6 Bestselling Books That Tell the Truth About Scientology

L. Ron Hubbard
L. Ron Hubbard. Chris Ware

Unless you’re actually involved with the Church of Scientology, chances are you don’t know a whole lot about the organization. The things everyone knows about Scientology for certain are pretty much that Tom Cruise is a member, that its status as a religion is controversial (in fact, in some countries, like Germany, it’s legally considered a cult), and that its central beliefs have something to do with aliens.

Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, based on his earlier work "Dianetics," a guide to mental health he published a few years before. After some legal and financial difficulties, he reorganized those concepts into a religion. Scientology has been controversial more or less since its beginning; Hubbard had been a successful science fiction author prior to the foundation of the Church (and returned to writing later in life with his Scientology-themed "Battlefield Earth" series of sci-fi novels). He had little background in mental health or religious studies, and from the beginning many regarded his philosophical and religious ideas as far outside the mainstream.

Scientology doesn’t worship or even describe a specific deity; it’s best described as a religious or spiritual philosophy. The core component of Scientology dates back to "Dianetics": The belief that the human mind reacts to traumas, carried the memory of traumas through various lives and across millions of years, and that a person can only rise to the next level by auditing and eliminating those traumas — traumas that are invisible to us without putting in the work to identify and deal with them. One of the most controversial aspects of Scientology is the fact that the sessions, workshops, and audits are not free. In fact, it’s estimated that reaching “Clear” status and progressing to the highest levels of the religion can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000. To be fair, the Church offers free services to those in financial need, and the earliest stages of the religion are not at all costly — but the fact that if you take the Church’s teachings seriously you find yourself spending so much makes many people uncomfortable, especially when combined with the Church’s controversial tax-exempt status in the United States.

Still, Scientology remains a mysterious organization, regarded by most people as either a cult that reportedly intimidates and harasses its enemies and pressures people against leaving or a crazy collection of nonsense that dupes people out of their money. If you’re curious about what Scientology is really about, here are six Scientology books that will give you all the information you’ll need to make an educated decision.

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Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard

Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard
Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard.

To understand Scientology, you should start with the ultimate Scientology book: "Dianetics," the original blueprint for mental health that L. Ron Hubbard used as the fundamental platform of his new religion. Published in 1954, the book has been a massive bestseller — though many believe the sales numbers were artificially bloated for years by a campaign conducted by the Church to continuously buy up copies to create a false image of demand.

Widely considered to be unscientific and spurious, "Dianetics" remains the best way to get a general introduction to the precepts of Scientology. One of the main appeals of "Dianetics" is its hybrid approach to mental issues, combining "ancient" spiritual approaches with modern technology (most famously in the form of the E-Meter). The idea that wisdom from long ago could be augmented by modern science is a powerful one.

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Troublemaker, by Leah Remini

Troublemaker by Leah Remini
Troublemaker by Leah Remini.

Remini spent more than three decades in the Church of Scientology, from the age of nine. She was for much of her life a fierce defender of the Church and its teachings, but when current Church leader David Miscavige’s wife more or less disappeared from the public eye in 2006 Remini demanded to know what had happened to her. The Church’s response, according to Remini, was to intimidate and attack her on a constant basis, force her friends within the church to disavow her and file reports against her, and to threaten her and her family. Since then, Remini has become an outspoken critic of the Church, producing a documentary series ("Scientology and the Aftermath") and now a book, "Troublemaker," detailing her perspective and experience.

Unlike many critics of Scientology, Remini writes (and speaks) from experience, and her book is a deep dive into the secretive day-to-day experience of being a Scientologist, warts and all.

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Going Clear, by Lawrence Wright

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright.

Wright’s bestselling Scientology book is perhaps the first serious and successful effort to document Scientology — its membership, its practices and beliefs, and its culture. Wright claims he has received countless threats of legal action from attorneys representing the Church as well as individuals, but he also spoke with dozens of current and former members of the Church for his research. The result is a comprehensive look at Scientology and its history, including the biography of founder Hubbard and current Church leader Miscavige, and perspectives from both supportive current members and often critical and embittered former members. If you want to know what the Church really teaches and how it really operates, you can’t do better than this well-researched and controversial book.

