Recommendation: Not unless you have literally nothing else better to do
Where to read: Idk really, the subject matter is pretty fucked but the tone makes it ideal beach reading
Read with: Tea – I tried tipsy and I found the comedic asides even more tedious than I did sober
In brief: A slight review for a slight book… Zealot is the dictionary definition of fine. It’s not good, it’s not actively bad, it just kind of sits in a fairly unoffensive “take it or leave it” space on the shelf. And life is too short for fine.
Zealot is related to a (popular?) podcast series hosted by Thornley and featuring random guests who come on to chat about various cults.* I hadn’t listened to the podcast at all when I picked this up but it does make a lot of sense. The prose style is comedic-conversational, with Thornley throwing quips in every sentence (every two at most). To be honest, this gets old pretty quickly – I’m normally the first to disagree with the old adage that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but this book weakens my argument. There are also points where levity is deeply uncomfortable.
Towards the end of the book, she touches on the idea that you need to take the piss out of cults and cult leaders precisely because their ability to attract and retain followers depends on their being taken seriously and treated with reverence. There is definitely force to this argument but I’d be more comfortable if subjects like child abuse were treated with a little more care and a little less borderline flippancy.
The strength of each case study is the way she draws out the techniques used to suck people in and control them. One of the things I missed in The Road to Jonestown was an explicit discussion of the psychology behind the levels of control these people manage to exercise over their followers. I’d still prefer something a little more serious but a girl can’t have everything.
The whole thing is kinda funny, kinda tragic but you could probably do worse than give this to that friend you’re worried is a little too into their weird church group.
*I have since listed to an episode of the podcast and it’s alright I suppose. The music used throughout caused me deep physical and psychological pain.