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The Rise and Fall of Synanon

A California Utopia

Rod Janzen
with a new preface

Publication Date
Binding Type

The definitive account of Synanon.

On a fall day in 1978, Los Angeles attorney Paul Morantz reached into his mailbox to collect his mail and was nearly killed. He was bitten by the four-foot-long rattlesnake that had been put there by members of a cultlike group called Synanon.

Chuck Dederich—a former Alcoholics Anonymous member who coined the phrase "Today is the first day of the rest of your life"—established Synanon as an innovative drug rehabilitation center near the Santa Monica beach in 1958. Synanon quickly evolved into an experimental commune and religion that attracted thousands of...

The definitive account of Synanon.

On a fall day in 1978, Los Angeles attorney Paul Morantz reached into his mailbox to collect his mail and was nearly killed. He was bitten by the four-foot-long rattlesnake that had been put there by members of a cultlike group called Synanon.

Chuck Dederich—a former Alcoholics Anonymous member who coined the phrase "Today is the first day of the rest of your life"—established Synanon as an innovative drug rehabilitation center near the Santa Monica beach in 1958. Synanon quickly evolved into an experimental commune and religion that attracted thousands of members and was strongly committed to social justice and progressive education. Twenty years later, when Dederich was arrested for the Morantz attack, Synanon had devolved into a paranoid community that followed its egomaniacal leader in whatever direction he chose to take.

Based on extensive primary sources and interviews with former members, The Rise and Fall of Synanon explores how the group arose in the context of American social, political, and economic trends. Historian Rod Janzen argues that Synanon's downfall resulted from members giving too much power to Synanon's charismatic founder. The subject of a new documentary and podcast, this community serves as a mesmerizing case study of how alternative societies can change over time and how the general public's reactions to such societies can shift from tolerance to fear and opposition.

Reviews

Reviews

Authoritative and highly readable.

A most offbeat and interesting work by an historian well versed in the history of American utopianism.

A remarkable and uniquely American story... The research is exhaustive, and this by itself makes the book an invaluable resource for anyone interested in learning about the day-to-day workings of Synanon.

Rod Janzen has pieced together the first retrospective narrative history of the group, tracing both the trajectory of the organization and the contradictory life of Chuck Dederich, its founding guru... Janzen is a sympathetic observer who faithfully chronicles Dederich's decline into clinically defined bipolar illness and egomania.

Why should we read Janzen's book instead [of other accounts of Synanon]? Because Janzen clearly shows us the mundane ordinariness of Synanon, a utopia without utopian theory or religious or political basis.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
320
ISBN
9781421448107
Illustration Description
39 halftones, 1 line drawing
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1. Synanon and the Image of a Rattlesnakein a Mailbox
2. In the Beginning: A Cure for Drug Addicts
3. The Coming of the Squares
4. Integration and the Game
5. The Synanon School
6

Acknowledgments
1. Synanon and the Image of a Rattlesnakein a Mailbox
2. In the Beginning: A Cure for Drug Addicts
3. The Coming of the Squares
4. Integration and the Game
5. The Synanon School
6. Dopefiends and Squares
7. Communal Art, Re-creation, and a New Religious Identity
8. Violence and Shaved Heads
9. The End of Childbirth and Changing Partners
10. Legal Issues and Materialism
11. A Period of Darkened Light
12. The Final Years
13. Reasons for the Decline
14. Synanon People on the Outside
Appendix: The Synanon Philosophy
Notes
Select Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Rod Janzen

Rod Janzen is Distinguished Scholar and Professor of History at Fresno Pacific University. He is the author of The Hutterites in North America (also published by Johns Hopkins) and The Prairie People: Forgotten Anabaptists (University Press of New England).