10 Disturbing Facts About the Manson Family

In August 1969, the followers of Charles Manson committed some of the most horrific murders in American history. The series of crimes, collectively known as the Tate-LaBianca Murders, provided a wide-ranging aura of intrigue that involved psychedelic drugs, sex orgies, ritualistic killings, celebrities — and all centered around a diminutive, failed musician named “Charlie.”

The cult consisted primarily of young, disaffected women, who inexplicably fell under Manson’s hypnotic spell. He then convinced his charges to believe that The Beatles song “Helter Skelter” contained a coded message to unleash a violent race war (the name actually refers to an amusement ride in England). Nonetheless, the vehement racist hoped to instigate an impending social apocalypse by framing the Black Panthers for his own misdeeds. Afterward, Manson envisioned ushering his brethren into an idyllic New World order as the messianic figurehead — in other words, Intro To Cult 101.

The 5-foot-2 habitual criminal would spend most of his adult life in prison before dying in 2017 at the Corcoran maximum security prison. It’s imperative, however, to note the vilified felon didn’t actually commit any of the notorious homicides forever tied to his name. Instead, he convinced members of his ‘Family‘ to carry out the massacre, producing a haunting legacy which still lingers 50 years later.

10. Summer of Blood

On a typical warm, summer evening in Southern California, actress Sharon Tate (Valley of the Dolls, The Beverly Hillbillies), who was eight months and a half pregnant, rested at her Beverly Hills home along with friends Abigail Folger (heiress to the Folger coffee fortune), her boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski, and hair-stylist-to-the-stars, Jay Sebring. Tate’s husband, acclaimed directorRoman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown) was away on business, preparing for his next project, a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But over 5,000 miles away, a much more sinister, blood-soaked tragedy was unfolding that would soon make headlines worldwide.

Shortly after midnight, “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian descended upon on the gated property at 10500 Cielo Drive in an exclusive Benedict Canyon enclave. The French-Normandy style mansion was believed to be the home of music producer, Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day), who Manson believed had snubbed him regarding a fizzled record deal.

To prevent any outside intervention, Watson scaled a nearby telephone pole, cutting the wires to the house. Stephen Parent, an 18-year-old friend of the house caretaker, became the night’s first victim after encountering the intruders while exiting the grounds in his car. Watson shot the teenager dead with a .22 revolver, then led the group towards the house for more carnage.

Meanwhile, Kasabian kept a lookout at the bottom of the driveway as Watson, Krenwinkel, and Atkins quickly dispatched the occupants in the house. Tate had desperately pleaded for the life of her unborn child, to which Atkins responded, “Look, bitch, I have no mercy for you. You’re going to die, and you’d better get used to it.” The cold-blooded assassin, also known as “Sexy Sadie” used Tate’s blood to write the word “pig” on the front door, heeding Manson’s instructions to leave behind “something witchy.”

The next day, an expanded Manson-led posse broke into a house near Hollywood, where supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary were brutally killed. In a span of fewer than 24 hours, the killers inflicted 169 stab wounds and seven gunshot wounds while leaving behind more blood-stained messages.

9. Circus Trial

The People v. Charles Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten began on July 24, 1970, in downtown Los Angeles (Tex” Watson, conspicuously absent from the proceedings, had fled back to Texas but would be eventually arrested, tried and convicted).

Right from the start, the case produced a chaotic scene in and out of the courtroom as an army of reporters clamored to cover the dramatic spectacle. Always the showman, Manson carved an “X” into his forehead (he eventually turned it into a swastika) to symbolize having been being X-ed out of society. Fellow defendants Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten followed suit, burning the same mark with heated bobby pins; they soon generated headlines of their own by acting out in the courtroom, laughing and chanting in Latin while the prosecutors presented the gruesome evidence.

Linda Kasabian chose to cut a deal and became the prosecution’s star witness in exchange for immunity. She also incurred the wrath of the main attraction, who made a throat-cutting gesture towards her. Other highlights included witness tampering by various Family members, the disappearance of Van Houten’s lawyer (authorities later him found dead) and an acrobatic Manson jumping over the defense table towards Judge Charles Older, and shouting, “In the name of Christian justice, someone should cut your head off.” At the risk of nitpicking, Charlie also threatened to kill his lawyer, Irv Kanarek.

The excruciatingly long trial took over six months to complete, aided by the relentless stonewalling of Kanarek, who registered nine objections in the opening statement alone (there were 200 objections by Day 3 when the press stopped counting). Finally, on January 25, 1971, the jury found the defendants guilty of murder. All four received the death sentence but eventually reduced to life terms after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972.

At her sentencing, the highly-spirited Atkins expressed her remorselessness by screaming, “You’d best lock your doors… and watch your own kids.”

Lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wrote about the trial in his the best-selling book Helter Skelter. “I couldn’t conceive of the jury coming back with a not-guilty verdict,” Bugliosi said. “But I did fear a hung jury. One juror, out of fear—because they all knew the Manson Family was still on the streets—could have balked. When the jury came in, I watched Manson. His hands were trembling. He’d convinced the Family members that death was beautiful. But that was all BS.”

8. Charles in Charge

In the months leading up to the deadly summer of ’69, the Family found refuge at Spahn Ranch, a derelict property northwest of L.A. named after the 80-year-old, half-blind owner.  The sprawling 55-acre compound had been used as a TV and movie set for a number of shows, including Zorro, The Lone Ranger, and Bonanza. And it was there that Manson took center stage as director and star in his own bizarre production that could have only happened in the shadows of a city where the angels left a long time ago.

All the inhabitants squatting at the ranch were required to follow a strict set of rules —  a rigid system that gave Manson complete control over his subjects. Items such as reading glasses, books, calendars, and clocks had been forbidden as part of an effort to build an insular bubble devoid of time or reality. Female members were instructed to maintain a slim figure by restricting their food intake, but were given a steady diet of alcohol and LSD; they were also coerced into having group sex and provide domestic chores for the men. For an unknown troubadour, Manson relished his exalted status; at the very least, he personified the life of a bona fide rock star, replete with long, shaggy hair and groovy buckskin threads.

The commune dwellers routinely listened to his rambling, incoherent sermons — made more palatable while under the influence of strong drink and hallucinogenics. The warped lessons stemmed from Manson’s hodgepodge philosophical views, ranging from Dale Carnegie to Adolf Hitler with a dose of the Biblical fire and brimstone for good measure. Additionally, the man who claimed to be both Jesus and Satan had spent 150 hours in a course on Scientology but reportedly deemed the teachings as “too crazy” even for him.

7. Creepy Crawling

Organized excursion raids dubbed “creepy crawling” served as a prelude to far more terrifying mayhem. The Family randomly infiltrated Los Angeles area neighborhoods, breaking into private homes while the occupants slept. Once inside, they engaged in mischievous shenanigans such as re-arranging the furniture and petty theft.   

