Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Jon Atack, "A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed" (pub. 1990, rev. 2013)

After reading Jenna Miscavige Hill's memoir of her time spent as an adherent of Scientology, I wanted to know more about the 'theological' and administrative details of the organization. (See my earlier review of Hill's book here.)

Atack's book is well-regarded, and was written long before the recent spate of bad publicity for Scientology that followed the high-profile departures of ex-pat Canadian turned Hollywood director, Paul Haggis, followed by television actress Leah Rimini. Perhaps worst of all for Scientology was/is the split between long-time Scientologist and public advocate Tom Cruise and his third wife, allegedly over concerns related to how to incorporate Scientological principles into their family life.

Keeping in mind that it was not written by a professional author or journalist, A Piece of Blue Sky does an impressive job in difficult conditions, of raising some fundamental doubts regarding many of the claims offered by the Church of Scientology about its own history, practices, and values. Unlike Hill's book, Atack's deals less with personal experiences than it does try to use Scientology's documents, supplemented by interview and correspondence materials with other formerly high-ranking Scientologists, as well as court records produced from relevant cases concerned with Scientology, to establish an institutional timeline and expose of the Church's structure, operational values, and 'theology'. (I use theology in marks due to the fact that Scientology does not worship a higher power, as do many other religions, but believes that aspects of this higher power need to be 'freed' from within ourselves.)

Generally speaking, Atack's book is excellent. It certainly could benefit from the help of a good editor, but the impressive work Atack has done in providing an initial exposure of Scientology is admirable and informative.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Brereton Greenhous, "The Making of Billy Bishop" (2002)

Greenhous has written a fascinating analysis of Bishop's war record, comparing the Canadian First World War aviator's claims about his battle successes against available Allied and German war records, personal correspondence by Bishop, his friends, and his military peers and superiors, to propose a significant falsification has become rooted into Canadian history.

Greenhous presents a compelling case to indicate that much of Bishop's record of kills may have been fabricated. To his credit, Greenhous establishes the compelling reasons which may have led many within the military to seek to create a 'hero', leading to the inflation or exaggeration of Bishop's exploits, as a propagandistic necessity. He supports this analysis with a careful and thorough assessment of documents that might be used to understand or clarify Bishop's claims. His work reveals many holes in Bishop's stories, as well as those offered by superiors to explain their recommendations for Bishop to be provided with honours, as well as occasional falsehoods.

I highly-recommended this book that will leave most readers shaking their heads at how our understanding of the history of almost century-old events can be so fundamentally shaken.