The story of Charles Manson, from Jeff Guinn’s new book Manson:
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson is a cradle-to-grave treatment, though the graves belong to other people. The subject remains in California, an inmate at Corcoran State Prison, where he issues statements his followers disseminate via the website of his Air Trees Water Animals organisation. A recent example: ‘We have two worlds that have been conquested by the military of the revolution. The revolution belongs to George Washington, the Russians, the Chinese. But before that, there is Manson. I have 17 years before China. I can’t explain that to where you can understand it.’ Neither can I. Guinn explains a lot in his usefully linear book. The standard Manson text, Helter Skelter, the 1974 bestseller by his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, and true-crime writer Curt Gentry, is a police and courtroom procedural, with no shortage of first-person heroics (‘During my cross-examination of these witnesses, I scored a number of significant points’); the first corpse is discovered on page six. No one is murdered in Guinn’s book until page 232. He brings a logic of cause and effect to the madness.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4620 words)
"In reality, war isn’t much foggier than peace." Why "war reporting" often fails to shed proper light on what's really happening:
"It wasn’t that reporters were factually incorrect in their descriptions of what they had seen. But the very term ‘war reporter’, though not often used by journalists themselves, helps explain what went wrong. Leaving aside its macho overtones, it gives the misleading impression that war can be adequately described by focusing on military combat. But irregular or guerrilla wars are always intensely political, and none more so than the strange stop-go conflicts that followed from 9/11. This doesn’t mean that what happened on the battlefield was insignificant, but that it requires interpretation."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3658 words)
Our story picks this week include The London Review of Books, Business Insider, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Oregon Humanities with a guest pick by Jane R. LeBlanc.
"I feel dizzy, exalted: recognized
." Terry Castle
begins to make peace with her mother and finds joy in the experience of being married in a country where it is finally legal:
"But I’m nearly sixty and there’s something to be said for advancing senescence. Maybe things don’t hurt quite as much? (Blakey just came in the room and asked: How’s your piece going about being married to your mother? You know: gay marriage.
One musters a feeble and aggrieved look.)
"Still, the fact remains – the US Supreme Court ruling has simply underscored it for me – that many things once burning-pincer-like in their effects seem of late to have lost their capacity to wound. They only sting for a second or two – if that."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4517 words)
On the origins of The Great Gatsby and F. Scott Fitzgerald's desire to "be one of the greatest writers who have ever lived":
"In October 1922, Fitzgerald moved his family (Zelda plus their two-year-old daughter, Scottie) to Great Neck, Long Island and over the next 18 months ‘my novel’ acquired a Midwestern background, a poor boy-rich girl theme, a narrative structure and a title which was definite one day and discarded the next. Most of what he got down on paper was tossed out until things began to come together as winter ended in early 1924. Fitzgerald’s faith in his novel grew as he laboured to make it ‘the very best I’m capable of … or even as I feel sometimes, something better than I’m capable of’. Perkins received and considered many title variants as the book made its way towards publication but Fitzgerald’s first was the one that stuck, the one he liked, the one he thought had a certain bigness to it. Perkins never exactly pushed for The Great Gatsby; he just said he thought it ‘suggestive and effective’."
PUBLISHED: July 3, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5066 words)
An examination of Margaret Thatcher's life as chronicled in the authorized biography by Charles Moore
"It’s depressing to suppose that fortune favours the people who can keep going longest. But it does. That is one of the clear lessons from the first volume of Charles Moore’s exhaustive and exhausting authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, which takes the story up to the Falklands War in 1982. The person on display here is not more intelligent than her rivals, or more principled. She chops and changes as much as they do. But she is a lot more relentless: if anything, she keeps chopping and changing long after they have gone home. She didn’t outsmart or outperform her enemies. She outstayed them."
PUBLISHED: June 11, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9110 words)
On the man known as 'H.M.', whose brain was caught in "permanent present tense" and whose story is documented in a new book by neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin:
"Memory creates our identity, but it also exposes the illusion of a coherent self: a memory is not a thing but an act that alters and rearranges even as it retrieves. Although some of its operations can be trained to an astonishing pitch, most take place autonomously, beyond the reach of the conscious mind. As we age, it distorts and foreshortens: present experience becomes harder to impress on the mind, and the long-forgotten past seems to draw closer; University Challenge gets easier, remembering what you came downstairs for gets harder. Yet if we were somehow to freeze our memory at the youthful peak of its powers, around our late twenties, we would not create a polished version of ourselves analogous to a youthful body, but an early, scrappy draft composed of childhood memories and school-learning, barely recognisable to our older selves."
PUBLISHED: May 20, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2577 words)
Today’s guest pick comes from Christian Lorentzen, editor for the London Review of Books.
PUBLISHED: April 17, 2013
"If there is one thing we appreciate it is a faction that splinters into smaller factions." A report from inside Syria:
"We in the Middle East have always had a strong appetite for factionalism. Some attribute it to individualism, others blame the nature of our political development or our tribalism. Some even blame the weather. We call it tasharthum and we loathe it: we hold it as the main reason for all our losses and defeats, from al-Andalus to Palestine. Yet we love it and bask in it and excel at it, and if there is one thing we appreciate it is a faction that splinters into smaller factions. Yet even by the measure of previous civil wars in the Middle East, the Syrians seem to have reached new heights. After all, the Palestinians in their heyday had only a dozen or so factions, and the Lebanese, God bless them, pretending it was ideology that divided them, never exceeded thirty different factions.
"In Istanbul I asked a Syrian journalist and activist why there were so many battalions. He laughed and said, ‘Because we are Syrians,’ and went on to tell me a story I have heard many times before. ‘When the Syrian president, head of the military junta at the time, signed the unification agreement with Nasser, basically handing the country to the Egyptians and stripping himself of his presidential title, he passed the document to Nasser and said I give up my role as president but I hand you a country of four million presidents.’"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4296 words)