As a skilled manipulator, Manson used the exercises as a means of gradually normalizing home invasion. Moreover, the practice gave his loyal minions new found confidence to overcome any fears or apprehension towards future diabolical actions. Wearing all black clothing and hoods, the intruders saw the adventures as a lark — while unwittingly being groomed and conditioned for what Bugliosi referred to as “dress rehearsals for murder.”

For most rational people, it’s difficult to understand how anyone could be so easily hoodwinked by an unscrupulous con man. However, his rise and fall reflect a common fate experienced by other charlatans throughout history, in which a well-timed confluence of factors can provide fertile conditions for dissent to grow.

6. Dennis the Menace

It’s not surprising that Beach Boys’ drummer and established hellion, Dennis Wilson, would pick up a pair of young female hitchhikers and take them to his Sunset Boulevard abode. However, when the girls turned out to be Manson acolytes Ella Jo Bailey and Patricia Krenwinkel, it was only a matter of time before the Good Vibrations ran out once their master showed up in the flesh.

Manson, along with 17 others of his congregation, soon moved into the posh Pacific Palisades party pad — setting the scene for Caligula-esque debauchery, featuring non-stop orgies and drug-fueled revelry. Expectedly, the neighbors were none too pleased.

Wilson, the time-keeper for the popular band known for posing with surfboards instead of riding them, provided his new acquaintance with coveted music industry connections such as The Byrds producer, Terry Melcher. In an interview with the Record Mirror in 1968, Wilson candidly expressed: “I told them [the girls] about our involvement with the Maharishi and they told me they too had a guru, a guy named Charlie who’d recently come out of jail after 12 years. He drifted into crime, but when I met him I found he had great musical ideas. We’re writing together now.”

Wilson even enlisted the help of his older brothers Brian and Carl to finance and produce a recording session with the charismatic singer/songwriter. One of those songs, the eerily-named “Cease To Exist,” was later re-titled “Never Learn Not To Love” and released on the Beach Boys 20/20 album in February 1969 — less than six months before the grisly atrocities.

Ultimately, success as a musician eluded Manson. He experienced a heated fallout with Wilson, who claimed the ex-con owed him over $100,000 (and the expense of multiple doctor visits to treat his raging gonorrhea); for his troubles, the drummer took sole credit as the song’s composer, leaving the pint-sized prophet to seek fame elsewhere.

5. Hollywood Hunting Season

Manson became increasingly obsessed with the power of celebrity and hellbent on becoming famous himself. In spite of all his ranting about spiritual freedom and love, he frequently boasted that someday his own star would eclipse that of The Beatles. To be fair, a lack of talent isn’t always a disqualifying strike in the fame game, but fate clearly had other plans for the aspiring performer.

At some point in his quest for adoration, the unsigned crooner figured if he couldn’t achieve stardom, he would kill those who had. According to Susan Atkins, the Family created a select hit list of prominent figures in the world of entertainment, including Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Jones, and Steve McQueen.

The attention-grabbing scheme also fed Manson’s delusional desires to further incite racial tensions and create a modern-day Armageddon. Fortunately, the plan failed to materialize — and none of the targeted celebs were ever harmed. However, McQueen, a friend of both Tate and Sebring, began carrying a gun full-time following their deaths. He wasn’t alone. Most Angelenos, whether famous or not, shared a common anxiety-driven fear, blanketing the city like its infamous brown smog.

4. Body Count

The well-documented Tate-LaBianca incidents produced a total of eight deaths (including Tate’s unborn child), but some reports suggest the Manson clan committed as many as 35 fatalities spanning several years. But after the lengthy, emotionally exhausting litigation concluded and the main perpetrators were punished, public outcry and demand for justice had waned.

However, one particularly lurid case that tends to be overlooked involved the torture and murder of a music teacher named Gary Hinman in July of 1969. Moreover, the event may very well have triggered the bloody rampage that soon shocked the nation. As the murky story goes (there are two conflicting versions), Manson sent Bobby Beausoleil, a talented young actor/musician, along with Family members Susan Atkins and Mary Bruner to Hinman’s home in Topanga Canyon. The alleged motive was said to be money Hinman had stashed at the house. Another version asserts that Hinman had produced a bad batch of LSD which Beausoleil subsequently sold to a gang of pissed off bikers who demanded a refund.

At some point, (there’s actually a consensus here) Manson arrived on the scene wielding a sword; he then slashed Hinman’s face and hacked off part of his ear because apparently, that’s how swashbuckling cult leaders take care of business. A few days later, as Hinman repeated Buddhist mantras, Beausoleil stabbed him to death and used the victim’s blood to smear “political piggy” on the wall along with a panther paw, a Black Panther symbol. The 21-year-old guitarist would be caught shortly afterward in Hinman’s car — two days before the Cielo Drive bloodbath.

3. Squeaky

Among Manson’s many loyal devotees, Lynnette Fromme earned the distinction of being the only Family member (and first female in U.S. history) to attempt the assassination of a sitting President. Fortunately, her .45 caliber pistol misfired while taking aim at Gerald Ford in September 1975, an outlandish escapade that served as just one of many in the life of a woman best known as “Squeaky.”   

“She was the main gal in the Family,” said Vincent Bugliosi. “Once Manson left the ranch, if he was anywhere else, she was in charge.”

Fromme grew up in Southern California and performed in a popular youth dance troupe, appearing at Disneyland, The Lawrence Welk Show and (coincidentally) the White House. She eventually drifted away from the trappings of middle-class suburbia and found herself homeless in Venice Beach where she first met Manson. The runaway soon joined his flock at Spahn Ranch, taking care of octogenarian, George Spahn, who nicknamed her because of the sound she made when he touched her.

An arrest for shoplifting kept her in jail during the summer of 1969, but she would prove her unwavering support to the Family for decades. She frequently moved from town to town to be near wherever her beloved Charlie had been locked up. Along the way, she got herself mixed up with the Aryan Brotherhood, some of whom were later convicted for killing a former combat Marine and his wife.

Although Fromme’s bungled Coup d’etat resulted in a life sentence, she refused to let a minor setback like federal prison deter her lofty ambitions. Furthermore, the feisty redhead deserves credit for an accurate throwing arm, firing an apple at the lead prosecutor’s head and knocking off his glasses at her trial.

Unbelievably, there’s more: On December 23, 1987, she escaped from the pokey in West Virginia, attempting to see Manson, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Law enforcement officials found her two days later and added another 15 years to her sentence. In 2009, at age 60, she obtained parole and now lives quietly (for her anyway) in upstate New York.  

2. Still Locked Up… For Now

In her book, The White Album, author Joan Didion wrote about how the Tate-LaBianca Murders closed out the turbulent decade and left many people feeling a pang of collective guilt from “too much sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Although Manson would die in prison, several of his most notorious accomplices have remained behind bars despite repeated legal maneuverings to let bygones be bygones. But that could soon change as Bobby Beausoleil and Leslie Van Houtenwere both recently recommended for early release by the California parole board.