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Beyond Belief, by Jenna Hill

Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill
Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill.

Jenna Miscavige Hill was a third-generation Scientologist (and niece of Church leader David Miscavige), born into the religion in 1984. In 2004 she and her husband were sent on a Church mission to Australia, where they had unsupervised access to the internet for the first time in their lives and encountered the first criticism of the Church they had heard, and quickly decided to leave the Church.

According to Hill, her childhood was miserable. As a Scientologist, she was separated from her parents at a young age and saw them just once a week on average. She was inducted into the Church’s Sea Org when she was six, signing a standard billion-year contract agreeing to follow Church teachings her entire life. At Sea Org, she was forced to perform hard manual labor, and to write down all of her “transgressions” (basically sins against the Church) and submit to E-meter scans until the scans confirmed her total honesty.

The Church has denied these allegations, but Hill’s book is compelling. Not only is she a lifetime member of the Church who has come to be one of its chief critics, but she is a member of the Church’s ruling family. If you want a clear-eyed sense of just how things work in Scientology and the impact it has on the lives of its members, this is the Scientology book for you.

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Ruthless, by Ron Miscavige

Ruthless by Ron Miscavige
Ruthless by Ron Miscavige.

Another insider report from a member of the Miscavige family, "Ruthless" is the story of Ron Miscavige, father of current leader of the Church David Miscavige. It’s a now-familiar story in many ways: Ron joined with his family when he was very young, and his son David became a close confidant of founder L. Ron Hubbard as a teenager, later rising to take over the Church when Hubbard passed away. Having been raised in the Church his whole life, Ron never had unfettered access to the internet or other objective sources of information about the Church. When he gained access to the internet in 2012, he was so disturbed by what he discovered he chose to leave the Church.

Ron is very critical of his son in his role as leader of the Church and claims that his son ordered him to be surveilled and threatened. Ron has a broader perspective on life inside the Church as he knows what it was like prior to his son’s leadership. The consistency of the details reported in Ron and Jenna Hill’s books give credence to some of the more disturbing reports about what life inside the Church is like, most notably the way information is strictly controlled and members are not able to form objective opinions about their own existence.

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Bare-Faced Messiah, by Russell Miller

Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller
Bare-Faced Messiah by Russell Miller.

Based on public records as well as leaked personal and Church documents, Miller’s unauthorized biography of Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard challenges the official life story presented by the Church (originating with Hubbard himself, and showing off his talents for pulp fiction) and paints a much less heroic and flattering portrait of the man.

Crucial to understanding Scientology is understanding the man who founded it, and it’s impossible to do so with the official biographies published by the Church, which Miller proves pretty effectively contain more lies than truth. The fact that many of the fabrications surrounding Hubbard’s life came directly from Hubbard himself is significant on its own, as it shows Hubbard to be a man who was restlessly myth-building long before his death.

The Church attempted to prevent publication of the book. It ordered members not to cooperate with Miller, filed numerous lawsuits under the guidance of several subsidiary companies, and had Miller followed and harassed in numerous ways, including writing letters to his publisher accusing him of poor journalistic practices and other failures. It’s a good rule of thumb that the less an individual or organization wants you to read something, the more important it is that you read it.

The Mystery Cult

Scientology’s membership has declined in recent years, but its vast real estate holdings, tax-exempt status, and celebrity membership keep it financially sound and functional. The Church remains secretive and mysterious to non-members, making it difficult to form an objective opinion about its status as a religion and other aspects of its internal culture and teachings. These six books offer credible insider looks at the Church and its belief system, giving you all the information you need to make a judgment.

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Somers, Jeffrey. "6 Bestselling Books That Tell the Truth About Scientology." Learn Religions, Sep. 16, 2020, learnreligions.com/best-scientology-books-4155800. Somers, Jeffrey. (2020, September 16). 6 Bestselling Books That Tell the Truth About Scientology. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/best-scientology-books-4155800 Somers, Jeffrey. "6 Bestselling Books That Tell the Truth About Scientology." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/best-scientology-books-4155800 (accessed July 25, 2021).