Book Review - Manson The Life and Times of Charles Manson

ICSA Today, 5, (3), 2014, 21

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson

Jeff Guinn

Review by RaeAnne Wiseman

It turns out our mothers were right: Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll can lead to trouble. For the Manson family, trouble took the guise of free love, LSD, and the Beatles—which may not have been all that toxic without that one poisonous ingredient: the dangerously charming Charlie M. Manson.

The Manson Family made it into the popular press during the summer of 1969 as the perpetrators of ritualistic witchcraft and brutal slayings. Over the course of two sweltering Los Angeles nights, 12 victims were tortured and killed. In Manson…, journalist, veteran, and best-selling author Jeff Guinn offers the inquiring reader an engaging exposé on the sociocultural and psychospiritual factors that led to the brutal murders. Guinn’s primary source material comes from numerous interviews with former members and associates of the Manson Family. Guinn has artistically woven these extensive interviews together to create an organic and informative perspective. By recording the thoughts and feelings of the actual characters involved, he provides the reader an eerie familiarity with the events as the story unfolds.

Guinn incorporates into this profile public records pertaining to the frightful murders that shocked the nation. However, unlike the popular true-crime manuscript on the same subject, Helter Skelter, Guinn spends a relatively short time discussing the heinous details of the Manson Family’s civil transgressions. The target audience for this biography is not the macabre-seeking masses looking for gruesome descriptions of ritual slaughter. Rather, Guinn’s objectivity appeals to professionals and laypeople of social science who wonder what alignment of circumstances contributed to the bitter saga of Charlie Manson.

Guinn opens the book with a gripping tale of Manson’s unexplainable magnetism. The biography proceeds with key influences on Manson’s upbringing. He pays particular attention to the juxtaposition of a benevolent Christian grandmother and a felonious mother, whose ideology fused to create a righteous savagery that was foundational to Manson’s psychology. The author’s engagement with origins and early life provides valuable insight into the formation of Manson’s radical, drug-infused philosophy.

Guinn later suggests that Manson’s prolonged residence in the criminal-justice system provided designs for his nefarious cult. For example, during one of his many incarcerations, Charlie enrolled in a workshop on the practical application of Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. In the penal system, Manson also gleaned from Scientology manipulative techniques that would ultimately assist him in the recruitment of naïve and insecure supporters.

Guinn also pays meticulous attention to the methods that Charlie employed to keep his followers obedient. Along with their physical and emotional dependence on him, Manson played on the chemical desires of his group. The hallucinogenic drug LSD was routinely used to excite the family’s mythos of an impending race war they called Helter Skelter. Manson kept his followers busy preparing for this mayhem through strenuous physical labor, including ceaselessly probing the Death Valley desert for an escape hatch: the phantasmagorical “bottomless pit.” Manson told his followers that within this natural orifice, the family would be sheltered during the impending conflict. In this subterranean utopia they planned to wait out the bedlam until their time came to emerge as heralded sovereigns of the postapocalyptic earth. It didn’t quite work out that way.

About the Author

RaeAnne Wiseman is a graduate student at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Here she researches the ways individuals create existential satisfaction through the process of life review. Professionally Ms. Wiseman works as Activities Director at a local nursing home. In 2011 she founded Existentialists Anonymous, a support group to examine mortality and meaning in the absence of an objective religious truth.