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Originally published Monday, August 19, 2013 at 5:31 AM

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‘Manson’: twisted ambition, manipulation and murder

A review of the biography “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” by Jeff Guinn, who will discuss the book Monday, Aug. 19, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.

The Dallas Morning News

Author appearance

Jeff Guinn

The author will discuss “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson” at 7 p.m. Monday (Aug. 19), Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or

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‘Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson’

by Jeff Guinn

Simon & Schuster, 496 pp., $27.50

Book review

Charles Manson and his murderous acolytes emerged against the backdrop of a nation coming apart at the seams: war on TV, riots in the streets, demonstrations on college campuses and lost souls seeking the promise of peace.

For Manson, a master manipulator and sociopath who’d honed his skills in a series of reform schools and prisons, the timing couldn’t have been better.

In “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” Fort Worth author (and Dallas Morning News contributor) Jeff Guinn meticulously lays out the story of a career criminal who seemed destined for trouble from birth.

Fathered by one man but bearing the name of another, with a mother who spent her son’s early years imprisoned for robbery, young Charlie lived with various relatives but never for too long. A tiny child with an oversize sense of entitlement and a habit of blaming others for the things he’d done, Manson quickly wore out his welcome with those who took him in.

At every step along the way, he acquired the sort of knowledge that culminated in what have become known as the Tate-LaBianca murders.

In his exhaustive reporting, Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and a cousin, whom he says had never talked with a writer before. He spoke with classmates and cellmates and members of “the Manson family,” his band of followers.

Guinn’s “Manson” is a tale of twisted ambition and human manipulation, each chapter darker than the last. In reform school, Guinn writes, rape and violence became the norm, with Manson both victim and perpetrator.

Later, in prison, Manson learned from the pimps how to find women with self-esteem problems and father issues, and woo them in a way that put him in total control. Manson supplemented that with Dale Carnegie’s techniques for influencing others, and he also lifted aspects of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology teachings. Manson picked up something else in prison: an appreciation for the Beatles and a single-minded determination to become an even bigger rock star himself. That would become the driving force in Manson’s life, Guinn writes.

He was released from prison in 1967 and headed to Northern California and San Francisco’s burgeoning hippie scene. Manson gathered a sad, fragile flock in San Francisco, most of them young women, and led them to Los Angeles, the new capital of the music business. The Family, as he called them, met his needs and those of people he tried to impress, including Beach Boy Dennis Wilson.

Through Wilson, Manson met Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day and one of the hottest music producers in town. He badgered both for record deals. Neither came through, and Manson seethed at the slight.

Months later, after Melcher had moved from the hilltop home he’d rented, Manson sent members of the Family there, armed with knives and a .22-caliber pistol, to rob and kill the current tenant, who turned out to be the pregnant actress Sharon Tate.

The aim, Manson told his followers, was to trigger the apocalyptic race war he called Helter Skelter, the title of a Beatles song, by making it appear that the Black Panthers had carried out the attack.

A night later, members of the Family went to a different neighborhood and murdered Rosemary and Leno LaBianca.

“Manson” is a book impossible to put down, the details so palpable that the sense of being a part of each scene is almost overwhelming.

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