Some dairy-devoted Americans smuggle hunks of unpasteurised cheese back into their country after holidays in hedonistic ol' Europe. This American engaged in a similarly contraband importation when I returned to London on Monday from a trip to New York with a particular book in my suitcase. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright is one of the most keenly awaited books of the year, but those in the UK will continue to wait in vain for it (or fork out exorbitant shipping fees from US-based online booksellers) as, owing to Britain's stiflingly archaic libel laws, Transworld, the book's British publisher, announced earlier this month that "legal advice" had convinced it not to publish Wright's study of the world's most controversial religion. This is a real shame for anyone in this country who is interested, not just in free speech, but learning more about Scientology.
To the fun stuff first. The gossipy details in the book about the mentality and mendacity of Scientology's founder, L Ron Hubbard, and the increasing weirdness of Hubbard's most high-profile devotee, Tom Cruise, are certainly jaw-dropping. But they will not come as much of a surprise to those who have read Wright's 2011 New Yorker article about Scientology and Vanity Fair's recent damning piece about Cruise. Yet even if such stories aren't wholly new, it still feels pretty mindblowing to have them reported by Wright: nearly every horror story you've heard about the violence and secrecy in the Scientology church, every bit of gossip about Cruise and his fellow Scientologist, John Travolta, are pretty much supported by Wright (if denied by the church) and, despite what the Scientology church has said, Wright – a New Yorker staff writer and Pulitzer prize winner – is about as credible as they come.