I am in the process of reading the definitive biography on the crazy, upside-down life of Charles Manson. Written by highly-acclaimed journalist, Jeff Guinn, “Manson” goes where Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter” doesn’t. Right into the very heart of one of the world’s most evil men. After having watched the Investigative Detective documentary on the escapades of “The Famly”, I decided to get a hold of this seminal book in the hope that I might discover the truth behind Manson’s infamy. What I found was a man whose history was warped right from the outset. While his family back in West Virginia in the thirties was borderline dysfunctional at the best of times, Charlie was one of those shady characters given to sexual deviancy, manipulation, and criminality from an early age, in spite of the occasional intervention of a saintly grandmother. There just was never any positive male influence in his life to the point that stealing, sexual assault, and auto-theft led to some lengthy stints in youth reformatories. He was a kid totally out of control, full of himself and never empathic if there was an advantage to be gained. Guinn presents this sordid story against the backdrop of a post-WWII America entering an era of newfound wealth and power, with a heavy emphasis on materialism. In this culture, Manson, the uneducated, skinny runt with no moral compass floundered. The sins of his youth parlayed into a string of adult failures: a couple of briefly unsuccessful marital flings, continual run-ins with the law and, eventually, a rough seven-year stint at McNeil Island. Manson, to his credit, attempted to reverse the downward spiral with taking self-help courses and enrolling in adult education while in prison. Unfortunately, all these efforts only fueled his unrealistic and cupiditous ambitions to be a famous rock star. I like how Guinn portrays the fateful, late sixties for Manson, after he was released from McNeil with basically nothing but the clothes on his back. He calls this period in which Manson roamed the west coast as a deranged free-spirit the time of fateful coincidences. During these years, which included the Haigh Ashbury free-love, hippy phenomena of 1967, the foot-loose Manson was sharpening his sexual predatorial skills as he went on the prowl for vulnerable women who would follow him in his mad-crazed search for fame. As ‘prince’ of this harem, Manson brainwashed them into fully supporting his cravings. The La Bianca and Tate murders were probably triggered by the fact that the dream was falling apart and the Family was in desperate need of money. Manson, the petty criminal that he always was, orchestrated several violent attacks on the homes of the rich and famous to meet that need while paying back LA/Hollywood establishment for dismissing him as a dangerous weirdo with bad karma. In the eyes of prominent promoters, he had no talent, no charisma, or looks and gave off a lot of bad vibes to boot. Holed up, as squatters on an abandoned ranch in the hills outside the city, Manson ordered the slaughter as his narcissistic way of telling the world that he was in charge. While I respect “Helter Skelter” for its attention to the detail surrounding the murders and the subsequent legal proceedings, I like Guinn’s account better for how it speaks to the mindset of a very evil man. Knowing what we know about Manson today, it becomes almost implausible that he continues, as he languishes at age 84 in a California Super-Max penitentiary, to attract the publicity that he does while his victims have long ago passed into history. Guinn does a lot, in this work, to demythasize the legendary appeal of maniacal craziness, by providing the missing prologue of the wretched tale.