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. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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