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A Review of "Manson - The Life and Times of Charles Manson" by Jeff Guinn

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Manson - The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn

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I was six years old in 1969 when Charles Manson and his family committed some of the most notorious and horrendous murders in the annals of U.S. history.

Too young to read newspapers and kept away by dutiful parents from any and all televised reports of the slayings, I was first exposed to the crimes committed during the course of two August nights in Los Angeles, CA when I was finally old enough to sneak a copy of “Helter Skelter” by Vincent Bugliosi from my Father’s stacks of books.

Once read, the story and images portrayed within its pages continued to haunt me and would return to the forefront of my consciousness whenever Manson’s name was mentioned.

As I got older, I wondered if my own fascination with the Tate-LaBianca murders were due to the incredulous nature of the killings or because of my disbelief that anyone, anyone at all, could exert that type of control over another human being. “How”, I wondered, “Did Manson get people to kill for him”?

In his new book, “Manson – The Life and Times of Charles Manson”, Jeff Guinn has succeeded in the most detailed and in depth way to explain what makes a person like Charles Manson.

Using never before told stories from people who knew him well, Jeff Guinn has painted a picture of Manson beginning with his troubled youth in West Virginia through his stints in and out of juvenile facilities, reform schools and a host of prisons, to his ultimate arrival in Los Angeles during the most turbulent decade in our country’s history; the sixties.

Based upon interviews conducted with many who have long refused to participate in anything to do with Charles Manson, Mr. Guinn’s book reveals information about his subject that has never been told or written about before.

For the first time, we hear from his sister Nancy and first-cousin Jo-Ann who describe a manipulative little boy with a penchant for violence and an ability to place blame on anyone else.

Also interviewed are several friends and acquaintances that knew Charlie as a teenager and describe his difficulties in school both educationally and socially. They also talk about Manson’s first marriage and his failed attempt at a normal life.

Fascinating, as well, are the courses Manson studied during his lengthy prison stays including Dale Carnegie courses on making friends and influencing people that would serve him well later in life.

Some of the most intriguing parts of the book have less to do with Charles Manson and much more to do with the 1960’s.

During this time of political and social upheaval when teenagers all over the country were “turning on, tuning in and dropping out” Manson found an atmosphere perfectly suited for his particular rants.

Disenchanted with their own lives and disgusted with the establishment, it is easier to understand why so many of this lost generation would cling to someone preaching about a better way to live.

These damaged individuals (Charlie thought them easiest to enlist) found in Manson the Father figure they were missing and a sense of order in the words he preached during an otherwise chaotic time.

Once caught and now serving a life sentence from which he will never be paroled, Charles Manson has faded from the public eye but his persona, created with great skill and care, lives on in mass murderer mythology.

In the years since the Tate-LaBianca murders, there have been many other mass murders, cult leaders and gruesome crimes committed for a variety of ridiculous reasons but Manson’s still remains the most elusive to understand.

Thanks to Jeff Guinn, the mythology of Charles Manson is torn asunder and all the reader is left with is a man who killed for his own selfish reasons.

A masterful book on a fascinating subject, “Manson – The Life and Times of Charles Manson” is a wonderful piece of history told by someone who understands his subject and understands the times that allowed him to thrive and survive.

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