College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
I am just now getting around to this classic crime book which was hugely popular when I was a teen. A chilling portrait of the schizophrenic psychopath behind the Hollywood Hills murders, complete with marvelous narrative descriptions of the events of the murders, investigations and trials. I would rank it with Graysmith's Zodiac, and slightly above Singular's Unholy Messenger, though somewhat below the all-time greatest crime book, Capote's novelization of the great American crime, In Cold Blood. Still, Bugliosi's book, like Graysmith's gives you enough to think about the darker side of human nature to keep you up at night--and, like Graysmith's book, it is masterfully written.
Long commute = Lots of time for audiobooks
Being of a slightly younger generation, I wasn't all that familiar with the Manson murders before I listened to this audiobook. I knew who Charles Manson was by reputation, of course, but otherwise came in fairly ignorant of the exact nature of his crimes and their impact on society. So if you already know a lot about the case, I suspect this review won't help you decide whether you want to give this book a try.
I tend to love nonfiction that gives the reader/listener insight into the author - particularly when the book is not an autobiography. Something about understanding the author's process of writing the book or connection to the work compels me more than if I feel the author is just trying to provide an accurate blow-by-blow description of an event. My reviews of Ron Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton speak to this skill as well, in that Chernow inserts himself just enough into the narrative that you remember that someone with an opinion is there, someone who you can imagine pouring over the details to piece together this story.
Vincent Bugliosi brings this story to life in much the same way, but the experience is heightened by the author's unique role in the Manson case as the lead prosecutor. Thus, this is not just a rehashing of a crime scene - though Bugliosi does recreate the crimes in a way I found powerful and moving. Rather, this story is one only Bugliosi could have told. He describes his thought processes in detail as he tries to show us the challenge facing him in making a case against Manson that would convince a jury to not only put Manson away for life, but hand down a death sentence. I loved, loved, loved this perspective.
I'm not a lawyer, but I've edited the writing of many a lawyer, and I know how difficult it is for many lawyers to explain legal concepts, particularly details of court proceedings, in plain language - without boring the reader to death. Bugliosi is particularly skilled at making the reader understand why various legal details were both important and interesting.
Scott Brick is always good, and he's exactly the perfect narrator for this book. His stern voice is expressive without being emotional, which strikes the perfect tone for such a harrowing story.
Yes, the book is long. But I feel like you can probably tell if you're the sort of person who is going to enjoy a 27 hour story about the details of a grizzly, historically significant murder trial. You might not be, and that's okay. I would urge you though, if you're intrigued but unsure about whether the book can hold your attention that long, to give it a try anyway. You might zone out for parts of it, but I can promise there will be many, many sections you'll find so fascinating you won't want to stop listening.
PLOT: NON fiction account of the Trail of Charles Manson and the FAMILY.
1969~ young Vincent Bugliosi is assigned the job of prosecuting Charlies Manson and Family Members for Murder. this is about 25 hours long. Gives you background Charles Manson who spent half his life behind bars. with the serial killings TATE and LaBianca killings. the police believe the main motive is DRUGS. But a fingerprint leads them to the Spahn Ranch and a group of HIPPIES living there. As Manson and his "FAMILY" a group hippie type kids who live for drugs, free love and *thrive* under the direction of Manson, they are soon released for lack of evidence on a car theft charge. Charlies moves his Family to the BARKER RANCH and destroys an earth moving machine and soon are back in POLICE custody. As Bugliosi gathers the evidence to prove Manson is involved in the killings he seeks the MOTIVE FOR MURDER. Manson believes he is the Jesus Christ and hears MESSAGES from the Beatles White Album to make Helter Skelter (war) and the ONLY surviors will be HIM and HIS family. With the testimony of family member Linda Kessabian the Trial moves forward. the trial takes over 8 months and Bugliosi is excellent as he pieces the motivies and proof of why and how the family were *managed and motivated* by Manson do his deadly deeds. This is first facinating how the poorly educated Manson learned the clever art of manipulation. and he was a master at it. BASED on the court documents we hear things not seen in any of the movies about Manson. This is a very good audio about the events leading up to and conviction of the Family. the reader is also very good. FACINATING~~~ A REVEALING LOOK A THE MIND AND MOTIVE OF CHARLES MANSON AND HIS KILLING FAMILY.
A compelling true crime tale is nothing unless it's told with the proper organization, discriminating and orderly presentation of details and all sculpted into a story arc. "Helter Skelter" sets the bar in each of these areas.
I read this book as a teen and it stuck with me these thirty-plus years. Seeing it on audio, I was wondering if I would be interested in giving it thirty hours of my life. Man, I'm glad I did.
It was so intense, at times I thought I'd have to stop listening. It gets in your head a bit. By turns, this book is horrifying, fascinating, sad, edifying and, ultimately a history lesson on crime in America, the 1960s, cults and the judicial system, not to mention Manson and his Family..
I can't recommend it highly enough. Just don't listen in the dark.
Before this book I thought Manson was the scariest man alive. After I was much more afraid of the young women. He's evil and everything but the girls they are so young and fresh faced when the girls walk into a home they aren't suposed to be in people aren't really freaked out about them, till the stabbing begins. There were so many girls willing to kill for him, I wonder how many are still out there. It's not like the Manson family hasn't been keeping up it's membership in the last 48 years. Creepy crawlers and so many unsolved murders. It was completely thought provoking, I still can't understand how humans to fall so far off the rails.
