My obsession with two crimes that were committed in 1969- 24 years before I was even born- began with a Christmas present.
This past Christmas, my husband gifted me one of the most famous true crime books of all time: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. Helter Skelter tells the story of two major crimes- the Tate murders and the LaBianca murders- that were committed by Charles Manson, a criminal cult leader, and his followers (known as the Manson Family) in 1969. Bugliosi was the prosecutor for these cases, and he goes into great detail about the evidence he found and how justice was served.
Then, in July, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was released. I won’t spoil this film for you, but just know that a fictionalized version of the Manson Family features prominently in the plot. I would go so far as to say that you won’t fully enjoy this film unless you have some background knowledge on the Family, Sharon Tate, and the crimes that were committed in real life. It was fascinating to see Tarantino’s revisionist history version of the events.
These two gripping accounts led me to request a highly rated, bestselling Manson biography through Interlibrary Loan. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn is a nonfiction account of Manson’s life, focusing largely on his time with the Family.
What Manson gets right: There it is, black ink on white paper: the story of the notorious criminal and cultish leader Charles Manson. You’re not going to fully understand Manson and his actions after reading this book- who really can?- but you will learn about his upbringing, the people he recruited as his followers, how he used psychology to brainwash them, their crimes, and his eventual prison sentence for life. Manson is a factual, mostly objective account of a complicated, dangerous person and what happened because of him.
What Manson does wrong: It’s a little drawn-out in areas, but with a historical account, that’s to be expected. Jeff Guinn wants his readers to have all of the facts, and he provides a list of his research in the back of the book for more information.
Who should read Manson: Anyone who is interested in criminal psychology, 1960s-70s American history, and true crime. There’s also a fair amount of biographical information on Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson, who was a friend of Manson’s prior to the infamous crimes, so be sure to pick up this book if you’re a Wilson fan.
Who shouldn’t read Manson: This book is not for the faint of heart or easily squeamish. The crimes that Manson and his followers committed are described in detail. Reader discretion is advised.
*Content note: Language, violence, etc. This is a factual book about one of the world’s most notorious criminals, so reader discretion is advised.