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

9 Oct

Chaos
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

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

19 Jun

Say Nothing
Growing up in the 1990s, I had a vague awareness that there was a conflict in Northern Ireland between the Irish Catholic and British Protestant populations, but my understanding of what is called “The Troubles” didn’t go much deeper than that. It was hard for me to understand why Belfast was one of the most dangerous cities in the world when the rest of western Europe had entered a sustained period of peace following World War II. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe is not just a great true crime story about the unsolved crime of a mother who was abducted and murdered during this time period. It is also a great introduction to a history of the brutal violence that rocked Northern Ireland for decades and the complex historical reasons why that violence was so intractable for so long.

Most of the main characters in Say Nothing are members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), a group who became known for their violent tactics after a peaceful civil rights movement in Northern Ireland had failed to bring about change. Many IRA members weren’t even out of their teens when they joined paramilitary gangs and helped carry out bombing campaigns against the British. Although they faced ruthless discrimination by the British, there is no doubt that the IRA was responsible for a wave of terror that killed civilians. While they were seen as folk heroes to some and terrorists to others, Keefe is less interested in condemning or praising the IRA than in exploring how people turn to violence, how we justify continuous cycles of violence, and how people reckon with their violent pasts.

The Troubles is very recent history and many of the people who participated in the violence are still alive and active in public life. Although the violence in Northern Ireland has decreased tremendously since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the country continues to cope with its past. The death of Jean McConville in 1972, whose unsolved murder is woven in throughout Keefe’s history of the Troubles, presents a compelling example of how extreme violence from the past can continue to effect a society decades into the future. What does truth and reconciliation look like in a country recovering from a history of deep sectarianism and paranoia?

Besides being available in print you can also borrow Say Anything as an ebook and digital audiobook from eLibraryNJ.

Interested in learning more about Ireland?  You can find documentaries with a variety of perspectives on Irish history on Kanopy including Together in Pieces: Street Art & Politics in an Evolving Northern Ireland and Collusion: The IRA Against the British Army.

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

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