According to the Department of Corrections, newly-elected Governor Gavin Newsom holds five options: uphold, reverse, modify or send it back for a full board review; he can also choose to take no action at all, resulting in Beausoleil and Van Houten gaining their freedom.

A former high school cheerleader, Van Houten was only a teenager when she took part in the butchering of the LaBiancas, using an ivory-handled carving fork and a steak knife. The assailants then scrawled “Rise,” “Death to Pigs” and “Healter (sic) Skelter” with the ample supply of fresh blood.

Attorneys for Van Houten, now 69, have attempted to re-brand their client as a model inmate, who earned college correspondence degrees while running self-help groups for other incarcerated women. Oddly, there’s been no mention of do-it-yourself cutlery seminars.

Beausoleil, 71, had been previously denied parole 18 times and currently resides in the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.

His attorney, Jason Campbell, believes his client has paid his debt to society in full and deserves to be freed. “As far as I’m concerned, he should have been recommended for parole decades ago,” Campbell said. “Under California standards, all that matters is whether they are currently dangerous. I don’t think that by any definition I can imagine, that he is currently dangerous.”

Not everyone agrees — especially Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra. She’s been a staunch opponent in both cases as well as a vocal critic of the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film about Manson, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The movie’s release is scheduled to coincide with the date of Tate’s murder, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

1. Family Affair

When you’re the head honcho of a free-love, hippie commune in the swinging 60s, chances are your dance card stayed full 24/7. Although accurate Family birth records are a bit spotty, it’s a fair assumption that Manson spread his seed far and wide. But here’s what we do know:

In 1955, Manson married his first wife, Rosalie Willis, who bore him a son, Charles Manson, Jr. The boy later changed his name to Charles Jay White, but could never escape the haunting link to his biological father and committed suicide in 1993. Next, Charlie’s second wife, a prostitute named Leona Stevens (aka “Candy”) spawned Charles Luther Manson. That offspring managed to disconnect completely from his deadbeat dad and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Mary Brunner, an actual Family member, gave birth to Manson’s third son, Valentine Michael Manson. Like his step-brother, he too dropped the cursed surname and opted for a life of anonymity.

Inevitably, countless alleged relatives have claimed to be kin of Papa/Uncle/Cousin Charlie; however, a recent stranger-than-fiction court case awarded a man named Jason Freeman as the legal beneficiary of Manson’s dead corpse (it had been stored on ice in a Bakersfield morgue) after proving to be the outlaw’s grandson and the legitimate heir to the bones. In a win-win result, the Kern County Coroner’s Office were relieved because other stiffs were “piling up” from the local methamphetamine and opioid epidemic.


10 Incredible Facts About the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire has been represented in cultural contributions as diverse as the 1959 American film Ben Hur and the 1979 British film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The Romans are the villains of the Christians’ New Testament. Yet they are also the people who gave contemporary civilization some of its most practical architectural innovations. Anyone who benefits from a public sewer system should thank the Romans. In history, the Romans were both winners and losers. Their revered empire collapsed. Perhaps it does not deserve to be unquestioningly revered. Below are 10 reasons the Roman Empire does deserve to be thoughtfully examined.

10. The Romans worshipped many deities (many borrowed from the Greeks)

The Romans were polytheists, meaning they worshipped more than one god. One minor god was Nemesis, the god of revenge. From his name comes the English word, “nemesis,” meaning “a rival against whom one seeks revenge.” The primary 12 gods and goddesses, called the di consentes,meaning “associated with the gods” in Latin, were taken from the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses. Of those 12, the three most important ones were Jupiter, protector of the state (the Greeks’ Zeus), Juno, protector of women (the Greeks’ Hera), and Minerva, goddess of craft and wisdom (the Greeks’ Athena).

The Romans sometimes changed Greek myths so that their morals promoted the values of Roman civilization. While the Greek gods and goddesses were anthropomorphized, the Roman gods and goddesses seldom visited earth. Their power symbolized the hierarchical power of the state.

9. The Romans adopted the practices of the civilizations they conquered

Early in its expansion, the Roman Empire was influenced by the cultures of the Greeks and the Etruscans. The decline of Greece began when the Roman emperor Maximus took the Greek city of Corinth in 146 BCE, though the Greeks retained land in present day Italy. The Etruscans ruled Rome for roughly 100 years before the Romans deposed them. Many of Rome’s architectural innovations were introduced by the Etruscans, including the sewer system, called the Cloaca Maxima; the Temple of Jupiter, on the Capitaline Hill; Rome’s race track; the Circus Maximus; and the Servian Wall (a wall surrounding Rome).

The Romans adopted the Greeks’ religious structure and theatrical genres, though Roman plays are more likely to include stock characters. The Romans’ adoption of some practices of the cultures they conquered was more indicative of practicality than cultural tolerance. They adopted practices that were beneficial to them, regardless of who initiated those practices. In the case of the Britons and other subjects of the empire west of Rome, productive relationships were promoted based on subjects’ willingness to adopt Roman practices.

8. The Roman Empire was actually two empires

By 286 CE, The Roman Empire stretched from present day Britain to the present day Persian Gulf. Invaders regularly threatened the empire, so Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) divided it so it could be more easily defended. Maximian ruled the Western Roman Empire from Milan (and led the necessary battles against invaders), while Diocletian ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from near western Anatolia. When Diocletian reorganized territory, he also streamlined authority. Under his rule, both sections of the Roman Empire were theocratic absolute monarchies.

Diocletian consolidated the earlier practices of separating military careers from civil careers and decreasing the authority of the Senate. The Western Roman Empire eventually became the lesserof the two empires. During the rule of Emperor Theodosius I (379-395 CE), Theodosius’ zealous promotion of Christianity, invasions by Germanic tribes, and scarcity of resources all weakened the Western Roman Empire.

7. Roman emperors spread Christianity more systematically than they condemned it

Though Christians were publicly sacrificed during certain periods of the Roman Empire’s history, they were never killed specifically because of their religious beliefs. Nero used Christians as scapegoats in an attempt to discredit the rumor that he himself had started the Great Fire (64 CE). In 250 CE and 303 CE, Decius and Diocletian, respectively, passed edicts requiring Roman citizens to make public sacrifices in front of Roman officials. Though Christians were sometimes offered as sacrifices, they were not specifically targeted in either edict. In both cases, the emperors wanted to quell civil unrest by strengthening their authoritarian governments.

In 313 CE, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity himself (though perhaps not wholeheartedly). That year, he issued the Edict of Milan, promising tolerance to Christians. Perhaps, as he claimed, Constantine did see a vision of a flaming cross in the sky on the eve of a battle. Perhaps Constantine’s conversion was another example of a Roman adopting a beneficial practice from another culture. Christianity is a monotheistic religion. There is one god who,Constantine claimed, chose the emperor as his divine representative on Earth. Divine rule could have been a strong justification for consolidating one man’s political power. Constantine’s successor, the Emperor Theodosius, persecuted non-Christians.

