Book Review by Christian Szurko
Late last November sensible people were frenetically shopping. I was reveted by a book.
Books about new religions often suffer from wooliness of content, failure to cite sources for facts, lack of critical insight, poor organization of material, bad writing, or a vengeful attitude. Many suffer from a combination of flaws. A Piece of Blue Sky, written by Jon Atack, is one of the best-written books on a new religious movement I have read in a long time. That it is about Scientology, and thus was written despite their usual harrassment of critics, makes it remarkable.
If Blue Sky had been a mere chronology that would in itself have been a remarkable achievement, so great was the mass of materials to be reduced to precisely recorded, carefully documented factual accounts. Indeed observers of Scientology may read facts here which are difficult to find or to document anywhere else.
The book goes beyond this though. The data also was analysed meticulously to understand the inner reality and the logic - if such a word can be applied to the behaviour of the late L.R.Hubbard and his organization - reflected in the events. In writing A Piece of Blue Sky Jon Atack has gone beyond chronology to produce what must be the most comprehensive one-volume history of Scientology available.
The organization of the chapters is clear. Readers need not fear getting lost in the narrative as they retrace the convoluted path of Hubbard’s life through the larger part of the twentieth century. Likewise, the style of Blue Sky is not baffling or awkward even when its subject matter demands intricacy of detail.
All too often, the hurt sustained by those who have been in groups like Scientology is so great that the ex-member is unable to find healing, and his or her book may be shaped by bitterness. Blue Sky is not. This does not mean it is without humour. Irony and even biting sarcasm also find their place in the book, but they focus attention rather than injure feelings.
Anyone who needs to understand the reality of Scientology needs to read A Piece of Blue Sky. This includes researchers and government officials in the the countries in which Scientology is active. It also includes families, teachers, counsellors, and legal and medical professionals including those working in mental health.I once commented to Jon Atack that reading some analyses of new religions was like shaving with a banana. A Piece of Blue Sky is a well-stropped straight razor in the hands of an experienced barber. There is no doubt more to say about Scientology, but there can be few better places to start than with this book.