Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright – review

Sukhdev Sandhu applauds an eye-opening account of America's most controversial religion

At the end of the 1940s, L Ron Hubbard – a sinophobic college dropout turned pulp writer (his pseudonyms included Joe Blitz and Legionnaire 148) turned reckless naval officer (one report claimed he was "lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and co-operation") turned ulcerous and gonorrhea-afflicted war veteran – hatched a plan to revive his stuttering fortunes. "I'd like to start a religion," he's reported to have declared. "That's where the money is."

Going Clear, Lawrence Wright's new study of the man and his followers, shows just how right he was. By 1950, Hubbard had developed a self-help system called dianetics, which was to form the basis of the Church of Scientology, whose assets are now reputed to be in the order of £1bn. Yet, though it claims a membership of 8m worldwide, independent studies suggest only 30,000 Americans call themselves
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