The Best Books About Charles Manson

I’ve been interested in the Manson Family since I learned about the Tate/LaBianca murders as a teenager. It’s a story that, were it fiction, it’d probably be criticized as being too outlandish.

A wannabe rock star/convict/con-man arrives in San Francisco right after the Summer of Love and amasses a harem of young, impressionable women (whom he uses to amass male followers) by convincing them he is enlightened, the Son of Man (Manson). They move around California, staying with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson for a while and finally, settling in the remains of an old Western movie set. He preaches the idea of a race war, which, I’m sure, in the late 1960s didn’t seem so far-fetched. His version of this war, however, was out there. And unbelievably racist. The black man would be victorious but would be too dumb to know how to rule so they’d turn the reins over to Charlie and The Family, the only white people to survive the war. (They’d survive by hiding out in a hole in the ground in the California desert, naturally).

Did he actually believe this? Or was it a way to control his followers? Your guess is as good as mine.

Manson Family

Members of the Manson Family, including Sandra Good, Ruth Ann Moorehouse, Squeaky Fromme, and Catherine Share. Image via Crime Museum.

Obviously, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when you’re talking about Charles Manson. But at this point, it already defies logic. At least nine people would go on to die at his hand, even if he did not directly murder them: Gary Hinman, Steven Parent, Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Leno LaBianca, Rosemary LaBianca, and Donald “Shorty” Shea.

I could write a month’s worth of posts about him, The Family, the victims, the murders, and their impact and still not cover it all. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of books, podcasts, and documentaries to explain it all better than I ever could. This post contains affiliate links.

Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice by Brie Tate and Alisa Statman
Brie Tate is Sharon Tate’s niece and although she never met her aunt, she still lives with the reverberations of the murders. When the perpetrator(s) is larger than life, it’s important to remember the victims. Because Sharon was once engaged to Jay Sebring, and they remained close friends, Tate talks about how losing Sharon and Jay impacted her family.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
This is the quintessential book on the case, written by the deputy DA and chief prosecutor. It focuses heavily on the investigation and trial.

The Family by Ed Sanders
The Family is a look at the everyday life of The Family and the counterculture in California at that time. Even though there are a lot of unsubstantiated stories in the book (Sanders is upfront about them), it gives you a good insight into the late 60s, southern California counterculture scene.

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn
This is the Manson biography. It chronicles his life and puts The Family into context.

My Life with Charles Manson by Paul Watkins
This book has been out of print for 30+ years so it’s difficult to get a copy but you can read it online here. Paul Watkins was Manson’s #2 for a short time and after realizing Manson’s ideology didn’t mesh with his anymore, he left to join another guru. He testified against Manson in the Tate/LaBianca trials and wrote this book in 1979. It’s a really interesting look into Manson’s inner circle and what drew people to him.

Member of the Family by Dianne Lake
In compiling this list, I discovered that Dianne Lake wrote a book about her time with Charlie and the Family. I immediately bought it and finished it in just a few days. Dianne “Snake” Lake was one of Charlie’s first followers, a 14-year-old whose parents tuned in, turned on, dropped out, and no longer felt like Dianne needed guidance. This is such a good book. Dianne’s story shows how and why it was so easy for people to fall for Manson and how his followers felt they had to stay, even when they became scared for their lives. I especially enjoyed reading about her life after the Family and how she was able to create a family of her own with her late husband and children.

Will You Die For Me? by Tex Watson
Read the PDF here. Tex Watson was present and participated in the Tate/LaBianca murders, fled home to Texas where he fought extradition, and was tried (and convicted) separately. This is an interesting read if only because he was so involved in the murders and Manson trusted him so much.

You Must Remember Manson
I’ve written about this podcast before but I’ll write about it again, now and forever. If you haven’t listened to it, please do.

The History Channel did this docudrama several years ago and, despite being from the History Channel, it’s actually good! It features interviews with Manson girl Catherine “Gypsy” Share and an extremely rare interview with Linda Kasabian, among others. Linda was present the night of the Tate murders but didn’t participate and tried to stop the killers. She testified against The Family and has essentially gone into hiding since the trial. The docudrama format makes it feel like a movie while you’re hearing the words of the people who were there.

Manson (1972)
Made just two years after the trial, this features a lot of interviews with Family members on Spahn Ranch. Look for Squeaky Fromme, who would later go to prison for the attempted assassination of President Ford, waxing poetic about guns and Charlie’s innocence.

Must-Read True Crime Books

Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. 

The best true crime books

Like a lot of people, I’m into true crime. I listen to the podcasts, I watch Forensic Files marathons, and I read a lot. So here are five must-read true crime books with a historic twist. In no particular order…

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
This is the best-selling true crime book of all time and probably my favorite book from any genre. Bugliosi was the prosecutor in the Tate/LaBianca murder trials and the deputy DA in Los Angeles. Because of his position and involvement with the case, he goes deep into the murders, the investigation, and the trial. The investigation and trial are just as, if not more, interesting than the murders themselves.

The Family by Ed Sanders
After you finish Helter Skelter, order a copy of The Family. It covers the late-60s, southern California scene more than Helter Skelter. Sanders’ voice is more in line with the counterculture than Bugliosi’s was, making it a totally different read. There is a lot of unsubstantiated stuff in The Family (which Sanders is forthright about) but there is a lot to chew on in regards to the Family itself. It’s a really fascinating look into late 60s southern California and Manson’s circle.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
This book doesn’t necessarily cover a historic case but it is historic as far as true crime books go. Along with In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter, many consider this the grandfather of true crime books. It takes place in Savannah, GA, a town rich in history. Berendt lived in Savannah and got to know some of the residents, most of which are such characters you’ll forget what you’re reading is true. The true crime aspect comes in when Danny Hansford is killed in May of 1981. His killer, socialite and antiques dealer (my dream life, to be honest) Jim Williams, claimed self-defense. But was it really? Or did he plan the murder?

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
Ok, if you’re into true crime or history, I’m sure you’ve read this book. If you haven’t read it, get on it. The hype is real. The Devil in the White City is about H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who lured victims into his murder castle at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Larson takes you into the planning and construction of the fair itself as well as Holmes’ murderous escapades. Holmes is a fascinating character on his own but Larson’s writing and the weaving of narratives make this book incredible.

Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O. J. Simpson Got Away with Murder by Vincent Bugliosi
I think it’s fair to say that OJ Simpson is having a moment, which, I admit, is one of the reasons I bought this book a few months ago. As I mentioned above, Bugliosi spent time as the deputy DA in Los Angeles, was a skilled attorney, and prosecutor in the Manson case. In other words, a man that knew the law and how to take a case to trial. Outrage was written shortly after the trial concluded and his voice is very blunt and very passionate, as many were at the time (and still are). He lays out five reasons why Simpson was found not guilty and the factors that led to that verdict. It’s more complex than it seems but somehow much simpler than it’s been made out to be.

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty by Anthony Galvin
I came across this book on Book Bub (not an affiliate link, just a service I really love!) and snagged the ebook for something like $1.99. I had my reservations (the cover art left a lot to be desired but don’t judge a book by its cover and all that). I ended up loving it! It discusses the rise and fall of the use of the electric chair, other methods of execution, and the debate/controversy surrounding capital punishment.

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The best true crime books