Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mini Reviews: Salvation On Sand Mountain || The Road To Jonestown









Salvation On Sand Mountain: Snake Handling And Redemption In Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington



Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Publication date: January 1995
The people of Southern Appalachia are hill people of Scottish-Irish descent—religious mystics who cast out demons, drink strychnine, and handle rattlesnakes. When the author, himself Scottish-Irish, uncovers records of snake-handling Covingtons, he decides to take up serpents.

Likes: I don't know much about Christianity, but I think if God wanted us to touch rattlesnakes, he wouldn’t have put rattles on them. That sound means not to touch them.

Anyway, the author is a journalist who spent two years as a member of a snake-handling church in southern Appalachia. His interest in snake handling starts with a work assignment and curiosity about his family heritage. It quickly develops into an obsession that kind of freaks him out. He isn’t afraid to examine his own life. Holding rattlesnakes and drinking poison are odd activities to want to do. In this book, the author delves into the history of snake handling and looks at his own thrill-seeking behavior to discover why people take up serpents.

I appreciate the author’s honesty. He shows how difficult it can be for a journalist to write about personal subjects in an objective way. He goes to the church as a journalist in search of a good story, but the service speaks to him as a danger-loving Christian. For me, the most fascinating part of the book is watching the author struggle between being an observer and wanting to participate. I like that he admits to being a bad journalist. Good journalists don’t become personally involved with their subjects. Once he starts snake handling, it takes over his life. It becomes way more than just a story for a newspaper.


There are moments when you stand on the brink of a new experience and understand that you have no choice about it. Either you walk into the experience or you turn away from it, but you know that no matter what you choose, you will have altered your life in a permanent way. Either way, there will be consequences.Salvation on Sand Mountain



Dislikes: This is a short book, but it feels long. There are quite a few scenes of men preaching while holding snakes. I appreciate knowing the religious reasons behind the snake obsession, but it gets repetitive quickly. I don’t think the author had enough material to fill a whole book. I was often tempted to skim the snake-handling scenes. I feel like I got the point after the first one.

Originally, the author attended this particular snake-handling church because one of the members had been arrested for attempted murder. He forced a snake to bite his wife (twice). The author planned to write about the attempted murder trial. That plan mostly gets derailed when the author joins the church. I wish more of the book had been about the crime and the people involved. That would have been more interesting than the repetitive snake/preaching scenes.



The Bottom Line: An informative look at Appalachian history and how journalists struggle to stay objective. I occasionally got bored.









The Road To Jonestown: Jim Jones And Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn



Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 531
Publication date: April 2017
In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader.

In this riveting narrative, Jeff Guinn examines Jones’s life, from his extramarital affairs, drug use, and fraudulent faith healing to the fraught decision to move almost a thousand of his followers to a settlement in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Guinn provides stunning new details of the events leading to the fatal day in November 1978, when more than nine hundred people died—including almost three hundred infants and children—after being ordered to swallow a cyanide-laced drink.


Likes: I’ve read a lot of Jonestown books in my life. I’m probably up to double digits by now. (Don’t ask why. I don’t have a satisfactory answer.) I can confidently say that this is the best Jonestown book I’ve ever read. It’s well-researched and exhaustingly thorough. If you want to know every tiny detail of Jim Jones’s life, read this book. It’s all in here.

I love that the author doesn’t give his opinion on everything. Unlike a lot of nonfiction writers, he keeps himself out of the story. He presents the facts, interviews people who knew Jones, and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. I appreciate that.

Jim Jones is endlessly fascinating to me because he could have changed the world in positive ways. Before he moved to the jungle and murdered 900 people, he was doing nice stuff! He was a successful reverend who knew how to get jobs for the poor, desegregate communities, and fight injustice. He didn’t just preach about helping people. He actually did the work. Unfortunately, he was also a delusional psychopath with ego problems and a painkiller addiction. That rarely ends well.


