13 July 2013

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I do feel as if I could read anything about Scientology at this point, there's definitely some reason to think that we might be hitting a saturation point when it comes to highly detailed Scientology pieces. Lawrence Wright has written an exhaustive (and, often, exhausting) piece on Scientology that ends up being a definitive entry in the modern publications, but one that has limited value if you're well-read on the topic.

Wright relies heavily on the history of movie director/writer/producer Paul Haggis for a lot of the perspective the book comes from, thus the focus on Scientology's relationship with Hollywood. Thus, there is a lot of different insider stuff mixed in with significant research and intelligence regarding the inner workings of the church, as well as plenty of conjecture regarding the interaction between the church and the Hollywood community based on Haggis's experience. We learn rather quickly that Haggis was not as high up as you might have thought, and with much of the framework of his issues with the church being Proposition 8, it makes for a different point of view.

With that criticism out of the way, it's worth noting the true breadth of Wright's research. The first hundred-plus pages are some of the most comprehensive looks at L. Ron Hubbard in the Scientology context I've seen yet, and he pulls no punches with people like David Miscavige (who took over for Hubbard) and Tommy Davis (who was a key player with Scientology and Hollywood). Some of the most interesting information comes from the look at celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who are handled in a very fair way without being painted as lunatic cranks or unwilling dupes. Wright is clear who the bad guys are in this case, and that's to the benefit of the read.

My chief complaint, outside of the focus, is just that it's very detailed, almost too much so. This is based more on my own experience with other Scientology books and research, where so much of this is a retread, but with nothing much to set the duplicative information apart (which is not always an issue with other topics that have multiple writings), it creates a situation where the read feels like a slog from time to time.

I don't want to point anyone away from reading this. If you've not read anything in detail about Scientology, this is probably a great place to start. If you feel you're well-versed, it may be worth more of a scan than a full read. Either way, it's a solid entry in terms of popular examination of Scientology.

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