6. Roman society was openly classist

Roman society was hierarchically structured. However, unlike in a contemporary democracy containing hierarchical power structures, Roman society provided few opportunities for social mobility. There were three classes in Roman society: the patricians, who, according to the Roman author Livy were descendants of the 100 men Romulus chose to form the first Senate; the plebeians, who were the citizenry; and the slaves. After the Conflict of the Orders (500-287 BCE), the process of transitioning between the patrician and plebeian classes become much more fluid. During the Conflict of the Orders, the plebeians asserted their civic authority by seceding from the Roman Empire during wars, which eventually earned them the right to intermarry with members of the patrician class, and assuming roles in governmental organizations such as the consul and the priesthood. In 287 BCE, Hortensian Law ended the Conflict of the Orders by making resolutions passed by the Plebeian Consul binding for all Roman citizens.

Unlike plebeians, slaves had no rights under Roman law. The Romans valued dignity and restraint, but of course those are defined based upon one’s own sociocultural norms. Raping slaves was an accepted practice. For the Romans, the acceptability of a sexual pairing was determined by the status and positioning of the partners, not by their sex or gender. Penetrating a male slave was perfectly acceptable, because the partner of lower social status should always be the one getting penetrated. Beating a slave with a stick was dignified, because the owner was not using his hands. The father of the physician, Galen, reportedly urged his friends not to punch their servants’ mouths, because the owners might injure their own hands.

5. Divorce was not maligned in the Roman Empire

Whether chosen or arranged, a contemporary marriage is considered a personal event. For the Romans, however, marriage was a civic duty. A marriage could create mutually beneficial sociocultural and sociopolitical connections between families. As the head of the family, a father had the authority to promote a marriage that would benefit his household. A divorce, however, was considered a personal matter between the members of a couple, partially because breaking one alliance to form another, more desireable one was a socially accepted practice.

Since wives were the property of their husbands, no divorce required a division of goods, though a man was required to return a woman’s dowry to her family if he divorced her. Men were permitted to divorce their wives without citing a reason, though common reasons included adultery, infertility, consuming wine excessively, and making copies of the household keys. The Justinian Code of 449 CE allowed women to divorce men under certain circumstances. It was not the first such law, but it was the first that did not impose penalties on the woman if her divorce was denied.

4. The Pax Romana lasted 200 years

In 27 BCE Augustus Caesar, nephew of Julius Caesar, became the emperor of the Roman Empire. His reign marked the beginning of the Pax Romana, a Latin phrase meaning “Roman peace.” Augustus’ reforms provided the Pax Romana’s stability. He decreased imperial expansion (admittedly only after gaining land in what are now Spain, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Egypt by defeating Mark Antony). He ordered the building of roads and aqueducts, using concrete made from ash. He decreased the size of the military. He protected sea trade, ordering the navy to capture pirates. He promoted the arts. Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Livy are all writers whose careers flourished during the Pax Romana.

Though Augustus’ rule, exemplifies the best of the Pax Romana, it outlasted his reign. Incompetent emperors and invasions from Germanic tribes combined to end the Pax Romana in 180 CE.

3. Scholars disagree about why the Roman Empire fell

More accurately, no one can isolate the single most significant factor that led to the Western Roman Empire’s collapse in 476 CE. The Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire, lasted until the 1400s, when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The division of the Roman Empire into two halves was one factor in its decline. Both halves did not thrive equally, and each half developed distinct sociocultural values.

Other factors: The empire was too large to rule uniformly, and it was vulnerable to invaders, particularly Huns and Germanic tribes. After the third century, some of the Western Roman Empire’s emperors weren’t of Roman descent, and that threatened civic unity. Increasing reliance on mercenaries led to military defeats, and a lack of successful conquests decreased the availability of the slave labor on which the farmers depended. Historian Guy Halsell writes, “The Roman Empire was not murdered […] nor did it die a natural death. It accidentally committed suicide.”

2. English words are inspired by Roman culture

Latin words are still used in the medical and legal professions. However, some English words also come from Roman culture. The Senate was the Romans’ term for their lawmaking body, and a senator was a person who served there. Auditorium is Latin for, “a place for listening.” For the Romans, a circus was any place of entertainment designed in a circle, racetracks included. “Civilized” comes from the Romans’ “civitas” meaning “citizen.”

The Romans contributed the words “emperor” and “gladiator” to the English language. In military academies, a first year cadet is called a “plebe.” This is a shortened form of “plebeian,” the Romans’ term for a lower class citizen.

1. The Romans influenced contemporary governments

Any democracy owes a debt to the Greeks. The concept of democracy, a political system wherein each person receives one vote when legislative governmental matters are being determined, originated in Athens. In Athens, as in any other place democracy is instituted, how personhood was defined determined who actually had the right to vote. The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words, “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power). However, the structure of a contemporary democracy, or any form of government that includes an elected lawmaking body, owes a debt to the Romans. Contemporary democracies are representative democracies.

Like the Romans, voters elect officials, who then vote on policies on behalf of their constituents. The Patrician and Plebeian Consuls were comprised of citizenry from both of the Roman Empire’s social classes. The Senate functioned more like a parliament in a constutional monarchy, insofar as the extent of its powers was largely determined by the ruling emperor. However, members of the Roman Senate were appointed. The Roman Empire’s government was primarily authoritarian, since the emperor created and enforced policy. However, the governmental structures the Romans modeled have inspired other types of governments.

10 Notable People Who Were the Product of Incest

It was with great pride — and only mild nausea — that we shared with our readers 10 examples of historically significant people who committed incest through marriage. It left us curious, though: What about the offspring? Which people who were prominent in the course of human events had that blemish on their origins? Did it have significant impact on who they became? How did they feel about it if they ever expressed an opinion? It is indeed highly dangerous for offspring, as Psychology Today reported that fewer than 46% of children of incest within the immediate family do not have severe genetic defects.

We won’t be focusing solely on European aristocrats. We’ll be trying to reach every corner of the globe and every social strata — although this is probably an area where diverse representation won’t be particularly appreciated…

10. Ben-Ammi

Many children were taught in Sunday School the story of how Lot, descendant of Abraham, fled the city of Sodom with his family and how his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. After they grew up a bit, many of those Sunday School students learned the unsavory part of the story where Lot had children by his two daughters after they got him drunk — one of those inbred children being Ben-Ammi, by his youngest daughter. As noted in the intro, no product of incest wants to be defined by that aspect of their life, but Ben-Ammi literally means “Son of My Kin,” so he wasn’t really able to escape it.

