Kenneth Newport begins his study in pugilistic mode, levelling charges of gross exaggeration against almost all reporting on the Branch Davidians following their violent demise at Waco, Texas, in 1993. With the competition despatched, he sets himself the harder task of explaining the development of this "offshoot of an offshoot" of the Seventh-Day Adventists.
This is no easy feat, as Newport seems to view the Branch Davidians as both a highly developed Christian sect with complicated beliefs based on meticulous Bible study and a heavily armed apocalyptic group. But he gamely - and successfully - charts the rise of eschatological Christian groups from St Augustine's time onwards, before detailing the foundation of the Branch Davidians in the first half of the 20th century.
Newport deals with the sect's more lurid aspects - particularly David Koresh's sexual practices - succinctly and dispassionately, while its wilder interpretations of the Book of Revelations are all positioned in context. And his overall contention - that a more nuanced understanding of such groups would assist the secular world in dealing with religious extremists - is unarguably correct.