One evening in late January I happened to catch an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air in which Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Looming Tower, was being interviewed about his latest book. As I listened, I quickly learned that Wright had written a book about Scientology. Upon hearing this, I was intrigued for two reasons. One, only months earlier I had thoroughly enjoyed Janet Reitman’s exposé Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secret Religion and I was eager to read more on the subject. Second, the notion that a Pulitzer-winning author of a book on al-Qaeda had chosen to write a book about the hidden and fascinating world of Scientology sounded right up my alley.
Months later, I happened to be rummaging through the shelves of my public library and what did I come across but a copy of Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Thinking to myself now is a pretty good time to finally read Wright’s book, I snatched it up and headed to the check-out line. Later that afternoon I cracked it open and began reading it. Before long I found myself burning through it at an almost breakneck pace. While every so often I find a book that sucks me in and holds my attention, almost always whenever that happens I find myself having to take a breather before going back to read more. No so with Going Clear. I couldn’t get enough. (One evening after work while waiting for the bus I was so engrossed in it that I barely noticed when a local Scientology representative handed me a free invite to an informational presentation. I accepted her gift and with no small bit of irony proceeded to use the complimentary ticket as a bookmark.) And when you can’t get enough of a book, that my friends is a sign it’s really, really good.
If someone asked me what I liked the most about Going Clear, I’d probably say it was the book’s detailed look at Scientology’s powerful presence in the entertainment industry, especially Hollywood. Thanks to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s fervent dream to possess a controlling interest in that industry, today many of Hollywood’s most famous and influential writers, directors, actors, producers and soundtrack composers are either Church members, former members or have associated with the organization to some degree. (Of the Church of Scientology’s estimated 25,000 American members, 5,000 of them live in Los Angeles.) Many aspiring actors are see the membership in Church of Scientology as an opportunity to network. Other Hollywood aspirants are drawn to Church’s acting classes and courses in effective communication skills. The Church’s mission to recruit an A list actor to serve as its ambassador to the world would eventually result in bringing Tom Cruise into its fold. According to Wright, the Church went great lengths to court him, lavishing him with gifts, attention, emotional support and even actively assisting him with his courtship of his last two wives. As a result, today Cruise and Scientology are almost synonymous.
But the Hollywood stuff wasn’t the only part of the book I enjoyed. The whole freaky life of L. Ron Hubbard made for fascinating reading as well. His personal navy called Sea Org I also found bizarrely interesting. Lastly, all the emotional and physical abuse suffered by some of the religion’s inside members as described by Wright I found downright astounding. It will blow your mind.
This is a great book and makes a wonderful reading companion to Reitman’s Inside Scientology. It was interesting to see how many times both Reitman and Wright mentioned the same things, but told those same stories from different perspectives. In comparing the two books, Wright spent a bit more time discussing the Church’s influence in Hollywood, perhaps because he has better connections in the industry resulting from his days as a screenwriter.
Just like I did last year with Reitman’s Inside Scientology, I highly recommend Wright’s Going Clear. Keeping in mind that last year Inside Scientology made my year-end best of list, I’m wondering if Wright’s Going Clear will do the same. My guess is, there’s a real good chance it will.