The Manson Girls: Background information when reading Cruel Beautiful World

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Cruel Beautiful World

by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt X
Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
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    Oct 2016, 352 pages

    Aug 2017, 384 pages


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The Manson Girls

This article relates to Cruel Beautiful World

Print Review

Cruel Beautiful World is set in the early '70s against the specter of the Manson girls.

The horrific story of Charles Manson, the cult leader who believed he was the Messiah and who then orchestrated murders in Los Angeles to spark a race war, is fairly well-known at least in American culture.

More recently, his "girls," women attracted to his cause and who believed he was Jesus Christ, have enjoyed renewed attention in the spotlight thanks to a series of documentaries and novels about them. These girls, barely out of their teens, were recruited by Manson as part of his "family" and were active members of the bizarre cult he founded.

Among the girls is Leslie Van Houten, now 66 and serving time in a California prison, who was an accomplice to murder at the behest of Charles Manson. Introduced to him by a boyfriend, she was one of many who saw Manson as Jesus Christ.

Susan Atkins, an avid believer in the Manson "doctrine" was the one who lead the killing on actress Sharon Tate, one of the seven killings that Manson orchestrated in southern California. Atkins became more religious in prison and developed brain cancer while there. Her petition for parole was rejected and she died in jail at 61.

Patricia Krenwinkel at the time of her arrest Then there's Patricia Krenwinkel who was a secretary when she met Charles Manson and immediately became a part of the "family." She was just 19 when she was found guilty of seven counts of murder. Krenwinkel, Atkins and Van Houten all expressed regret for their crimes and encouraged people not to view Manson as a hero, as they had done when young.

Krenwinkel's interview from prison is particularly worth watching as an exercise in remorse and the struggles of reconciling life after such a horrific past.

These women were just a few of the many Manson girls and it has been argued in novels that they willingly joined because Manson showed them a way to belong to a community and a future that they wanted to believe in. "When you feel like your life has to have an eventual destination, are you more likely to follow someone who offers a path?" asks Julie Beck in an insightful article for The Atlantic. "Desire, when you haven't been loved yet—romantically, anyway—is mostly about imagination. This makes idols easy to love, and loves easy to idealize."

Picture of Patricia Krenwinkel from

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This "beyond the book article" relates to Cruel Beautiful World. It originally ran in October 2016 and has been updated for the August 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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