the organization via interviews with former church members and through research that most notably includes the writings of Hubbard.

We learn how this mildly successful sci-fi writer became an overnight sensation in 1950 when he published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The self-help book explained how humans can improve their lives by ridding themselves of painful memories and emotions buried in the subconscious. The book became a bestseller and inspired Hubbard to establish the Church of Scientology. Wright describes how a seemingly plausible self-improvement theory became more complicated when Hubbard began hooking church members up to an E-Meter—tin cans affixed to the ears, with wires running to an electrical conductor—in an attempt to release the bad thoughts inside the brain. And we learn that Hubbard, who always had a fascination with Hollywood, made a conscious effort to attract movie stars to Scientology in order to boost its profile.

If you have been intrigued by the exploits of Cruise, Travolta and other celebrities with Scientology ties, or have ever wondered what the religion is all about, then Going Clear is a must-read. Wright treats the subject with intelligence, objectivity and careful research, making it the definitive book on the history and practice of Scientology.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Choice Reviews 2013 July
Wright (staff writer, The New Yorker) bases his volume on Scientology in large part on hundreds of personal interviews of "outsiders" and "insiders." This journalistic approach favors many, many personal stories. It also expresses itself in popular ways, referencing, for instance, Ted Koppel's Nightline. Paul Haggis, David Miscavige, Mark Rathbun, and Ron Hubbard (founder) are among the most favored. Wright correctly states that Scientology "orients itself toward celebrity." John Travolta and especially Tom Cruise are given wide and special coverage. The book is loaded with both positive and negative material in relation to Scientology. Anyone interested in a journalistic approach given by a Pulitzer Prize winner will enjoy this book. However, serious historians will favor religious historian Hugh Urban's The Church of Scientology (CH, Jan'12, 49-2620), which this reviewer evaluated as "probably the best history available of this terribly tangled story." Going Clear lacks traditional numbered footnotes, but has 42 pages of references to items with page numbers. This economic approach is not reader-friendly. Wright is certainly an excellent and perceptive journalist, whose book makes clear that, yes, Scientology does qualify as yet one more world religion. Good index and brief bibliography. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty. G. H. Shriver emeritus, Georgia Southern University Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 January #2
A devastating history-cum-expos of the Church of Scientology. Wright has written about religion on several occasions (Saints and Sinners, 1993; Remembering Satan, 1994) and received a Pulitzer Prize for his book on terrorism (The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, 2006)--all of which clearly served as excellent training for this book. It begins, of course, with the life of L. Ron Hubbard, a manic-depressive, wannabe naval hero, sci-fi writer and self-styled shaman who "believed that the secrets of existence were accidentally revealed to him" after receiving a gas anesthetic in the dentist's chair. After that experience, the visions kept arriving, leading to his 1950 self-help best-seller, Dianetics, which laid the groundwork for a "religion" where "thetans" (souls) are stymied by "engrams," self-destructive suggestive impulses lodged in the brain (not a few of which were inflicted on mankind following an intergalactic war that took place 75 million years ago.) Through personal, deeply revelatory counseling sessions known as auditing, adherents deal with these obstacles, and for wealthy celebrities, Scientology (and its many Hollywood connections) has supposedly cleared the path to success. It has also destroyed many others, usually less well-heeled people from within, who raise questions or try to leave, or outside forces (journalists, the IRS, family members) investigating the church's multiple personal or financial abuses. Wright exposes the church's many sins: covert espionage, psychological torment, threatened blackmail using confidential information from auditing sessions and constant physical assaults on members by tyrannical current leader David Miscavage. The author is also interested in something deeper: If it's all a con, why is everyone involved (especially the late Hubbard) so deeply invested in its beliefs? Wright doesn't go out of his way to exaggerate the excesses of Scientology; each page delivers startling facts that need no elaboration. A patient, wholly compelling investigation into a paranoid "religion" and the faithful held in its sweaty grip. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 January #2

Pulitzer winner Wright (The Looming Tower) expands and carefully footnotes his investigation of Scientology, which began as a 2011 New Yorker article examining the defection of acclaimed screenwriter-director Paul Haggis from the church. The book-length version offers--in persuasive, albeit sometimes mind-numbing, detail--an eye-opening short biography of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and a long-form journalism presentation of the creature Hubbard birthed: a self-help system complete with bizarre cosmology, celebrity sex appeal, lawyers, consistent allegations of physical abuse, and expensive answers for spiritual consumers. Wright capably sows his thorough reportage into ground broken by Janet Reitman (Inside Scientology, 2011). He poses larger questions about the nature of belief, but can only lay groundwork because he has to fight to establish facts, given the secrecy and controversy surrounding Scientology, and his eyewitnesses are necessarily disenchanted and therefore adversarial. While Wright's brave reporting offers an essential reality test, an analysis of why this sci-fi and faith brew quenches a quasi-religious thirst in its followers is still needed. First printing 150,000. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Jan. 17)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 January #4

Pulitzer winner Wright (The Looming Tower) expands and carefully footnotes his investigation of Scientology, which began as a 2011 New Yorker article examining the defection of acclaimed screenwriter-director Paul Haggis from the church. The book-length version offers--in persuasive, albeit sometimes mind-numbing, detail--an eye-opening short biography of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and a long-form journalism presentation of the creature Hubbard birthed: a self-help system complete with bizarre cosmology, celebrity sex appeal, lawyers, consistent allegations of physical abuse, and expensive answers for spiritual consumers. Wright capably sows his thorough reportage into ground broken by Janet Reitman (Inside Scientology, 2011). He poses larger questions about the nature of belief, but can only lay groundwork because he has to fight to establish facts, given the secrecy and controversy surrounding Scientology, and his eyewitnesses are necessarily disenchanted and therefore adversarial. While Wright's brave reporting offers an essential reality test, an analysis of why this sci-fi and faith brew quenches a quasi-religious thirst in its followers is still needed. First printing 150,000. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Jan. 17)

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