Throughout his life, L. Ron Hubbard wove an extraordinary web of fantasy around himself, and the invention of Scientology was the eventual outcome of this process. In this book Miller tells the story in a highly entertaining manner.
After various wanderings in his youth, Hubbard joined the Navy in the Second World War, when he briefly had command of an anti-submarine vessel. After the war he spent some time in a Black Magic commune, before taking up his pre-war trade of writing pulp science fiction. In 1950 he invented his method of psychotherapy which he called Dianetics. This was the forerunner of Scientology, which proved extremely successful and made Hubbard's fortune.
Riding on the success of Scientology, he came to England and bought Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, where for a time he became, bizarrely, Road Safety Organizer. While at Saint Hill he twice visited heaven,, which was a town populated by effigies; on the second occasion it had become distinctly tatty. Increasing hostility to Scientology in Australia and elsewhere eventually caused Hubbard to take to the sea. He bought several ships and set himself up as Commodore in command of what was called the Sea Org. He and his followers sailed about, mainly in the Mediterranean, anchoring for a time in different ports; members of the crew who misbehaved were at certain periods thrown overboard as a penalty.
Hubbard was married three times, once bigamously. Towards the end of his life, his paranoia increasing, he conceived the plan of infiltrating US government agencies that held material about Scientology. This astonishing enterprise succeeded to some extent, but it was eventually discovered. Hubbard, quite unforgivably, allowed his loyal wife Mary Sue to take all the blame and she was eventually sentenced to prison as a result.
On the evidence of this (thoroughly referenced) biography, Hubbard was a manic-depressive with an increasing tendency towards paranoia. Miller quotes an ex-Scientologist who said of Hubbard: "He was a mixture of Adolf Hitler, Charlie Chaplin and Baron Munchhausen. In short, he was a con man." To me, he has many features in common with another guru from a little earlier in the twentieth century, G.I. Gurdjieff. I'd love to know how much of what he said about himself he actually believed; perhaps not very much. Hubbard's 'auditor' reports that Hubbard once told him quite openly that he was obsessed by an insatiable lust for power and money.
Note This book can now be read on-line for free here.