Helter Skelter - book review


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Sep 11, 2008
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This thread is for discussion of the book "Helter Skelter". The questions below are just some examples of thoughts everyone can share.

1) Have you read the book?

2) When did you read the book?

3) Could you put it down?

4) Did this book introduce you to true crime?

5) Do you think the motive in the book was accurate?
1. Yes, twice, though not recently

2. I read it in the late 70's, then again in the 90's. My sister read it first and said she had to sleep with all the lights on.

3. I think I read it in two sittings. It's very fast paced and terrifying as well. I think the only other crime book I couldn't put down was Ann Rule's "The Stranger Beside Me" about Ted Bundy.

4. It was one of the first to introduce me to true crime. It certainly was the first to teach me how prosecutors go about building a case against criminals. Bugliosi did a masterful job of linking all the murders to Manson.

5. Yes, to the best of my recollection, the motive was fairly realistic. Strange as it sounds, I think between Manson's brainwashing and the excessive amounts of hallucinogens these people were ingesting their motive made sense to them at the time. What do you think?

ETA: I would definitely recommend this book to anyone new to true crime and amateur sleuthing. Bugliosi is an expert prosecutor and a good writer as well.
I read the book initially when it was newly released, and I was a young teenager. I'd followed the Manson murders in the news and had even saved clippings. In fact, I think I still have pages from Life magazine stuffed away somewhere. No, I could not put it down, though it scared the heck out of me, which was a good thing. It was a cautionary tale, and looking it back, I probably learned some lessons that prevented me from becoming a victim like so many other young women of the '70's. I read it at least one more time cover-to-cover, and afterward I would use it as reference when reasearching other crimes of the era.

To this day, hundreds of books later, I still consider it one of the most well-written true crime books that I've read. Bugliosi had terrific insight. While Charlie Manson had half the world fascinated -- or panicked -- by his wild-eyed, feigned mystique, Bugliosi saw him for the low life criminal that he is. He got it. He understood Charlie's motivations, and also the needs of the young men and women who were drawn in by him. And he exposed it all with great detail in Helter Skelter.
1. I read it a few times thru the years.

2. I was a kid, maybe age 10 or 11. I always read books way above the reading level of my age.

3. It was fascinating to me because it was true. I had always heard references to Charles Manson and the others so i wanted to understand what they were talking about. I'm nosy that way. I probably read it all within one day and then reread it again because it was that interesting to me.

4. Yes, it was probably my first real true crime book. Definitely was so much more interesting than fiction. Imaginary stuff doesn't interest me much. Real stuff does.

5. Yes, the motives rang true to me. Just looking at the pics of Manson showed the crazy in his eyes and the decades since then have just reinforced just how freaky/crazy he is. I'm sure all of the psychedelic , hallucinogenic drugs they did really amp it all up to the nth degree.
1. Oh yes

2. First time, when it was published, in 1974

3. Could not

4. No - that was 'In Cold Blood,' 'The Boston Strangler,' and 'Beyond Belief'

5. Bugliosi's thesis has deteriorated with the years and wasn't strong then

I heard Vincent Bugliosi speak one year at my small college; good enough presentation - I think he was pitching some later book he wrote - but during Q & A a very mild-looking member of the audience, a woman, asked about the drug-burn angle - which had been in the news around then for some reason. Bugliosi was quite rude and dismissed it in, oh, five seconds flat. "Thanks Vince."

Ed Sanders's 'The Family' (subtitle: 'The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion'!) is an excellent book, published before 'Helter Skelter,' as is John Gilmore's 'The Garbage People' (both from 1971). Each provide insights into the "family," the culture, and the times, and do this much more effectively than 'Helter Skelter.' Even so though, Bugliosi's book is a must-read (and re-read).
This thread is for discussion of the book "Helter Skelter". The questions below are just some examples of thoughts everyone can share.

1) Have you read the book?

2) When did you read the book?

3) Could you put it down?

4) Did this book introduce you to true crime?

5) Do you think the motive in the book was accurate?

Yes to everything but #3. I lived in a wooded section of Valley Forge with my two children, my husband traveled internationally for long periods of time. When all this broke I was on the phone with my mother constantly. I couldn't believe such things could actually happen. Plus, I had a peeping tom!!
1. yes several times, unbelieveable!
2. First in 1974, I was a young mother was scared out of my wits! Followed all the news. Saw "Valley of the dolls" movie starring Sharon Tate, she was so beautiful.
3. In 1974, I had to put the book down several times, caring for a family and I was scared. But I kept the book and have reread it several times straight through. I forgot how strange the 'family' was and the gruesome murders.
4. My dad read 'True Detective' magazine and mom liked Truman Capote & Perry Mason so I grew up with them talking about true crime. My dad actually worked with a guy that murdered his wife ...........and got away with it for years.
5. Motive? drugs, group of strange blood hungry nuts! no conscience and the Manson leader is / was CRAZY! I was for the death penalty then and now for this group.
1--Yes, a bunch of times (I also have the audiobook & listen to it frequently at work. On my cassette Walkman!! At the end of every tape, it plays a creepy music sound that makes me jump every time.)

2--Visiting my dad around age 11. He was reading it, starting telling me about it & I checked it out of the library when I got home.

3--No! Like others have said, it's quite fast paced. I still can't sleep w/it in the bedroom though. If I am reading in bed, I take it out of the room. Silly I know. Also the 1st few years after I read it, I was kinda convinced that CM somehow knew I was reading it in New Jersey[\B] & would break out of jail & kill me.

4--No. Right after we moved to NJ, Rob Marshall hired someone to kill his wife. My mom would discuss it w/me all the time & we read Joe McGuiness' book about the case (Blind Faith).


Also, I love me some Vincent Bugliosi! He is the celebrity I most want to have dinner & a discussion with. I am currently in the middle of his 1500-paged JFK book and his research is pretty meticulous. And The Sea Will Tell is very good, also written by him.
Could we discuss the movies ( both 1976 & 2004 ) here too? I have both on DVD.

1976- Steve Railsback played a veryconvincing & creepy Manson. It followed the book pretty closely. Also, the woman that played Susan Atkins was good in it too. I really got the sense of how non-feeling and chilling she was.

2004--I've only watched this 1 or 2 times, years ago. It's not bad; I just don't like this one very much. Jeremy Davies is a pretty good Charlie. ( Just looked at imdb and see that Eric Dane played Tex which I didn't know. He's so pretty-- might be time for a rewatch!)

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