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Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & The Prison of Belief

going-clear-bookGoing Clear is the only book that has ever given me recurring nightmares–a friend who shall go unnamed but knows who she is

When I saw that Lawrence Wright was writing a book about Scientology I got excited.  Since the Pulitzer-Winning The Looming Tower, Wright has been my guiding star when it comes to reporting.

I’d been interested in Scientology before, but it was tough to find something not written by an advocate of Scientology, or by someone with an obvious ax to grind.  So my knowledge didn’t extend much beyond the Wikipedia entry, Dianetics sales figures, rumors about John Travolta, and that South Park episode about Tom Cruise.

I’m happy to tell you that Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & The Prison of Belief might now my favorite book of non-fiction.  Despite the Church of Scientology’s secretive structure, it’s hard to imagine someone compiling a worthier, better researched chronicle of the religion than Wright has written for us.

The first half of the book focuses on Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.  After he dies (or does he? I found the church’s explanation of his earthly demise as given to scientologists to be as hilarious as it was creative), the remainder of the book follows the individuals who continue to grow the church.

Also covered are the many scandals the church has faced, the church’s focus on celebrity recruitment, its punitive nature as it lashes out against critics and apostates, and much more.  I found the church’s battle with the IRS, and the mutual loathing between the two organizations, to be particularly fascinating.

My goal is simply to pique your interest here.  It’s a big book that deserves an enormous conversation and I can’t do it justice with a brief review.  If you’re at all interested in the Church of Scientology, but aren’t ready to go in for auditing,  Going Clear is a perfect starting point.  Wright tells this story so well that it’s unnecessary for him to draw conclusions for the reader.  Whether you view the story with horror, disbelief, admiration, or outrage, I’m confident than you will react. 

In my opinion, the greatest question the book answers is the one that many readers will certainly have: How could anyone actually believe that?

The “prison of belief” from the subtitle is real, it is methodically constructed, and it is chilling. 






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  • Boris Bachmann March 14, 2013, 9:47 pm

    Josh! I JUST posted about this too! Good book! http://squatrx.blogspot.com/2013/03/going-clear.html

    I had a good friend in college who was very into Scientology… the stories about OTs’ superpowers were enough for me…

    • Josh Hanagarne March 15, 2013, 9:18 am

      Don’t lie, Boris, I know you’re On The Bridge.

  • Todd March 15, 2013, 6:10 am

    I may have to check this out. Thanks for the review, Josh.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 15, 2013, 9:18 am

      You’re welcome. If you read it, let me know how it goes.

  • Boris Bachmann March 16, 2013, 4:51 pm

    Dude, I AM the MFing bridge…

  • Bryan Trandem March 18, 2013, 11:54 am

    I read this one and while I enjoyed it, it was with slight reservations. The first half I found exceedingly good, but by the end I felt somewhat overwhelmed in minutia. Not quite as great as many of the non-fiction recommendations.