Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of BeliefGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Going Clear is a powerful book that explores the history and origins of Scientology, in particular the stories of those who founded the cultish organization, those who came to power after L. Ron Hubbard died, and the powerful few who eventually abandoned the organization.

For those who have read or followed Scientology, the revelations in the book weren’t necessarily new. Many of the stories about the SeaOrg, the violent nature of discipline, and the forced abandonment of family and relations had been written throughout the years.

What makes this book worthwhile is that instead of offering a complete look at Scientology, Lawrence Wright delves deeply into a few personal stories of the powerful people behind the organization. What the reader gets is an inside look at one of the most bizarre — and oddly dangerous — organizations in our country.

The one issue I had with the narrative was that Wright sometimes leaves a main character to explore a side narrative, which itself may go on for large chunks of a chapter. Circling back into the larger narrative was sometimes a little difficult, requiring me to re-orient myself with all the players on the stage.

He also fails to delve into the reasons why the organization exerts so much control over its members, although truthfully this is one of Scientology’s most deeply held secrets. We never get much more than “the use the E-meter audit information.” As a reader, I kept wondering how such an organization could blanket threaten the thousands of members with that information. Ultimately, that is the insidiousness of Scientology and Wright never quite cracked the code for me on that.

That’s not to say he didn’t explore that control. He dissected how the major players in the organization were kept on a leash using the audit session tapes. But I just kept wondering: Does the organization have the money to maintain that level of control over all its members? Or maybe it doesn’t need to?

Regardless of that particular critique, the book’s narrative was compelling. I found myself perplexed that anyone would join Scientology, and yet fascinated by the inner workings of the cult.

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