An overlong and uneven but intermittently fascinating study of human behavior motivated by evil.



A personal and professional fascination informs this inquiry into various members of Charles Manson’s family.

In 1996, journalist and social worker Meredith wrote letters of interest to murderers Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel, and their responses sparked a 20-year acquaintanceship that has given the author unprecedented access to these two “Manson Women.” Lively Van Houten, now 68, and a consistently dour, cheerless Krenwinkel, 70, both contributed hours of conversation as the author probed the hijacked psyche of each by a cunning Manson, their sinister detachment from the 1969 murders, and their personal methods of deprogramming from their cult affiliation. Meredith broadens her scope with the inclusion of associated analysis and interviews with Stephen Kay, a prosecutor on the Manson trial, and profiles of followers like Catherine Share, Manson’s core recruiter of young women. (Ironically, both Kay and Share were fellow classmates of Meredith’s in high school). The author’s field research yields mixed results. Her accounts of afternoons spent with Van Houten’s permanently scarred mother are deeply poignant and revelatory, while an encounter with “startlingly manicured” family member Susan Atkins, a baffling visit to Krenwinkel’s dementia-addled father in an Idaho nursing home, or her trek across Death Valley to scrutinize Manson’s former desert outpost are largely unremarkable. More impressive are Meredith’s passionate discussions of psychological influence and cult control, and she ties these themes into her own history of growing up Jewish and facing the ever present specter of anti-Semitism. She also discusses the plight of her brother, who committed armed robbery as a youth and was imprisoned—not far from the women’s facility where Van Houten and Krenwinkel remain today. The author also cogently deliberates on the complicated nature of remorse and how organized religion’s “automatic redemption” still prevents Krenwinkel (and many other wrongdoers) from truly acknowledging her culpability and her loss of humanity.

An overlong and uneven but intermittently fascinating study of human behavior motivated by evil.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8065-3858-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Citadel/Kensington

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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