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Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

Review

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

"In November [1967] his parole supervision was transferred from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where Charlie felt certain he would realize his dream of world-wide fame." If you are an American of a certain age, you've heard of Charles "Charlie" Manson: petty criminal, wannabe songwriter, bloodthirsty killer. This new book by journalist Jeff Guinn (GO DOWN TOGETHER and THE LAST GUNFIGHT) shows us the little man behind the big story.

Charlie was the illegitimate child of an alcoholic teen mother, and it could be said that his life was all downhill. By age 12, he was committing crimes and bouncing from one reform school to another, sometimes playing the angel child on good behavior, at other times the devil boy, once caught sodomizing a fellow detainee at razor point. He grew in age but not in stature, never getting over 5'5" but determined to be a big man.

"Guinn has successfully brought Manson and his 'family' back to our attention in this fascinating tome. He hunted for clues to Charlie's skewed personality by interviewing relatives, friends and acquaintances from Charlie's youth, even some of the actual Helter Skelter participants."

From the Dale Carnegie course he took in prison and his reading of L. Ron Hubbard's scientology, Charlie patched together a charismatic style to lure young people caught up in the chaotic 1960s cultural revolution, seeming to offer them something, and someone, to live for. He moved his gang of lost, stoned misfits from downtown dumpster diving in LA to devising malevolent games out in the southern California desert.

His final caper was a playbook he named Helter Skelter, after a crazy Beatles song meant to amuse, never to be used as a blueprint for mayhem. Sending his crazed, almost robotic followers into the posh suburbs to do mischief, self-styled guru Charlie orchestrated the brutal, senseless killings of at least seven people, including beautiful, pregnant starlet Sharon Tate.

Guinn portrays Manson as someone who proved early on that he was not afraid to hurt and kill his fellow human beings; in fact, he would do just about anything for attention. Since the headline-grabbing trial of Manson and his women was bound to end in a death sentence, the author opines that in Charlie's fevered mind, "The trial would have to be so memorable that Charlie's fame would long outlast his life."

Guinn has successfully brought Manson and his "family" back to our attention in this fascinating tome. He hunted for clues to Charlie's skewed personality by interviewing relatives, friends and acquaintances from Charlie's youth, even some of the actual Helter Skelter participants. Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten compared life with Charlie in Death Valley to "modern-day survivalist cults," though most such groups, it should be said, do not share the vicious "Manson family values."

Charlie is still alive and still, thankfully, behind bars.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on August 9, 2013

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson
by Jeff Guinn

  • Publication Date: August 5, 2014
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1451645171
  • ISBN-13: 9781451645170