Author Lawrence Wright has been heralded as one of the most thorough and detailed authors currently working. His researching and fact checking skills won him a Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 book The Looming Tower. Naturally it was intriguing when Wright decided to write about the Church of Scientology, one of the most mysterious and controversial religions in the world. Several people have written about the church before, however nobody had tackled the subject that had Wright’s reputation for careful and thorough research. In the past the church has dealt with critics by saying the research they had done wasn’t “scholarly” or “well-researched”. The church would not be able to make these claims and have them taken seriously with Wright because of the respect he has as a skilled researcher. That said, Wright’s book is a fascinating one I found hard to put down.
The book is divided into the three parts named in the title, Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Wright begins the novel by telling the story of Paul Haggis, the Oscar winning director and former Scientologist, and his introduction to the church. Haggis’ narrative is weaved throughout the novel and examines the religion on a smaller scale, looking at the relationship between the religion and the individual. With the exception of Haggis’ narrative, the first part of the book is a very detailed biography of L. Ron Hubbard. Wright draws upon a personal journal of Hubbard’s that the was made public in a lawsuit against the church. The church denies the journal is authentic, however Wright notes they fought very hard for it not to be made public in court. Wright’s use of the journal does a great job of illustrating the life of Hubbard before he started the church, discussing his life writing for pulp magazines and his involvement in Occultism.
The next two parts of the book describe the growth of Scientology and church PR Man Tommy Davis who Wright interacted with for his New Yorker piece about Haggis and Scientology. Wright’s interviews and research are most evident in the second part of the book where he chronicles Scientology’s activity over the last 40 years. Specifically he chronicles how stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta got involved with the church and their activity within the church. Through interviewing former church employees that were assigned to the stars Wright illustrates how Scientology protects celebrities from knowing the inner workings of the church. The author also gives a very detailed biography of current church leader David Miscavage. Wright paints a scary portrait of Miscavage’s childhood that foreshadows the current leaders antics. The childhood of the church’s leader was something that I was unfamiliar with and Wright’s interview with Erwin Scott, an employee of the church at the time, provides readers with stories of a young Miscavage.
Going Clear is easily the most complete history of the church that has been published. In addition to the hundreds of interviews with former church members Wright also does a great job using other sources, such as depositions and court testimonies. There was one thing about the book that disappointed me. Wright mentions Tommy Davis and the fact that he tried to leave twice and also that he is currently on leave in Texas. I would have liked to have heard more about Davis’ second attempted leave, what were the circumstances that forced him to Texas, why Texas, and what is his current standing with the Church? Whether you are knowledgable of the church’s history or know nothing of the church, this is a book that you will find interesting. I think a lot of people will come away in disbelief of some church activities and that those activities continue with no repercussions from authorities.