"Cults: Inside the World's Most Notorious Groups"| Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Notorious cult leaders Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite are three of the well-known figures profiled in “Cults” by Max Cutler and Kevin Conley. The authors examine each of the 10 high-profile loathsome cult leaders, chronicle their rise to power, and track their fall from decency, sanity, and control.
The first line of the “Introduction” reads, “Everyone wants to believe in something or someone: a higher ideal, a god on earth, a voice from heaven, an intelligence beyond our own.” Cutler maintains that, while “this appetite for belief” often leads to “great things,” it can also be used by charismatic people to take advantage of others for their own desires and delusions.
Charles Manson, for example, introduced the cult image to America in 1969 through the extensive TV coverage of the Tate-LaBianca murders; David Koresh and his followers engaged in a deadly standoff with the FBI at their compound in Waco, Texas in 1993; and Marshall Applewhite persuaded his Heaven’s Gate followers to drink poison in the largest mass suicide in U.S. history in 1997.
The authors try to help readers understand the psychology of cult leaders, how they manipulate the minds of their followers, and how their sociopolitical situation plays a role in committing heinous crimes.
The book is well-researched and organized. Each of the nine male and one female cult leaders is allotted one chapter which addresses the upbringing of the leaders, how they attracted their followers, and details how their lust for power led to their downfall.
Many of the accounts are grisly histories of the disreputable leaders but the book is mostly a study of humanity and how the human mind can be manipulated to twist peoples’ most sacred beliefs so that they become harmful to themselves and others.
True crime enthusiasts will find the book essential reading. Those new to the genre will find it shocking and chilling.
“Cults” is published by Gallery Books/ Simon and Schuster. It is 403 pages long, including endnotes and a thorough bibliography.
About the Authors: Max Cutler created Parcast in 2016 and is currently managing director of the podcast studio. Born in 1990, he was most recently featured on Fortunes 40 Under 40, Forbes 30 Under 30, and The Hollywood Reporter’s 35 Rising Executives Under 35 lists.
Kevin Conley is the author of several best-selling books including “Over the Edge with Hollywood Stuntmen.” A former editor at The New Yorker, he has written for GQ, Sports Illustrated, and The New York Times Magazine.