I think it’s because Vincent Bugliosi, who was the prosecutor who tried Manson and most of his followers, takes you through everything in unbelievable detail (a couple members of the Family had a separate trial for murders committed before the Tate-LaBianca crimes, and Bugliosi was only a witness in that trial). This is the thing that gives the book its power, but it’s also kind of overwhelming, and I’m not entirely sure it was necessary. This book is 700 pages long! I guess it depends on what you think the purpose of the book was. If you are just looking for a good story, with a beginning, middle, and end, this will probably strike you as excessive and perhaps boring in parts (even despite the gory details and outlandish incidents). If, as I think Bugliosi would see it, you see this book as a thorough documentation of not only the murders themselves, but the entire investigation, trial, and fallout then the 700 pages is probably warranted. Bugliosi documented the shit out of everything.
Even fifty years later, the Manson murders and the Manson Family loom large in our cultural landscape (see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Girls, for two very recent examples). This book makes it very clear why that is. Also, about a quarter of the way through, the book goes from being an impersonal third person narrative to a first person account, and Bugliosi doesn’t shy away from detailing his own feelings about the case, or encounters or conversations he had with the defendants or witnesses. That lends the narrative an extra oomph. This isn’t a book written from the distance of history by someone tangentially involved, if involved at all. Bugliosi was just about as involved as you could be, shy of being at the murder scene itself.
This version, released in 2001, includes on top of the original epilogue a thirty-page retrospective Bugliosi wrote in 1994, and some footnotes from the perspective of 2001. I guess a third epilogue was too much for the guy, but I wouldn’t have minded it.
Honestly, probably a must-read for fans of true crime, and worth reading for the cultural and historical relevance even if true crime normally isn’t your thing.
Worth noting: This book was published in 1974, and it shows. Bugliosi makes casually sexist and racist comments on occasion (i.e. calling the Polanski’s housekeeper “a black”, and constantly mentioning whether any young-ish woman he mentions is attractive or not). Ultimately, this didn’t detract from the experience of reading for me, but I did wonder why neither the 1994 or 2001 versions didn’t edit the more egregious examples out.