Jones attracted followers by appealing to their better instincts. The purpose of Peoples Temple was to offer such a compelling example of living in racial and economic equality that everyone else would be won over and want to live the same way.The Road To Jonestown



Dislikes: I appreciate the meticulousness of the research, but I occasionally wished that the author would get to the point a little quicker. This book is dense. I could only read it in small doses because I’d start to feel my brain going numb and my eyes glazing over. There is a lot of information to absorb.



The Bottom Line: My new favorite Jonestown book. The author also wrote a book about Charles Manson that I’ll be reading ASAP.











18 comments:

  1. i am from the exact area whee all the snakies are. Since we are all of the same heritage and can say thing without getting my ass handed to me. Those mofo are fucking insane. and it never ends well if i heppen up on a cousin dressed from the 18 century talking in tongues and all of that i am like well you can learn to READ then get rid of all this shit says me who ran to college in DC and has an honors degree.. uhh

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    1. I agree that the snake handlers are kind of insane. Something has to be wrong with your brain if you want to drink poison and carry deadly snakes around.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. Good reviews and I love your insight into God and rattlesnakes! Having read "Salvation on Sand Mountain," I agree with your insights. I need to read more about Jim Jones. When I was a pastor out west, I had a family who knew him and had been in his church (and he in their home) when he was in California. But then they realized something wasn't right and left before he migrated to South America. A sad story. Both of these books show a bastardization of the Christian faith, in my opinion.

    www.thepulpitandthepen.com

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    1. That’s scary. I’m glad they listened to their instincts and didn’t trust Jones. He was a very mentally unstable dude.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I'm of the opinion that snakes should be left to their own devices! Stay away from them and you don't get hurt! I've seen enough stories about religious leaders getting killed by the snakes to figure it's a bad idea!

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    1. That’s one of the things that surprised me about Salvation on Sand Mountain. The author kept mentioning whole families who died from snake bites or poison drinking. If so many of their ancestors died, why do these people still think this is a good idea?

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. Jonestown has always fascinated me. I can't really explain why either, but my ears perk up every time I hear something about it. I don't read much nonfiction, but if this is the best book on Jonestown you've ever read, I will definitely keep it in mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on both books.

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  5. As someone who's not very religious, it's fascinating to me to see how other people approach religion and justify their faith and the things that are important to them.

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    1. Exactly! I’m not religious, but I want to understand why people are. That’s one of the reasons why I’m drawn to book like these.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. My son read that Jonestown book, as well as A Thousand Lives and Raven, all three about Jim Jones, but he enjoyed the one you mention above the most. He only reads nonfiction with the occasional Grisham or King thrown in a couple of times a year, so I trust his opinion. He said he'd let me read it if I want, but it certainly is a chunkster! Thanks for an informative review!

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    1. This Jonestown book is more balanced than the others. A lot of books focus on Jones’s death. This one is mostly about his life.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. Saying this was your fave Jonestown book is saying a lot, considering how many you've read. I was just a kid when it happened and don't really remember it but I've always been fascinated by it. Interesting that the same author has also written about Manson. I read Helter Skelter many years ago and it scared the bejesus out of me. For weeks after I was convinced the Manson family was following me. *looks around warily*

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    1. I have Helter Skelter on my TBR list. I’ve heard that it’s really good. I’m prepared to be terrified.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. I thought I commented on this, but maybe not! I listen to the Last Podcast on the Left and they did a FIVE part series on Jonestown. It was insane. Marcus does a TON of research so I'll have to check if he mentions this one in it.

    Deanna Reads Books

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  9. Wow, how strange is that about the first "journalist" being pulled in like that! 😲

    Have you read Educated? It's about fringe doomsday prepper Mormans. I never knew there was such a thing. 😶

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  10. I've reserved the Jonestown book at my library. Thanks for talking about it!

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  11. I used to be obsessed with Charles Manson as a young teen. i read everything -t hen freaked myself out and couldn't sleep lol

    I watched a documentary about Jonestown and it's always fascinating how they can convince people to follow them down such a horrible path.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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