Criticism & Features

Year 2013: 30 Books

Alex Abramovich on Lawrence Wright’s ‘Going Clear’

By Alex Abramovich

 In the weeks leading up to the March 13 announcement of the 2013 NBCC award winners, Critical Mass highlights the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Alex Abramovich offers an appreciation of Lawrence Wright's nonfiction finalist, “Going Clear” (Random House).

Lawrence Wright’s investigation of the Church of Scientology drew gasps when it appeared in a Valentines’ Day issue of The New Yorker, in 2011. But Going Clear doubles down on the crazy, and goes way beyond that article’s promise.

The author's entry point is a film director—hacky-but-interesting Paul Haggis—who spent years in the church, split, and spilled about it. The other Hollywood figures you’d expect to meet come into play. But, by and large, Wright focuses on Scientology’s history, its organization, and workings—which come off as murky, shady, and frightening, by turns. Wright is even-handed, even generous. (“That crunching sound you hear is Lawrence Wright bending over backward to be fair to Scientology,”  Michael Kinsley wrote in the New York Times Book Review).  He also describes the ways in which Scientology’s crushed other journalists (and beaten the IRS into submission).  His book is a brick, thrown through a window—a tremendous, long overdue work of reportage.  

Read Michael Kingsley’s review of Going Clear.
Visit Lawrence Wright’s website.
See Wright on Charlie Rose.

Alex Abramovich has worked and/or written for The New Yorker, The London Review of Books, Bookforum, The New York Times and other publications. He lives in Oakland, California and Astoria, Queens.