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Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

A book by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry.

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More than you ever thought you'd know about the Manson Family

  • May 25, 2010
As a crime television show lover and a fan of reading about true crimes, I was all over Helter Skelter when I first read about the Manson Family and the havoc that they wreaked.

Vincent Bugliosi, who cowrote this book with Curt Gentry, was the prosecutor of this case and I'm so glad that he chronicled his brush with the case in Helter Skelter.  Not too many others could have offered the same insights as Bugliosi did.  He's one of few people who had such close access to all the relevant people and evidence, and more importantly, he was the person who painstakingly studied what seemed like every minute detail of all that transpired and then some, analyzed it, built up the case, and successfully prosecuted members of the Manson Family.

Bugliosi covers three major parts of this whole saga in the book: the history of all parties involve, the actual crimes committed, and the entire build up and trying of the case.  He goes into very in depth detail about Charles Manson's history from his upbringing to his quirks, giving a bunch of surprising and creepy trivia about him.  For instance, Charles Manson is 5'2 (I'm taller than him!), he gave himself the name "Charles Willis Manson" as it stands for "Charles' Will Is Man's Son", and most alarming of all, with all that Bugliosi is able to bring to the table about him, you realize that Charles Manson isn't some crazed lunatic, but rather, he's a genius.  There aren't too many people out there who can get such a large group of people to mobilize and act in the way that did did, and to do the shocking things that Charles Manson ordered of them.  And the crazy part is that they stood by him during the entire trial and for a seemingly long time after that.

The most surprising part of the book for me was how Bugliosi painted Charles Manson as a crook, and a charming and conniving con-man.  Sadly, instead of using his gifts of being able to mobilize people to take action to bring and do good in the world, he chose to be manipulative and took advantage of vulnerable people, wreaking havoc.  Bugliosi goes into how many of the cultish tennants that Charles Manson preached to the Manson Family were actually inspired by Scientology and other religious organizations that he had brushes with.

Bugliosi ties the entire saga together and the end result is a book involving the 60's, a cult, a prophecy, some hippies, an internationally reknowned film producer, a budding starlet, a Folgers coffee hieress, brainwashing, orgies, murders, compounds, Haight-Ashbury, Hollywood, Scientology, drugs, a Beach Boy, and The Beatles, just to mention a few.

And the trippiest part?  This was all real.

If you're a fan of crime stories and have a particular interest in the truly bizarre and occult, then Helter Skelter is a must-read.  I'm not too much of a reader, but once I picked this book up, I could not put it down and opened it up for a read every chance I got.  It was an easy, and captivating read.  If you're put off by the length of this book, I should note that to date, Helter Skelter is still the longest book I've ever voluntarily read (looking to beat this personal record soon!), and that says a lot  I should mention that there are a few somewhat disturbing photos in the book, too.

To quote the song that Charles Manson claimed to have inspired him to commit these atrocious crimes, which in turn, inspired the title of this book:

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and then I go for a ride
'Til I get to the bottom and I see you again, yeh, yeh yeh

Only Charles Manson can make a Beatles song sound creepy.
More than you ever thought you'd know about the Manson Family.

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June 02, 2010
Yes indeed a guy that can make a Beatles song sound creepy. I was actually thinking of dropping some reviews on the two Helter Skelter movies. No need now since you have brought forth this excellent review.
June 02, 2010
Thanks, Alex! I actually haven't seen the two Helter Skelter movies so I would love to read about them. Count Orlok told me that there were some great documentaries, too.
May 26, 2010
I am hungry and I came to your profile looking for a food review but what I found was this. Interesting...ok...I'll have to check this out real soon. Nice work, Debbie, and I am still hungry :(
May 26, 2010
Thanks, Woo! Hope you got some food! Food review coming up soon ;)
May 25, 2010
Wow, Debbie, you're hitting up some dark stuff. I've seen probably about a half-dozen documentaries on Manson and his "family" and despite what so many people have said about him, I don't think he is a genius. At least not by my definition. His ability to understand the human mind (at least some people's) is certainly a gift, but if you examine his thought process, his inability to adopt moral responsibility, and his rather primitive concepts of race, one can't really say that he's particularly intelligent, certainly not from an intellectual or academic standpoint. However, having said that he did have innate talent for recognizing weakness and internal conflict in others, and to make things worse he knew exactly how to exploit these flaws to his advantage. I'd say that's more a sign of opportunism than actual intelligence, but that's just me. Have you seen any of the A&E documentaries on either Manson, the Manson Family, or the Tate/Bianca murders?
May 25, 2010
Yup, dark, but also very mainstream considering how widely known this book is. You bring up some good points. From the book, I get the impression though, that Charles Manson knew well right from wrong, but that he just didn't care and made the choice to go down a destructive path. No, I haven't seen any of the documentaries yet. I think Vincent Bugliosi's got them covered in this book, but I'll still have to check them out. Thanks for your comment, Sean!
May 25, 2010
Yes, clearly he was a sociopath. He knew right from wrong, but he didn't care, so I absolutely agree. He understood that he was controlling people, violating them (physically and mentally), and causing pain and death to others. But what I mean, and perhaps I didn't clarify myself very well, is that to a certain extent a person's capacity for empathy and their ability to care is a reflection of their intelligence. Manson was always very egocentric, which is partly why he chose people who were already emotionally disturbed in some way. He could understand people's problems, but he could never really experience their emotions or their perspective for himself. Also, his ideas about racial cleansing and starting a war between white America and all other ethnic groups by killing wealthy white people then blaming it on the Black Panthers was beyond idiotic. I think that whatever intelligence Manson did have was greatly overshadowed by his psychological defects and his heavy use of psychotropic drugs.