Ben-Ammi is mostly remembered for founding a tribe called the Ammonites. That tribe was, for a long time, a thorn in the side of the Israelis. They would often raid Israeli travelers. By the 6th century BC they reached a much greater threat level when they joined an alliance with Syrians and invaded Judah. Curiously, after King David waged a grueling war against them (during the time that he was having his notorious affair with Bathsheba) and conquered their capital, he was persuaded to worship their god for a time. They wouldn’t be defeated once and for all by the Judeans until the 2nd century BC, under the command of Judas Maccabeus.

9. Saint Gregory

Also known as either Gregory I or Gregory the Great, he was Pope of the Catholic Church from 590 to 604. According to the 14th century document the Gesta Romanorum, he was conceived by two of the children of Emperor Marcus around 540 AD, and was abandoned by his naturally ashamed parents near the sea. He was found by fishermen and delivered to the local monastery. It was after he grew up that he found tablets that informed him about the truth about his origins.

Gregory’s legend might seem like it was some sort of slander, or maybe anti-church propaganda. But in the story, as soon as he learned about it, he traveled to the Holy Land as an attempt to cleanse the sin of his disgraceful origins, including living in poverty on a coastal rock for 17 years. It would be his extreme piety that would lead to his assent to the role of pope. Fittingly, he was able to provide absolution to his mother.  

8. Darwin’s Children

Charles Darwin was one of the most esteemed members of our previous list about historical figures with incestuous marriages, and it’s time to revisit that family and get to know them better. Many of his seven children that survived into adulthood would lead distinguished lives, such as George Darwin — who became a professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy at Cambridge University — or Leonard Darwin, who became president of the Royal Geological Society. But their most notable contribution to science was less something they did, than something that was done to them.  

Beginning with his first son, William Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin began to take extensive notes on the development of his children. He certainly didn’t go to the extremes of seeing how they reacted to deliberate abuse or neglect, but the tone of his notes would become so detached that he at least called one of them “it.” He published his observations in 1872 as part of the book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. The experiments performed on William, Anne, and other Darwin children would be cited heavily by such giants in the burgeoning field of psychology as Sigmund Freud.

7. Charles II

It’s not an obscure fact that there was a lot of inbreeding the Hapsburg Dynasty, especially considering that it contained people like Philip II, who engaged in it with so many wives. The unseemly practice culminated in the final Hapsburg King of the Spanish Empire, who reigned from 1665 to 1700, beginning at age four. His parents, Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, were first cousins. They had as many as 11 incestuous marriages in their family history.

Charles II suffered from hydrocephalus, was constantly ill, had a congenital heart defect, and went bald by age 30. He was supposedly extremely easily manipulated by other heads of state, as he could barely even read or write. His own subjects referred to him with pity as “El Hechizado”(“The Hexed”). He passed away at the age of just 39 without producing an heir, and so his death was followed in short order by the War of Spanish Succession. It was a fittingly uninspiring note on which to end the reign of a deeply unhealthy dynasty.

6. Mahidol Adulyadej

It may seem that this 20th century monarch was the inverted answer from Thailand (then Siam) to Charles II. He was born in 1892 to King Rama V and the scion of one of his four half-sisters that the king kept as concubines. As he was the Rama V’s 69th son, he did not seem likely to be in the line of succession. However in 1925, his eldest brother King Vajiravudh died, and all others in the line of succession had either died of natural causes or lacked children, so he reluctantly took the throne. He had health problems that were attributed to his incestuous origin, but his mind did not seem afflicted by his birth, to say the least.

While the prince spent much of his time during his developing years in Europe, his most significant education began in Harvard University in 1917. After graduating with a medical degree in 1927, he returned home with the training in the field where he would make his greatest mark. His health and sanitation reforms, financed in large part through the Rockefeller Foundation, would led to him being dubbed the “Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health in Thailand.” This achievement was so celebrated that today there is a Prince Mahidol Award given internationally for outstanding work in medicine and public health.  

5. Theodore Stravinsky

The composer Igor Stravinsky and his cousin Catherine Nossenko had been childhood friends and mutual artistic supporters before they were married in 1905. In 1907, she gave birth to their son Theodore, who was named after his grandfather. The elder Stravinsky went on to worldwide fame for such compositions as The Rite of Spring and The Firebird and completely overshadowed his son in the eyes of the world. However, the younger Stravinsky went on to a career of his own that’s worth getting to know better.

In 1927, Theodore Stravinsky had his first solo exhibition in Paris, securing him in the painting career that would make him an international success. By 1940, he would be exhibited in New York as well, just before being arrested by the Vichy government. By 1948, he secured commissions doing high-profile clerical stained glass windows. By 1977, these commissions would earn him the insignia Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great, a title bestowed on him by Pope Paul VI. Little wonder there is a foundation dedicated to his memory today.

4. John Byrne

For years, he was one of the the biggest names in the field of British television writing and theater. His credits include the scripts for the plays The Slab Boys and Colquhoun and MacBryde, which premiered in the Royal Court Theater in London. He also wrote the teleplays Tutti Frutti and Your Cheatin Heart. Many also know him for being the ex-husband of A-List actress Tilda Swinton after 14 years together.

The incestuous union that made him was between his mother and his grandfather. He learned about it in 2002 from his cousin Aileen Kane, and he claimed that it explained why his mother went to visit his parents in their home of Cardonald so often. He didn’t explain how he learned of the affair, but he did claim that the affair unsurprisingly left his mother with a mental illness that claimed her life in the 1980s. Byrne has expressed a somewhat morbid sense of humor about it, saying “that’s what they do in Ireland. I presume it’s what they do in unlettered places and lettered places. It’s traditional, and nobody speaks about it.”

3. Pleistarchus

It reasonably didn’t come up in any version of Frank Miller’s 300 or most tellings of the Battle of Thermopylae, but Queen Gorgo was actually King Leonidas’s niece. There is speculation among historians that the reason for the marriage was to heal a rift between Leonidas and Gorgo’s father Cleomenes, as Cleomenes had no male heirs to Sparta’s throne and needed a line of succession. What’s not disputed is that when Leonidas died at the famous battle, Pleistarchus was too young to rule, and so for a time the regent was Pausanias, who defeated the Persians in the Battle of Platea after the war had turned decisively against the Persians at the Battle of Salamis.

The most recorded venture of the reign of Pleistarchus was when he put down a huge Helot (i.e “slave”) revolt in the wake of a massive earthquake in 463 BC. It was a considerable achievement, as most of the population of Sparta at the time was slaves (a source from the same century claims that slaves outnumbered Spartan citizens seven to one). This success would still prove disastrous for Sparta down the line, because it kept the Spartans too occupied to aid Athens in stopping a revolt on Thasos, or to aid Thasos by conquering Athens when it was vulnerable. In either case, it helped set the stage for the Peloponnesian War shortly after Pleistarchus’s death, a decades long civil war which would leave Greece itself too weakened to resist conquest by Macedonian King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.

2. Moab

We return to the subject of Lot and the children he had with his daughters. With his older daughter, he had Moab, and it turned out that Ben-Ammi had gotten away relatively light when it came to names. Moab translates to “from my father.” Despite such a setback, he also became the creator of a tribe of his own, and he followed the tradition of his brother and called his clan the Moabites in the 14th century.

