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When John Cave, a mortician by trade, appears on television to declare that death is infinitely preferable to life, he sparks a religious movement that quickly leaves Christianity and most of Islam in the dust. Aided by a relentless public-relations campaign and supported by a "theology" whipped into existence by a historian besotted with love for one of Cave's alluring disciples, Cave's message proves irresistible. Things really start to get out of hand, however, when the notion of "voluntary death" creeps int the doctrine and the world's population is invited to depart from life by taking Cavesway -- a painless, delightful poison -- in specially appointed pleasant rooms in the ubiquitous Cavite Centers. A deft and daring blend of satire and prophecy, first published in 1954, Messiah eerily anticipated the excesses of Jim Jones, David Koresh, and "Do," the guru of Heaven's Gate.

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