Guinn (The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral—and How It Changed the American West, 2011, etc.) paints a striking, full-length portrait of one of American history’s most notorious sociopaths.
By 1967, 32-year-old Charles Manson had spent more than half his life in reform schools, jails and prison. Released onto the streets of San Francisco during the Summer of Love, armed with a practiced street rap—a mishmash of Bible verses, Dale Carnegie quotations, Scientology precepts and rock-’n’-roll lyrics—a philosophy of free love and even freer drugs and crude psychological insights gleaned from fellow pimps and con men, the petty hustler attracted a small following among the city’s naïve, confused youth. Moving his “Family” to Los Angeles in pursuit of a music career, Manson tightened his hold on his followers and led them in increasingly bizarre escapades that culminated in several murders, most infamously the Tate-LaBianca killings, designed to kick off “Helter Skelter,” a race war that would end with the Family ruling the world. Guinn takes readers on a head-spinning ride through Manson’s deeply disturbed childhood, his criminal career and his brief tenure as satanic guru to the damaged disciples, mostly women, he held in thrall. Against the backdrop of the roiling ’60s, the author offers inside information on life within the cult, miniportraits of its various members, and stories about the dope dealers, rock musicians, motorcycle gang members, Hollywood glitterati, record-industry honchos and hangers-on who brushed up against the Family. He concludes by effortlessly unpacking the murders, the manhunt and the trial that riveted the nation. Spared the gas chamber by California’s abolition of the death penalty, Manson remains incarcerated. A handful of deluded supporters maintain a Facebook page devoted to proving his innocence and to spreading his environmental rants.
A compulsively readable account of a murderer who continues to fascinate.