"Virtually everywhere Charlie looked in the Haight there were street preachers pontificating to one or two or dozens of misfit listeners desperately seeking someone special to tell them what to do, how to live, what to think. Reinventing himself as a Haight guru and gaining a flock or worshipful followers was irresistible." -- page 95
It's the stuff novels are made of. Charlie Manson had experienced anything but a normal childhood. His father had divorced his mom Kathleen when Charlie was just 2 years old. A short time later his mother and his Uncle Luther were convicted or assault and robbery and sent to prison. Young Charlie went to live with his aunt and uncle and cousin Jo Ann. That did not work out either. Charlie was rambunctious and manipulative. He skipped school, stole things and then lied about it. His cousin Jo Ann recalls that even as a kid her cousin had "crazy eyes". By the time he was 21 Charlie had spent nearly 14 years in various institutions but the law dictated that he had to be released. According to author Jeff Guinn "Reformatory authorities who'd dealt with the worst delinquents in America concluded that Charlie Manson was beyond rehabilitating." This is the backdrop of the incredible tale Guinn has to tell in his riveting new book "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson". In preparing to write this book, Guinn managed to conduct in-depth interviews with a number of individuals we have not heard from before about this case including cousin Jo Ann and his sister Nancy. As a result, there are a lot of stories and information in "Manson" that you would not have seen anywhere else.
As the sordid tale of Manson and his Family unfolds it quickly becomes apparent that Charlie Manson is an extremely delusional individual. He somehow fancies himself the second coming of Christ and a musician of extraordinary ability who will one day become more famous than The Beatles. Furthermore, Charlie possesses the uncanny knack of being able to recruit naïve and confused young people to do his bidding. It is a lethal mix of character traits. While at the Terminal Island prison in Washington State Manson had carefully studied the writings of Dale Carnegie and Scientologist L. Ron Hubbard. Upon his release he would drift down the Pacific Coast to visit a friend at U-Cal Berkeley. It was there that Charlie would meet Mary Brunner and discover what he believed to be his true calling in life. Charlie had a great deal of charisma and his message of "love and peace and give up your ego" seemed to resonate with many of the young people desperately searching for answers on the streets of this northern California community. Over the next couple of years Charles Manson successfully recruited dozens of followers including Susan Atkins, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Charles "Tex" Watson, Bruce Davis, Linda Kasabian and Pat Krenwinkel. What Jeff Guinn has cobbled together in "Manson" is the most comprehensive play-by-play of the Manson Family's day-to-day activities ever written. This is compelling stuff folks and much of what Guinn unearthed in his two years of research sheds new light on these incredible events.
Sex, drugs, rock & roll, racism, the war in Vietnam, two extremely unpopular Presidents and police brutality all had a roll to play in the unraveling of America in the latter half of the 1960's. Throughout the pages of "Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson" Jeff Guinn masterfully weaves in what was going on in the rest of America with the nomadic lives Manson and his followers were leading in California. As time wore on and his dreams went unfilled Charlie Manson would lash out and become more violent. Thus, we have the brutal Tate-LaBianca murders and the killings of Shorty Shea, Gary Hinman and Steven Parent. After Charlie Manson was arrested an article in the New York Times described the Family as "a gang who lived a life of indolence, free sex, midnight motorcycle races and apparently blind obedience to a mysterious guru." Sounds about right to me. So whether you lived through those troubled times all those years ago or are a young person curious about what went down when your grandparents were teenagers then I would urge you to read "Manson". Jeff Guinn has certainly succeeded in making history come alive for his readers. Very highly recommended!
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