Book Review - People Who Play God How Ultra-Authorities Enslave the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Their Victims

Cultic Studies Review, 4, (1), 2005

People Who Play God: How Ultra-Authorities Enslave the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Their Victims

B. E. Peterson. Philadelphia PA: Xlibris, 2003. ISBN 141341642X (paperback), 395 pages, $22.95

Reviewed by Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

This book is one of many written by people who feel compelled to share personal experiences that have affected their mental health. In the Preface, the author confides she was victimized by an “ultra-authority,” and, unlike “anyone limited to academic research or even therapeutic work with survivors,” she has “been there,” has been “healed,” and the book has been “part of that healing process.” This perspective suggests research is of little use, and psychotherapy ineffective, unless the therapist has had the treated condition.

Because the book is one person’s experience and interpretation, the content is anecdotal, subjective, and may not be applicable to others. Then again, the author presumes expertise based on “a continually growing number of years of research, experience, observation, and intense thought and internal exploration,” and “the invaluable work done by others.” And on page 25, she proposes “Peterson’s integrated model of ultra-authority.”

The book contains 14 chapters, some with as few as two pages (e.g., Chapter 7); other chapters contain as many as 48 pages (e.g., Chapter 9). Some chapters are so brief they barely touch on a subject. Others are overly detailed, such as chapters on Manson, Jones, and Hitler. Throughout the book, figures are given and seemingly factual statements are made without citing sources. This lack of source citation makes separating the author’s opinion or interpretation from objective fact or researched data difficult. Citations also would have helped to provide some basis for the author’s sweeping generalizations, such as “It is well documented...” (page 385).

The book ends with a Suggested Reading list of seven books and a 5-page Selected Bibliography of 40 titles, most of them more than 20 years old; only one title is as recent as 2000. The material would have benefited from the many more-recent articles and books on authority figures and their influence on others. There is no index.

Advice the author gives readers seems sound but is based on one person’s experience rather than on studies of many cases treated by compared therapies. The list of five persons to “stay away from” refers only to those who use obvious manipulation and omits those whose subtle, covert methods are more difficult to detect.

The material would have been more helpful if the author had encouraged readers to consult a mental-health professional if they cannot cope alone. The advice to “become your own personal authority” (page 385) is ironic. That kind of thinking has contributed to the development of “ultra authorities.”

The book lacks references to the substantial body of clinical and empirical research and therapies used on similar cases. It does not make a significant contribution to clinical or research literature. What it contains can be found elsewhere, in already-published articles and books. However, the author is to be complimented for processing the pain she endured from an “ultra authority” and finding her way back to mental health and a meaningful life. What she shares can help readers understand how authority figures can misinform and even lead individuals to mental disorder, suicide, or the infliction of violence on others.