Like the Ammonites, the Moabites would become bitter enemies of Israel. It began as early as the 13th Century. King Saul and King David would both go to war against them in the 11th Century BC, and King Solomon would attempt to put an end to the wars by erecting an idol to their god Chemosh. For a time, “moabite” just became a generic slang term for any group that the Judeans considered enemies of God. According to the historian Josephus, they were killed off by the Babylonians. Later historians estimated that this happened in 582 BC. We have to say, roughly eight centuries is a pretty good run for any community that was the result of incest.

1. Amenhotep I

He’s certainly not as famous as Egyptian pharaohs such as Ramses and King Tut, but if you like warmongers, he was much more successful as a pharaoh than either of them. By the time his sibling parents Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertiti had him around 1540 BC, incest was a centuries-old tradition among Egyptian royalty. Amenhotep I would continue the tradition by marrying his sister Merytamun. It would continue after him for more than a millenia and a half.

His military accomplishments include defeating an invasion from Libya that threatened the Nile Delta. He would spread the empire far to the south into modern day Sudan, or Nubia as it was known then. To the east, there is archaeological evidence that he spread his empire all the way to Syria. On the domestic front he had accomplishments such as reopening mines in the Sinai Peninsula and having temples built in Northern Egypt, though he was not so generous with the newly conquered Southern territory. By the standards of his time, it was certainly a reign to take pride in.

Five science experiments for the kitchen


What you need: non-blue cheese (e.g. mozzarella, elemental, cheddar), blue cheese (rochefort, danblue, gorgonzola etc.), and a container.

Take a piece of the blue cheese and scrape it on the cheese you want to “personalise”. Place the piece in a sealed container and leave it at room temperature for 2-3 days. You can also keep it in the fridge, but it will take longer to turn your cheese blue.

Explanation: Blue cheese is blue because of the coloured fungus Penicillium roqueforti growing in and eating the cheese. Introducing the fungus to another cheese is essentially letting it feed on a new ‘dish’. You could call it fungal contamination. I prefer to call it new flavour.


What you need: canned pineapple, meat, and two containers.

Place two meat pieces into two different containers. In one of them add the juice from the canned pineapple, but don’t add anything to the other one (that’s the control of your experiment). Cover the containers in order to avoid smell! Within one day you will see that the pineapple-soaked meat is slightly changed in colour and getting softer than the non-treated meat.

Explanation: The pineapple juice contains two different enzymes commonly known as “bromelain”. These cut the collagen proteins that ‘stiffen’ meat into smaller pieces, which softens it. However, if you want to go all Breaking Bad and dissolve meat from a dead body, we do not recommend using pineapple juice! It’ll just tenderise your victim – hydrofluoric acid is a stronger and a better option to get rid of the evidence.


What you need: green tomatoes and one ripe banana.

If you’re stuck with green tomatoes and aren’t armed with the patience to wait for them to turn red here’s the solution: Place a mature banana or a banana peel next to those unworthy tomatoes and wait (less time) for it!

Explanation: For a fruit to mature a volatile (flying) hormone known as ethylene is needed. This hormone is released by ripe tomatoes, apples, pears and bananas. By placing a ripe banana next to a green tomato, the ethylene from the banana activates the maturation process in the tomato! Cool right? That’s why a lot of the vegetables and fruits are harvested while green and once they get to the store are treated with ethylene, so they can start maturing at the exact time of selling. Don’t panic, it’s not harmful!


What you need: water, raisin, and a container.

Well, according to the laws of thermodynamics: not really. You can, however, try to rehydrate your raisin. Have you ever wondered what happens if you place a raisin into a container with water? Try! It will swell, but unfortunately never return to its grape-glory days again. But who doesn’t like swollen raisins?

Explanation: The grape basically swells with water. There is more salt inside the grape that in the water. The process by which water travels from low salt conditions to high content ones across a barrier is known as “osmosis”. The water moves in order to dilute the salt concentration in the grape achieving the same salt conditions on both sides (equilibrium stage). This process happens all the time! If you spend too long in the bath, the water moves into your cells and your fingers wrinkle up. Yes, you are saltier than the water you’re bathing. This of course raises the following question: if you stay too long in salt water, and this is saltier than you, will you lose water? Think about it!


What you need: green leaves, carrot, red cabbage, 90-96% alcohol, and lastly (you guessed it!) containers.

Cut the leaves, carrots and cabbage into small pieces. Place them into different containers with enough alcohol to cover them up. Wait for some hours and soon you will see that the alcohol is dyed green, orange or purple. However, we do not recommend you to use them as organic food “colourants” for your cake topping!

Explanation: The pigments chlorophyll, carotene and anthocyanin are the pigments responsible for the colour of leaves, carrots and red cabbage respectively. They are normally stored in “cell deposits” known as plastids. These get disrupted by alcohol, releasing the pigments contained by the plastids. What you might not know is that normally all these pigments are present in all leaves, but the green pigment is present in higher amounts. When it is not actively produced by plants in the autumn, the rest of the pigments present in the leaf become visible – that’s why leaves change colour in the autumn.

Five do-it-yourself chemistry experiments

You want to impress your friends by turning bones into rubber? Determine how acidic or basic different items around the house may be? You can be a chemist too with these five chemistry experiments to try at home.

Don’t worry. All the experiments are safe for do-it-yourself chemistry.


Starch is the food of plants. Here is how to test for its presence.

You can get the following ingredients at a drug store like the ‘Matas’ chain.
Ingredients: Two separate plants a glass jar, ethyl alcohol, iodine solution (Danish ‘jod’), tweezers, and a pan on the stove

Prepare the two plants by placing one in a dark spot for 24 hours, and the other in a sunny spot such as a windowsill. After 24 hours, fill a saucepan with water, then add some ethyl alcohol onto the pan.

Once the ethyl alcohol in the beaker starts to boil, turn off the heat. Take a leaf from each of the plants, and place them in the hot water for 60 seconds. Then using tweezers dip each leaf into the ethyl alcohol for two minutes. They should begin to turn white. Finally, take out the two leaves and place them into a small dish filled with iodine solution, so that the iodine solution just covers the leaves.

Explanation: Photosynthesis is the process through which a plant converts light and CO2 into energy, which is stored inside the plant.

The chemical formula is the following: 6CO2 + 6H2O ——> C6H12O6 + 6O2,
(Where: CO2 = carbon dioxide, H2O = water, Light energy is required, C6H12O6 = glucose, and O2 = oxygen.)

The hot water is responsible for killing the leaf, while the ethyl alcohol breaks down the chlorophyll so that the green colour is gone. Iodine is a chemical which acts as an indicator for starch, turning blue-black in the presence of starch reddish-brown when there is no starch. The leaf which turned blue-black is the leaf left in the sunny location, which has been performing photosynthesis and producing starch.


