Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill

9 Oct

Mad scientists experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, undercover CIA agents pretending to be hippies, and sleazy Hollywood lawyers who make Saul Goodman and Lionel Hutz seem honest all populate the pages of Chaos, Tom O’Neill’s magnum opus that often seems too bizarre to be labeled non-fiction. What all of these figures have in common is that they have been connected to the murders of the Manson Family and O’Neill believes that their stories poke some major holes in the official narrative that has been retold so many times in pop culture. As O’Neill delves deeper into the stories of these characters living on the margins of Hollywood and the Haight-Ashbury, he comes to the chilling conclusion that almost everything that has been sold to the public about the Manson Family was based on lies.

The story of the Manson Family and their horrific killing spree known as the Tate-LaBianca Murders has been retold so frequently that when O’Neill began researching the story in 1999 for an article for the 30th anniversary of the killings in the now defunct Premiere magazine, he didn’t think there was anything to say that hadn’t been said hundreds of times before. Manson’s connection to the Beach Boys and the Beatles has become a part of the lore of the dark side of the 1960s counter-culture and the motive for his crimes, a white-supremacist race war he called “Helter Skelter,” was considered settled by lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s true-crime classic of the same name.

Although his editors initially expected a short piece about how Hollywood has changed since the killings, O’Neill’s obsessive research continued for twenty years as he uncovered documents about the Los Angeles Police Department, Manson’s probation officer, the CIA, and even the Warren Commission that left glaring inaccuracies in how Bugliosi sold the Helter Skelter motive to the public. Chaos is compulsively footnoted with these documents for any readers who may be skeptical about O’Neill’s sources.

I don’t want to reveal much more than what I have already said about Chaos. The book is mind-blowing in scope and it’s best that readers start Chaos not knowing much about the shocking discoveries O’Neill uncovers. While readers may feel frustrated that O’Neill is hesitant to draw any definitive conclusions from his research, the joy of reading Chaos is less in figuring out exactly what happened to Charles Manson and more in being alongside O’Neill as he explores the mysterious figures who populate the underbelly of California’s counterculture in 60s and 70s.  Chaos may be one of the most entertaining books of the true crime genre in years.  As well as being available from the Hoboken Public Libary in print, you can borrow it as a digital audiobook from eBCCLS.

Written by
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read: Banned Book Week

27 Sep

One of the things we love about the current state of young adult literature is that authors aren’t afraid to address difficult topics with their readers. Whether it is mental illness, sexual assault, police brutality, LGBT rights, or any of the other issues that young people are faced with, young adult authors have a deep respect for their readers’ abilities to navigate life’s challenges.

Because there have been so many wonderful young adult books over the past decade that have explored controversial issues, the genre still faces censorship challenges. While it may seem antiquated that anyone would try and ban a book in the United States in the year 2019, these challenges still occur all the time. For example, as children’s and young adult literature has become more inclusive of LGBT characters, there has been a relentless backlash faced against authors of these books.

While Amazon and the internet have created almost limitless opportunities for acquiring information, across the country books are still quietly removed the shelves of public and school libraries. When people ask if it Banned Books Week is still relevant, we need to remember that much of this “quiet” censorship of materials goes by unnoticed and has the greatest effect on children, people in poverty, and people from other marginalized communities who don’t have the resources to acquire information elsewhere.

As we celebrate Banned Books Week at the Hoboken Public Library, we reaffirm our commitment to providing our young adult readers with the choice to explore their passions without the fear they will be denied access to any of our titles. Below are just several of the titles we have on display this month in our teen room to promote the freedom to read without censorship.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
The book tells the story of two boys who attempt to break a Guinness World by kissing for 32-hours straight. In 2019, a petition circulated in Orange City, Iowa to have the book removed from the town’s public library. Leviathan has been on the cutting edge of introducing LGBT characters into young adult literature and his novels have faced frequent censorship because of it.

Shout and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Long before the #MeToo movement, Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a groundbreaking novel, Speak, for teens about the trauma of sexual assault. Twenty years later, she followed up her critically acclaimed novel, with Shout, a poetic memoir, about her own trauma as a survivor. While Anderson has been an unflinching voice for survivors of assault, her books have been the frequent target of censors for their frank discussions about sexual abuse.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
Alexie’s book focuses on the story of Junior, a young Native American who wants to leave the reservation he was born on. He sees how life on the “rez” has resulted in addiction, early death, and lifelong poverty for many residents. When he is given the chance to go to a school outside the reservation, he becomes an enemy to many people back home who see him as disloyal to their struggles. The book has been challenged for profanity, violence, and alcoholism and frequently shows up on lists of the most banned books of all time.

Written by:
Karl Schwarz, Young Adult Librarian
and Elbie Love, Young Adult Library Assistant

%d bloggers like this: