Daniel Flynn: Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 Days that Shook San Francisco

The untold story of the intersecting lives of the Reverend Jim Jones and Harvey Milk—marking the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre and Milk’s assassination

November 1978. The Reverend Jim Jones, the darling of the San Francisco political establishment, orchestrates the murders and suicides of 918 people at a remote jungle outpost in South America. Days later, Harvey Milk, one of America’s first openly gay elected officials—and one of Jim Jones’s most vocal supporters—is assassinated in San Francisco’s City Hall.

This horrifying sequence of events shocked the world. Almost immediately, the lives and deaths of Jim Jones and Harvey Milk became shrouded in myth. The distortions and omissions have piled up since.

Now, forty years later, this book corrects the record.

The product of a decade of research, including extensive archival work and ­dozens of exclusive interviews, Cult City reveals just how confused our understanding has become.

In life, Jim Jones enjoyed the support of prominent politicians and Hollywood stars even as he preached atheism and communism from the pulpit; in death, he transforms into a fringe figure, a “fundamentalist Christian,” and a “fascist.”

In life, Harvey Milk outed friends, faked hate crimes, and falsely claimed that the U.S. Navy dishonorably discharged him over his homosexuality; in death, he is honored in an Oscar-winning movie, with a California state holiday, and with a U.S. Navy ship named for him. His assassin, a blue-collar Democrat who often voted with Milk in support of gay issues, is remembered as a right-winger and a homophobe.

But the story extends far beyond Jones and Milk. Author Daniel J. Flynn vividly portrays the strange intersection of mainstream politics and murderous extremism in 1970s San Francisco—the hangover after the high of the Summer of Love.

In recounting the fascinating, intersecting lives of Jim Jones and ­Harvey Milk, Cult City tells the story of a great city gone horribly wrong.

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