It is important to have enough calcium in our diets, it keeps our bones strong. This experiment will prove it.

Ingredients: jar large enough to fit a chicken bone, a chicken bone (a leg or drumstick would be best), and vinegar.

Thoroughly wash the bone with hot water, and dry it. Place the bone into the jar and cover it with vinegar, then cover with a lid and let it sit for 3-5 days. Finally, remove the bone, rinse it off, and try bending it.

Explanation: Vinegar is an acid which is strong enough to dissolve away the calcium in the bone. The calcium is what keeps the bone hard, and so once it is dissolved all that is left is the soft bone tissue.


Compare the compounds in the dies used for colouring an M&M.

Ingredients: M&Ms candy (one of each colour), coffee filter paper, a tall glass, water, table salt, a pencil, scissors, a ruler, 6 toothpicks, aluminum foil, an empty 2 liter bottle with cap.

Cut the coffee filter paper into an 8 x 8 cm square and draw a line 0.5 cm from one edge of the paper. Make a dot for each of the candy colours equally spaced along the line, with about 0.5 cm from the edge of the paper for the first and last dot. Label each dot with the name of the colour. Take a piece of aluminum foil and place six drops of water evenly spaced out, and one candy of a different colour on top of each water drop. See what it looks like here. Wait for the colour to dissolve into the water, then dispose of the rest of the candy. Dampen the tip of one of the toothpicks in one of the colored solutions and touch it to the labeled dot on the coffee filter paper, making a small dot of colour (2mm approximately).

Then using a different toothpick each time, place dot of each colour onto the coffee filter paper. After all the spots have dried, repeat once again to get more colour on each spot. Do this three times more times. Next add ⅛ teaspoon of salt and three cups of water to the empty 2 L bottle. Screw the cap on and shake the contents until all of the salt is dissolved in the water, which makes a 1% salt solution. Pour the salt solution into the tall glass to a height of 0.5 cm. Place the filter paper in, making sure that the dots are above the water level and wait.

Explanation: The salt solution will began to move up the paper through a process called capillary action. The colour spots will also climb up the paper along with the salt solution, but the colours will end up at different heights on the paper. This is because some dyes stick more to the paper while other dyes are more soluble in the salt solution. This process is called chromatography, where the salt solution is called the mobile phase, and the paper the stationary phase. The dyes that travel the furthest have more affinity for the salt solution (the mobile phase); the dyes that travel the least have more affinity for the paper (the stationary phase).


Find out how acidic or basic a household item is.

Ingredients: 1/2 head red cabbage, metal grater, water, pot, strainer, vinegar, detergent, and a glass.

Fill the pot with water, then grate the cabbage into small pieces and place them in so that the water just covers the cabbage pieces. Boil the mixture for 20-30 minutes, then take the dark purple liquid and strain it into a glass. Create the test solutions by diluting the vinegar with water, and mixing the detergent with water. Add a few drops of the cabbage juice to each of the solutions, and note the color changes.

Explanation: The cabbage juice should turn pink in acidic solutions, and green in basic solutions. You can also test the pH of any household items, for example soda water, lemon juice, baking soda mixed with water, or anything you choose. Red cabbage contains anthocyanin, which is a pigment belonging to group of chemical compounds called flavonoids. Anthocyanins gain an -OH at basic pH, but loose it at acidic pH, and this alteration changes the wavelengths of light reflected by the compound. In this way a colour change occurs and it is possible to tell if the substance was acidic or basic.


Ingredients: calcified kettle, vinegar, water, and a cloth.

Dilute store bought white vinegar with water using a 1:1 ratio (equal parts water and white vinegar). Leave this in the kettle for 60-120 minutes, and do not boil. Then, dump out the water. If there is any lime- scale left, you can use a damp cloth to wipe this away. Finally, rinse off the kettle thoroughly with water. Next time you use it to boil water you will have improved the efficiency of the kettle, as well as the taste of the water.

Explanation In many areas household water contains a high mineral content, including calcium and carbonate, which can stay behind in a kettle when water is boiled and reform as calcium carbonate. The equilibrium inside the kettle prior to boiling can be seen as: 2HCO3- + Ca2+ ⇋ Ca2+ + CO32- + CO2 + H2O. After boiling, some of the CO2 boils off, and thus calcium carbonate is precipitated as calcium carbonate: CO32- + Ca2+ -> CaCO3. Calcium carbonate is soluble in mildly acidic solutions such as vinegar (CH3COOH), according to the reaction: CaCO3 + 2CH3COOH -> Ca(CH3COO)2 + H2O + CO2

And so when vinegar is allowed to react with the calcium carbonate at the bottom of the kettle, it is dissolved and can be easily removed, allowing the kettle to restore energy efficiency and improve the time it takes to boil water.

Five biological experiments you can do at home


Ingredients: transparent glass, salt, liquid soap, grapefruit juice, and alcohol (e.g. disinfectant, rum, vodka, etc.).

The first step consists of spitting on the glass and adding a pinch of salt to it. Then, add some liquid soap (like the one you use for washing the dishes), juice from a grapefruit, and some drops of alcohol. Once you have everything on the glass, stir the mixture, et voilà.

The white mucous filaments you observe on top of the mixture is your DNA.

The saliva contains cells from your mouth that have DNA inside them. The detergent is used to break down the membranes that protect the DNA, and releases it into the recipient. The salt makes the DNA denature* and precipitate, while the grapefruit juice neutralizes the proteins that could damage the DNA.


Ingredients: small airtight container, gelatin dessert

If you buy gelatin from a package, follow the instructions to make it. If you do not find gelatin to make, it should be even easier and just touch the gelatin from the glass jar and wait to see what happens.

Heat water on the stove and add the package contents to it, stirring the mixture vigorously until the gelatin grains dissolve. While the solution is still hot, pour into container where you want to cultivate your bacteria, and put the lid on in order to avoid contamination. Store the container in the fridge overnight so the gelatin can solidify. Remove from fridge once solid, touch the gelatin, put the lid on again and leave the container at room temp or near the radiator for a few days.

After some days you will see some white spots on the gelatin. These are your hands’ skin bacteria. Even if you try to wash your hands and repeat the experiment again, we will always have bacteria on our hands.

Microorganisms are everywhere but we do not normally see them since they are so tiny and dispersed. In this case, they use the gelatin as food, and since there are so many nutrients in it they can divide (reproduce) many times and accumulate in the container until we are actually able to see them.


Ingredients: flowers (preferably with white petals), ink, a glass, and water

One of the easiest experiments you can do. Place the flower in a glass with water and colored ink (red, black, blue, etc.). After a while you will see the petals have colored petal ribs or veins, of the same color of the ink you added to the water.

Normally we give water to plants in order to keep them alive. Plants have a tube system (called xylem) that distributes water and some nutrients to all parts of the plant. Using the colored water we are actually able to see this tube system.


