The world has been waiting such a long time—decades!—for something like this book, and now that it's finally arrived, I'm pleased to report that it's just as good as we could've hoped. Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief is a great journalistic achievement—a comprehensive history of L. Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology, from its inception in the late 1940s to today, constructed with what appears to be airtight reportage.

That "airtight reportage" bit is important because, as the book details, the Church of Scientology has sued people who have dared to write about it. But the book incorporates pieces of Wright's New Yorker profile of screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, an outspoken former Scientologist, and that story remains unchallenged by the church's attorneys to this day. (The meeting between the church's legal and PR representatives, Wright, and a ragtag collection of the New Yorker's editors and fact-checkers is the book's climactic scene; that there have been no repercussions for Wright thus far make the scene, thankfully, a kind of anticlimax.)

For nearly four hundred pages, Wright grabs hold of the church's most sacred beliefs and cheerfully dismantles them, beginning with the story of its founder, sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard. From what I can tell, Scientology considers Hubbard to be the greatest man who ever lived, a cross between Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, with some Indiana Jones and Captain America slathered on top, but Wright paints a much darker portrait. The Hubbard we're introduced to—who comes across as an egomaniacal compulsive liar, a man who beat one wife and abandoned a child he had with another woman—is pretty much the height of heresy for the church. Wright notes in the acknowledgments that it's been decades since any author has attempted a Hubbard biography, because former attempts have been discredited or suppressed by the church's lawyers...