Book Reviews

Review: Zealot: A Book About Cults by Jo Thornely

9780733640506

Zealot: A Book About Cults

By Jo Thornely

4 out of 5 stars

Get it here!

In his early life and career, Jim Jones did a lot of good things and helped hundreds of people. But sometimes bad things people do override and overshadow any good things they do. This is one of those times. What an asshole. 

I’ve been a fan of Jo Thornely’s writing from back in the days of her Batchy-ette recaps on News.com.au. I wasted many a lecture getting the latest goss on a show I never watched, drawn in only by the virtue of Thornely’s writing. It was heaps good. And, unsurprisingly, so was Zealot. 

Zealot: A Book About Cults is exactly that – a non-fiction book covering some of the world’s most infamous cults in Thornely’s signature comedy style. This book acts as a companion to Thornely’s podcast of the same nameI’ve been subscribed to Zealot since she announced it’s existence at a My Favourite Murder live show. I enjoy the sweet spot she is able to hit in balancing an often heinous subject matter with her comedic tendencies. Not an easy thing to do.

Zealot reads like a greatest hits of the world’s most infamous cults and assholes. All the juicy ones are accounted for – Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, The Moonies, Australia’s own The Family, Children of God, Aum Shinrikyo, Colonia Dignidad, Heaven’s Gate, Branch Davidians, Raelians and those funny orange people, the Rajneeshees. While some of these evil/wacky organizations fascinate the pants off me, I had hoped that the book would cover some new material (making my $30+ spend worth it – I’m still not out of my broke student mentality!!) and was a tad disappointed that all of the cults mentioned in the book had already been covered at length in the podcast. While Thornely provided all new goofs and more information, I wish there had been some new ground explored. That being said, it was still a great read and I’d be interested in getting my hands (ears?) on the Thornely read Zealot audiobook.

Zealot-the-book reads exactly like like an episode of Zealot-the-podcast and not just because it is covering the same cults. Jo Thornely perfectly captured her voice on the pages, while still jamming in the good and meaty facts I loved. AND she managed to do this without the facts feeling stilted or the jokes feeling forced – and jokes there were aplenty. While Z-Book was sans any of the glamorous guest stars so prevalent in Z-Podcast, Thornely is able to provide all the chuckles we’ve come to expect from her. There’s something very Aussie about Thornely’s brand of humor which really appealed to me, though I’m not sure how well received her writing would be an “outsider” – an international reader or someone not familiar with this sort of dark true crime comedy.

Though touching on horrific and bizarre subject matters (I have so, so many questions of Ti and Do), Zealot was a great light read for me. I am very sparing in my non-fiction reading, and I have only venured to read this and The Trauma Cleaner in the last two years. I just prefer a fiction narrative, not a fantastic attitude to have as a school librarian I know, but I’m so glad I picked up Zealot. I found Zealot very easy to read and for a short while it made my morning commute a bit less boring and a bit more cult-y.

So I’ve already said it was a good Good Book (check), that wish it had done something new (check) but loved it anyway (check).

I guess there’s just one thing left to say:

Read Zealot: The Book. Listen to Zealot: The Podcast.

Don’t join a cult.


I have used the word Zealot more often in writing this piece than I have in my entire life before. Thank you for that gift, Jo.

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(Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash)

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