In The Media
August 16, 2013
More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. Read more...
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More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. It was the culmination of a criminal career that author Jeff Guinn traces back to Manson's childhood. Guinn interviewed Manson's sister and cousin, neither of whom had ever previously cooperated with an author. Childhood friends, cellmates, and even some members of the Manson Family have provided new information about Manson's life. Guinn has made discoveries about the night of the Tate murders, answering unresolved questions, such as why one person on the property where the murders occurred was spared.
"Manson" puts the killer in the context of his times, the turbulent late sixties, an era of race riots and street protests when authority in all its forms was under siege. Guinn shows us how Manson created and refined his message to fit the times, persuading confused young women (and a few men) that he had the solutions to their problems. At the same time he used them to pursue his long-standing musical ambitions, relocating to Los Angeles in search of a recording contract. His frustrated ambitions, combined with his bizarre race-war obsession, would have lethal consequences as he convinced his followers to commit heinous murders on successive nights.
In addition to stunning revelations about Charles Manson, the book contains family photographs never before published.
What made Manson
It has been 44 years since Charles Manson manipulated members of his so-called Family into murdering pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight other people in a delusional attempt to spark “Helter Skelter,” the end-of-the-world race war that Manson had convinced his followers would lead to their rise as saviors of the world.
Crazy stuff like this has a long shelf life. In the almost half-century since, rivers of ink have flowed in the attempt to understand how this diminutive ex-con could have lured normal-seeming middle-class youngsters (mostly girls) into savagery. In fact, so much has been written about Manson and his followers that it’s easy to wonder if there’s anything new to say.
It turns out there is. Jeff Guinn managed to track down and interview Manson’s older cousin, with whom a young Charlie Manson had lived when his mother was in prison, and his younger sister, adopted, to Manson’s great dismay, while he was imprisoned at McNeil Island, Washington. Neither of these women can shed light on the ultimate source of Manson’s dysfunction—he apparently was a sociopath from a very young age—but they do clear up much of the misinformation about his childhood and help Guinn offer a richer understanding of Manson’s early life. Guinn also interviewed former cellmates, Manson Family members, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (who wrote the definitive book on the murder trial), and a host of others. The result is that Guinn’s well-researched biography, Manson, offers many new details about Manson’s life and enhances our understanding of him in several ways.
It turns out that Manson, who hated formal schooling, was a serious student of manipulation. Though functionally illiterate, he worked his way through Dale Carnegie’s books about the arts of persuasion, investigated Scientology not for its dogma but for its methods of captivating followers and sat at the feet of pimps to learn techniques for manipulating women, and through them, men. Guinn also shows Manson to have been a guru worried about losing his followers. His need to bind them to him, Guinn suggests plausibly, was part of his path to murder.
Finally, Guinn does an excellent job of placing Manson in the context of the tumultuous 1960s. In some circles, Manson and his followers are thought to be the logical end-product of those wild times. But Guinn offers a more nuanced view: “Charlie Manson is a product of the 1960s—and also of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s,” he writes. In what is probably the fullest biography of Manson to date, Guinn shows that Manson the murderer is not just a creation of the ’60s but the unfortunate sum of all his parts.