** Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman

I greatly enjoyed Inside Scientology, a lively and opinionated history of the Church of Scientology starting with its business-minded founder (who, we learn along the way, was a bigamist for some time and uses his middle name rather than the lovely Lafayette his parents assigned as his first name). For me the best part of the book is the author’s analysis of how Hubbard structured scientology as a business, modeled after McDonald’s of all choices. He skillfully weaved together the themes of the day, self-development, technology, and UFOs, with a dollop of eugenics (oops!) and a strong pyramid scheme that brought the riches to him. The dictatorship aspects came later, when the troops started to rebel and revenue was at risk, and are reminiscent of Kim Il-sung et al.

I found the middle of the book weaker, as it retraces the sad stories of some of the members who were caught in the purges and exploitation at length rather than abstracting to a more general level, but the saga of how the organization won tax-exempt status is breathtaking since it is structured, first and foremost, as a profit-making venture.

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