Prior to reading this biography of Charles Manson, one of the most infamous mass murderers in the world, I knew surprisingly little about him. I wasn’t exactly sure who he had killed and why. I basically just knew he was a sociopath. I wanted to know more mostly out of morbid curiosity.
Jeff Guinn’s biography of Manson was very readable. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was like reading a novel, but it definitely wasn’t boring or dense. Even though the “action”–the actual murders–took up a relatively small portion of the book, the rest of the story was just as interesting. I was even able to distinguish between Manson’s many followers (members of the “Manson Family”) despite their many aliases and nicknames, because Guinn did a great job of describing and characterizing each of them.
In this biography, Manson’s crimes are put into context, exploring all the pieces that led to him being “the wrong man in the right place at the right time.” After finishing Manson, I believe that Manson’s crimes were a product of his own mental and emotional instability, his unfortunate childhood experiences, the overwhelming “peace & love” vibe of the 1960s, and the widespread racial riots of the time period. He began as only one of many gurus living in California, spouting off his own personal philosophy and seeking followers. Of course, although he spoke constantly about love and equality, he was extremely racist and sexist, believing that the women in the Family (and it was comprised mostly of women) should be completely subservient to him in every way.
Ultimately, Manson’s brainwashed followers came to believe everything he said. He told them that Black people would rebel against whites in an apocalyptic event known as Helter Skelter. (This was, according to Manson, foretold in both the Book of Revelation and the Beatles’ White Album.) He and his followers would hide in a bottomless pit in the desert until everything had blown over, and then they would reemerge many years later, un-aged, to rule the earth. In an attempt to spark Helter Skelter, Manson orchestrated the infamous mass murders of Sharon Tate, a few of her friends, and the LaBiancas. He ordered several of his followers to carry out the murders, and they mindlessly did so.
Charles Manson is without a doubt an extremely disturbed, delusional, violent and power-hungry individual. He desperately wanted fame–specifically as a rock star, but being an infamous murderer was okay, too. But he was also incredibly charismatic and persuasive. Nothing scares me more than mob mentality and brainwashing. Part of the reason I like to read about things like Manson and the Family is because I like to be reminded that it’s always important to think for myself.
If you have any interest in learning more about Manson’s life and the (albeit deluded) reasoning behind his violent acts, I’d highly recommend this book.