Author: Jeff Guinn
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Buy it here

Jeff Guinn and his publishers couldn't have picked a better image for the cover of his excellent Charles Manson biography, simply titled Manson. Just look at that kid in the photo—he looks like every mother's dream come true, not someone who'd grow up to become the deranged lunatic/cult leader who destroyed the 1960s free-love and good-time culture through ritualistic mass murder.

Guinn, through a boatload of original interviews and meticulous research, attempts to provide personal context to the nightmare that was, and still is, Charles Manson. Stories from his childhood reveal the early seeds of familial drama and societal anguish that would eventually sprout into hysteria and homicide. Anecdotes from Manson's time spent in a state penitentiary and his first interactions with Black Panthers are the source of the madman's racial hatred. Interviews with Manson's brainwashed minions—his followers who carried out the murders he ordered, including that of Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate—exhibit the ways in which Manson was able to manipulate and puppet-master impressionable minds.

By Manson's end, you won't empathize with America's most infamous serial killer anymore than you previously had. What should result, though, is a deeper understanding about how real-life monsters are created. —Matt Barone