Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

November 19, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): Prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi held a unique insider’s position in one of the most baffling and horrifying cases of the twentieth century: the cold-blooded Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers. What motivated Manson in his seemingly mindless selection of victims, and what was his hold over the young women who obeyed his orders? Here is the gripping story of this famous and haunting crime.

Note: This review is for the abridged audiobook recording


  • The fact that this book was written by the prosecuting attorney in the Manson case lends it an air of authenticity. This is the ONLY book I’ve ever read about the subject and I have nothing else to compare it to, but it seemed pretty authoritative to me.
  • One benefit of dealing with an abridged version is that most of the slow or boring parts were eliminated. I’ve read other reviews that said Bugliosi painstakingly recreated the investigation step-by-step, but that was largely gone from this edition. The “story” moved along at a relatively rapid pace.
  • I never really knew what Manson was about before listening to this book. I thought he was a serial killer. Now I understand a bit more about the “family” and the “spree” nature of the killings.


  • The book started of right in the middle of things and didn’t provide any kind of background info whatsoever, which was a bit jarring. I guess that’s the flipside of listening to an abridged recording.
  • I thought Bugliosi was off track with the Helter Skelter theory. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have any other history or experience with the Manson case, but I don’t think Bugliosi’s argument that Manson wanted to start a race riot held any validity. He didn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, in other words.
  • I wasn’t interested in hearing about Manson’s childhood. I guess that sort of thing is necessary in a book like this, but hearing about his unstable family life, abuse, and other troubles made it seem as though I was supposed to feel sorry for him. I’m sure that wasn’t the author’s intention, but that’s how it came off to me.
  • I wanted to know more about the victims (beyond Sharon Tate, I mean). Maybe (hopefully) Bugliosi included that info in the unabridged book, but it was glaringly absent from the audio version.


It’s hard to review an abridged version of a book because I know that’s not the product the author intended. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to help inform those who are contemplating listening to this edition of Helter Skelter instead of getting the print version. My recommendation is that you go for the full work because the audiobook was lacking in so many areas. If you just want a brief outline of the case, then this would be okay; but if you want to go deeper into all things Manson, the audiobook of Helter Skelter is not for you. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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