By the way, here are some of the documentaries...
Manson 40 Years Later
What Happened After? The Manson Murders
Serial Killers: Profiling the Criminal Mind (includes the original Biography episode on Manson)
And there are many others that are available at A&Etv.com here.
May 26, 2010
You bring up a lot of interesting points. Wow, I didn't know you knew you were so into the history of the Manson family! Thanks for the suggestions, I have to check them out.
May 26, 2010
I went through a phase in my early teens where I was fascinated by serial killers because of someone I knew, but I quickly out-grew it thankfully. I could fill you in later about it.
May 27, 2010
Oh, no need to explain, because I went through the very same thing! I actually first read this book in my freshman year of high school. I'm still very fascinated by these stories and can read up on them for hours on Wikipedia, plus I love crime shows. It's probably why I studied psychology in college, and almost studied criminal justice as well :P
May 28, 2010
Somehow, and don't take this the wrong way, but I can't see you as part of the legal system. It just seems too stuffy for your vibrant personality.
May 28, 2010
No offense taken! ...but that's why I'm here ;)  Though the thought of being a private detective or some sort of forensic scientists still sound really, really cool... I'll live it in my imagination :)
May 28, 2010
Oh, yeah, private eye or forensic scientist or even a forensic psychologist would all be very interesting, but talk about stressful and unnerving work. Did you ever see the original 1986 film based on Thomas Harris' novel "Red Dragon"? It was called "Manhunter" and directed by Michael Mann and starred a pre-CSI William Petersen.
More Helter Skelter: The True Story... reviews
review by . October 03, 2010
OK, I read Helter Skelter when I was in high school back in the mid 70s.  I remembered it being very intense, but I'm an adult now, and hadn't given much thought to just how intense this account of the Manson murders really is.      So rereading it while I was alone in an apartment in Manchester, UK a long way from anyone I know and love was probably a mistake.  I realized from page one that I was going to need light (every light in the apartment) and noise …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
A part of our history everyone should read. It is amazing to see the level of mind control.
review by . July 07, 2010
DELETE THESE QUESTIONS IF/AFTER YOU RESPOND!!        I was terrrified and shocked that one person could have so much control over anyone. I would recommend this to true crime readers, but not for the faint.  I watch and read alot of true crime but none have left me so scared and horrified as this one.  I read it when I was younger and almost couldn't finish it because of how scare I was.  Thought since I was older it would be different but it wasn't.  …
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
guaranteed to fulfill your morbid curiosity!
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
The District Atorney who prosecuted rhe Manson family produces a well writtren and insightful book into the Manson family.
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
Such a strange but true happening
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Interesting chronology of a gruesome crime.
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
charlie manson is a true physco killer in every form
review by . June 20, 2010
   I first read the book in high school for a case study that i was doing for a Forensics class. Once i started reading this book i couldn't stop the way this book was written was simply amazing. The whole book was an in depth look of the Manson Family and their killings the trials after. It was such an interesting book, the amount of information you get in this book about the whole process of the murders is very impressive. One would ask how Vincent Bugliosi would be able to get this …
Quick Tip by . June 20, 2010
amazing book that puts you at the scene of the murders. Very detailed, felt like i was at the scene of the murders and they also get you in depth with all the forensic science that was involved.
About the reviewer
devora ()
Ranked #4
When I'm not Lunching, I'm a jeweler, and an all around, self-proclaimed web geek. My passions include social media, the interweb, technology, writing, yoga, fitness, photography, jewelry, fashion, … more
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About this book


Helter Skelter is a true crime book by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. The subject of the book is the 1969 Manson Family murders and Bugliosi's own prosecution of Charles Manson and his followers.

Helter Skelter was first published in the United States in 1974 and became a bestseller. The book takes its title from the song by The Beatles, with which Manson was obsessed. Manson used the phrase for an anticipated race war. Helter Skelter won a 1975 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime book and was the basis for two movies, released in 1976 and 2004.

According to the director of the 2008 movie The Strangers, this book was the main influence for the story line of the movie, contrary to any other stories that have been posted around the internet since the film's release.
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Author: Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry
Genre: True Crime, Historical Biography, Crime & Criminals

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