One of the biggest non-fiction books of 2013 has been Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief, though it's not even the latest addition to the anti-Scientology canon. That would be Beyond Belief, the tome published earlier this month by Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige.
But Wright's book was highly anticipated, ever since he announced he was adapting his blockbuster 2011 New Yorker story documenting movie director Paul Haggis' disaffection with the church. That's in part because of Wright's well-deserved reputation as a writer — he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower, his deeply reported book on the evolution of Al-Qaeda, and has done several interesting one-man shows (he also has a new play about to open in Berkeley based on the life of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci).
As Wright writes in the book and has discussed in interviews, the Church brought New Yorker editors no less than 48 binders in bankers' boxes during the fact-checking period for the story. That's when the magazine's editor, David Remnick, pulled Wright aside and said, "You've got a book here."
And two years and a few months later, he does indeed, though lots of the material covered here has been documented before, most notably by Janet Reitman in 2011's Inside Scientology. What distinguishes Wright's approach is his focus on the Paul Haggis story.
Haggis is a successful film director (his 2005 film Crash won the Academy Award for Best film) who left the church after 35 years, disgusted that the San Diego branch of Scientology had publicly supported Proposition 8, the state amendment that took away marriage rights for California gay couples. But he also said that the devastating three-part series by the Tampa Bay Times in June of 2009 — in which defectors like Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder claimed that Miscavige physically abused church members — played a strong role as well.
Wright delves deep into the Hollywood/Scientology relationship, with some spicy reporting about Hollywood celebrities like John Travolta and Tom Cruise to give his narrative some new juice (let's just say those recent reports about Travolta and his sexual preference are nothing new, according to Wright).
Scientology officials' response to his reporting is mentioned throughout the book (often as footnotes). But some Western nations with a less than robust commitment to free speech have still balked: the book's publisher in the United Kingdom cancelled publishing the book, and the Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that the book's North American publisher (Knopf) has held off releasing the book in the Great North pending further review of the country's libel laws.
In a formal response to CNN last month, attorneys representing the Church of Scientology write that Wright's book is "full of many mistakes, unfounded statements, and utterly false facts," adding that it is "infused with religious bigotry."