Bookmarks Issue: 

The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion

A-Inside ScientologyInside Scientology is an expansion of an article with the same title and was a finalist for the 2007 National Magazine Award; it was published in Rolling Stone in 2006. Janet Reitman, a contributing editor of that magazine, has also written for GQ, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

The Topic: What began as a self-improvement program devised by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s has mushroomed into the influential and fabulously profitable Church of Scientology under the auspices of the authoritarian David Miscavige, who assumed control after Hubbard's death in 1986. Reitman pulls back the curtain on this evasive and enigmatic organization to expose its inner workings--which have included mass expulsions, physical abuse, exploitation, the calculated persecution of opponents, and the careful cultivation of celebrity devotees. Despite its costly "auditing" sessions, "billion year contracts," and ancient-alien doctrines, Scientology has survived by detecting cultural shifts and reinventing itself--as a self-help technique, a countercultural movement, and a religion--to appeal to the general public. Whether it can weather current criticism, argues Reitman, remains to be seen.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 464 pages. $28. ISBN: 9780618883028

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Throughout the book, the author displays consummate journalistic skills. Her accumulation of evidence is particularly impressive and gives rise to one of the more memorable works of investigative nonfiction in recent years." Eric Liebetrau

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Reitman, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone who spent five years trying to pierce the walls Scientologists put up against outsiders, gives us the most complete picture of Scientology so far." Garry Wills

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] compelling, rich and courageous explanation of Hubbard's contribution to the 20th century, the religion called Scientology, now in its sixth decade. ... Inside Scientology is an impressive high-wire act producing a scrupulous history of how one man reframed the universe and how a lot of people paid for the privilege of agreeing with him." Anne Saker

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"She has written a modern history of Scientology notable for its depth and sweep. Reitman's research pays off not only in rich portrayals of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and current leader David Miscavige, but in intimate portraits of people who have been swept up along the way." Ken Armstrong

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While it lacks blockbuster revelations, it mostly delivers on Reitman's promise of an ‘objective modern history' of the church. ... Reitman also offers up the insights of members from the church's past and present, giving the material a fresh feel and sense of fairness." Kim Christensen

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is Reitman's biggest challenge: humanizing a religion that most of us associate with secrecy, aliens and out-of-touch celebrities. ... Whether Scientology passes the longevity test remains to be seen, but either way, Inside Scientology will remain a thoughtful, fair-minded record of its tumultuous first generation." Brook Wilensky-Lanford

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is overt in its distaste for Scientology (a ‘fundamentally narcissistic philosophy') and its fiery-haired founder (‘one of the most effective hucksters of his generation'). ... Given the vindictiveness of its subjects, this book is fearless--most of all in its rough handling of Mr. Miscavige. But it is also nuanced, especially in its treatment of Hubbard." Graeme Wood

Critical Summary

Previous exposés have already divulged the more fantastic aspects of Scientology, so Reitman's contribution may be short of bombshells. Nonetheless, it compensates in scope and strength. Drawing on personal letters and confidential memoranda, Reitman sifts through the official disinformation to paint vivid portraits of the church and its top-ranking officials. She balances the bitter testimony of former members with that of loyal supporters (though ex-members' stories of physical punishment and emotional abuse are frighteningly consistent) and allows the facts to speak for themselves as part of an overall effort to remain impartial. "The portrait that emerges," states the St. Petersburg Times, "is that of an authoritarian organization that peddles a pricey brand of spiritual self-help in a relentless quest for power and wealth."