This was a recommendation, by my father and I'm really glad I took the time to listen. I wasn't alive when Sharon, Jay, Voytek, Abigail, Steven, Rosemary, Leno and of course baby Paul were murdered, but I grew up with a fear of the word
Cranky elderly writer/copy editor
This book is the reason I joined audible.com! I have probably read it ten times since it first came out, and once even borrowed the most unsatisfying abridged version from the library. There are no wasted words in this story -- shortening it takes away from its immediacy. The crimes were horrendous for their era -- or for any era -- and there is an all-star cast. Tate! Polanski! The Beach Boys! And who would have expected that the scruffy little runt, Charlie Manson, would someday rival them for fame?
This is crisp prose, crisply read by Scott Brick [I always wondered how to pronounce the name of the "Ouchterlony test"] without unnecessary dramatics. The "updates" that take up the last hour or so, while out of date now, are still more than were included in the copy I owned. Final word: Anything that can engage my I-hate-true-crime husband and drag him away from his computer the better to listen intently is a real winner.
I was unsure, from the reviews, if I would like this book. I really did. But I wanted to write a small review to clear up a few things:
- This is *not* a horror book, nor is it likely to scare you if you can watch an average episode of CSI. Don't come here to be *scared*
- This book *is* a (mostly) subjective insight into one of the biggest cases of the prior century, and makes some interesting observations about human nature -- from the level of violence, culture, counter-culture, media, and law -enforcement. This is why I put the word "legal" in block capitals surrounded by multiple asterix in my headline. This is a fairly technical book about the crime, investigation and trial. It manages to be quite detailed without being at all dry or uninteresting.
- It's also not a sensational book. It feels mostly quite fair and impartial, with a few exceptions. If you're a Manson "fan" or a serial-killer junkie -- you'll probably not get too much out of this. This book deals with facts, and in my mind that's a lot more interesting.
I've wanted to read/listen to this book since I first saw it almost thirty years ago. Thanks to Audible, I finally got the chance. To my delight, the book remained readable, interesting, and even relevant almost 40 years later (and over 40 years from most of the events described in the book).
Scott Brick is a terrific narrator, and helps to keep a very long book interesting.
There is a new(er) afterword, written in 1994. Bugliosi spends a good deal of time on the "Where Are They Now?" aspect for most of the many players in this drama, which adds to the overall listening experience.
It's almost as if I listened to a different audiobook, based on all the rave reviews. I found this to be extremely self-indulgent, and Bugliosi (the Author and Prosecutor) comes off to me at least as big headed and having a massive superiority complex. I'm sure this was the biggest thing that's ever happened to him, I get it. And he clearly put a lot of effort into presenting a full story, I will say that. But he incessantly puts down and belittles nearly everyone else involved in this case; the LA Police Dept appear to be ignorant bumbling idiots, the defense attorneys are portrayed as childish unprofessional morons, he over-clarifies to "help the jury understand" concepts that aren't difficult to begin with, even the presiding judge is portrayed as well meaning but naive and apparently needed Bugliosi to help him understand why certain things were relevant, etc. Almost everyone around him is portrayed as grossly incompetent while he portrays himself as astute, quick-thinking and the only one with his head in the game. I grew sick of his bragging and boasting and find it difficult to believe that he was the only competent person involved in this case which is how he portrays himself from beginning to end although he never states this directly.
I'm usually a big fan of detail and almost never buy abridged versions of anything, so it's rare for me to say this, but: there's just WAY too much detail. DULL detail. Unnecessary detail. I'm baffled by the other reviews that call this "exciting", "engrossing", "thrilling", etc. I honestly believe there may be an hour or two MAX of anything remotely considering "engrossing", and I'm being generous with that estimate. It was hours and hours of repetitive details that didn't add to the story in my opinion. It's as if someone asked him for "every possible detail" and he took it far too literally. He stopped just short of describing everyone's ties and suits.
There were more people in the Manson "family" than I realized, but this got confusing because each member had their own full real name plus a full aka name used by the Manson clan. For example, Susan Atkins, aka Sadie May Glutz. Bugliosi uses the names interchangeably, which gets confusing when you realize there's like 30 members throughout the story; that's a lot of names and fake names to keep track of. Half the time I couldn't remember 'which one did what', or which one he was following up with 20 hours into the story, etc. because of him switching between their real and fake names so often.
There were some tidbits of things I didn't know (interesting things that is), but I wouldn't really say there was anything spectacular in the "behind the scenes" stuff. In fact, the full story took away much of the fascination for me. Before listening to this I wondered what the appeal was, were the women truly brainwashed by him, what their lives were like before and then with the Manson family, etc. After listening I find myself shrugging and deciding they were just a bunch of run of the mill petty criminals with mediocre childhoods who went on a couple horrendous crime sprees. They turned out not to be worth the back story in my opinion.
Interestingly, Bugliosi spends a large portion of time late in the story condemning all the attention that was later given to Manson via letters, books, movies, T-shirts, etc. He seems to forget that he's contributing to this very attention with his own book.