Manson (2014)

Jeff Guinn

A comprehensive research based biographical true crime book about Charles Manson. Guinn’s writing is easy to read, informative, appears to be well researched and is perhaps the definitive work about Charles Manson and his ‘family’. Or at least as definitive as a collection of paper, ink, vowels and consonants can be on the nature of Charlie Manson and his effect upon Western society.

Guinn covers Manson’s upbringing and his biological families background, the changing cultural climate as America of the fifties gradually changed throughout the sixties. The book charts Manson’s connection to the Beach Boys, and the spiral of musical frustration, psychosis and drugs which would eventually lead to the Tate killings.

If I could offer any criticism to this work it would be that it could benefit from additional photos. While reading about these people all I wanted was to see more images of them and their faces and try to find some hint of how they could have followed and committed murder so blindly. However perhaps there could never be enough photos to truly explain the senselessness of the killings. Because that too is another fault of this book. That there is no explanation to the senselessness. Guinn has, if anything, done his job too well. His work is perhaps too comprehensive in its exploration of Manson, his followers and their crimes.

The book calmly explains the trail of events such that the effect is almost chilling in the chain reaction of murderous petty spite and charisma. Manson is so definitive and encompassing that Guinn never resorts to sensationalism or speculation. Instead he illustrates how Manson took advantage of the sixties counter-culture of freedom of expression.

Guinn doesn’t even bother to try to draw any sort of allegory between the Tate killings and the cultural upheaval of America throughout the sixties. He notes that the crimes were linked to the cultural revolution but resists any sort of summation or explanation. Manson and his followers, his family, have been mythologised and canonized. Many, including me before I read this book, believe that the family killed more people and that their reach and evil spread further and loomed larger. This book details the almost mundane reality as well as the petty motivation. Manson’s insecurity about his height and delusions of musical talent combined with a hardened malice.

Guinn shows how the fear which pervaded American society after these killings and changed the course of the counter-culture was based on the same paranoia and dread which had led to the myth of satanic gangs in the early 20th century. This is what truly makes this book an interesting, important and chilling read. Society is convinced there are demons among us. Guinn shows just how easily society can unknowingly foster and enable these demons and, in turn, popularize and fear them all the more.

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