Ingredients: eggs, vinegar, and a pot with lid (really important, as this keeps the smell inside!)

Place the egg (including shell) into the pot with vinegar and cover it with the lid. Let it sit for some days. After this, you will have a flexible smelly egg that you can use as a ball.

The single cell present in one egg, due to its importance in reproduction, is protected by an eggshell. This shell is made of calcium carbonate that reacts with the acetic acid present in the vinegar, causing its decomposition, and leading to a ‘naked’ egg that has increased flexibility.


ingredients: eggs, bowl, alcohol

Want to innovate your cooking skills? Next time you want to cook an egg , place it into a bowl and add some alcohol to it. After some minutes you can see how it slowly ‘cooks’. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that you will find it extremely delicious.

Cooking an egg, consists simply on denaturing* the proteins that are present in the cell contained by the eggshell. This protein denaturation is normally obtained by heat exposure (boiling or frying), but another way consists of adding compounds such as alcohol that denature the proteins by interacting with them and altering their 3D structure.

denaturation*= process by which a biomolecule (e.g. DNA, protein), losses its 3D structure.

Any ideas for new experiments? Write them below, and we will try them out for you!

Top 10 evil narrators

Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, American Psycho … many of these books were originally condemned as immoral for humanising the evil at their hear

 Carnival of rape and violence … Malcolm McDowell as Alex in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Warner Bros

All novelists are villains. Like despots, we fantasise that thousands of people will pay attention to our lengthy speeches, and often hold the delusion that it will do them good. Having no army, we grip our audience with a trick called literature, though we’re usually fairly confident that people want to listen to us anyway.

The narrator of my book Consent calls himself a practitioner of “people studies”, which means he is a serial stalker, and eventually much worse. He expects to be hated, and dreams of no more than a fair hearing. “I have only tried to live by simple principles with doggedness and honesty,” he says, “and with an open mind.”S

The villains on this list are murderers, torturers and rapists (sometimes all three), but when they say they do not feel remorse, we often admire their frankness. Many of these books were condemned as immoral when they first appeared, because they seemed to humanise the evil they explain. We don’t want villains to be human. We want to make them suffer, and compassion gets in the way. Maybe their victims weren’t human either, in their eyes.

1. Alex in A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Burgess was the first novelist to obsess me, and like most readers I met him first through Alex and his droogs. The slang is a stylistic miracle, but I can’t say that Alex is a developed character. His high-spirited carnival of rape and violence, then his cruel rehabilitation with aversion therapy, read more like a diagram than a story. (You may notice that the book shares a plot with Mr Nosey.) But why complicate a simple point? Evil people are also just people.

2. Odilo Unverdorben in Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
Like A Clockwork Orange, the high concept of Time’s Arrow takes a little getting used to. The conscience of a Nazi doctor relives his life backwards, watching as corpses are revived by murderers, grow younger and shrink until they are small enough to climb into their mothers’ wombs. We don’t see the evil Odilo, but have to deduce him as his soul approaches the horrors he committed, consequences first, playing out a fantasy of the Holocaust regretted by its perpetrators, and magically undone.

 Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar in The Collector (1965). Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles
This book terrified me before I read it, when a friend suggested that the stalking story of my own nearly finished novel had already be done, very famously, by Fowles. Thankfully, I was reassured when I read The Collector, then terrified for different reasons. Like Miranda, Clegg’s victim, I naively warmed to him at first. Her kidnapping feels more like an excess of earnestness than proper evil. Later, I understood that the two are often the same thing.

4. Meursault in The Outsider by Albert Camus
Camus said that Meursault was an outsider because “he refuses to lie”. He refuses to pretend to care about other people more than he does, perhaps in part because he does not believe they care about him. He kills a man on the beach without thinking about it much. That’s a challenge to us all: human life is only as sacred as it feels, and how sacred do most people feel to you?

5. Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Many people may feel instinctively that Humbert does something worse than killing, which is child sexual abuse, regular and premeditated. Perhaps worse still is the way he talks about it. Humbert implores our sympathy not for Lolita, whom he abuses, but for himself having to live with the desire. That erotic and romantic ache, in Nabokov’s beautiful style, is what I still remember. It takes you to the point where you empathise with this man even when he drugs and rapes a 12-year-old girl.

 Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 adaptation of American Psycho. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

6. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Bateman represents a hated stereotype: the late-80s plutocrat, greedy and indifferent to others. And he does embody those things, but what gets forgotten is the unhappiness. Being Bateman is an endless, looping anxiety nightmare of missed reservations and unreturned videotapes, of the effort to feel superior, just to feel OK. It’s the best book on this list, in my opinion.

7. The twins in The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf
Narrated in the first-person plural, this Hungarian novel tells the story of twin boys surviving the last years of the second world war and the start of communism. They are self-possessed and intensely sinister, receiving abuse of all kinds as calmly as they visit it on others. By the end, even the unjust world we have seems preferable to the just one they create around them.

8. Unnamed narrator of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This fictional confession of an unnamed communist agent begins with a breathtaking account of the fall of Saigon, and ends with him being forced to tell his story of spying on Vietnamese émigrés in the US. It’s striking how fervently the narrator tries to be loyal and consistent, and how this leaves the human consequences as an afterthought. Being too certain that you’re the good guys – that’s where this evil comes from.

9. Harry Flashman in Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
I suspect that evil in the real world most often takes this form: a person with power, and all the ordinary desires, sacrificing others to serve, or save, themselves. As such, Harry Flashman is the perfect narrator for a revisionist history of the British Empire. This first instalment tells of his adventures in Afghanistan – adventures which, as Flashman merrily admits, show him to be “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward – and, oh yes, a toady”.

10. Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton
The daddy of the genre, and evil by definition. I’m pushing it to call Satan a narrator, but he is certainly the hero of the poem, who makes a series of beautiful and reasonable speeches in favour of resistance against the tyranny of God. If Milton really meant to justify the ways of God to men, he might have given himself an easier opponent.

• Leo Benedictus’ Consent (Read Me in the US) is out now in paperback in the UK (Faber).


Grímsey is a green, grassy and particularly agreeable island, probably best known for its proximity to the Arctic Circle, which cuts across the island. Many visitors go there solely to step across that line, south to north.

The island is 5.3 km2 in area, its highest point is 105 metres and the distance from “Iceland” is 41 km.

Life on Grímsey is bright and energetic, and the inhabitants are of a happy disposition, working and playing with equal wholeheartedness. A good swimming pool was opened there in 1989. The inhabitants of the island do their shopping in the village store, Búðin, which is privately owned, and sells a wide variety of goods. There are two guesthouses on the island, one of which is open all year round.

The ferry, Sæfari, sails from Dalvík to Grímsey 3 days a week all year round. There are also regular flights by Air Iceland, 3 times a week during winter and 7 days a week during summer.



Hólar is one of the most famous historical sites in Iceland and was, for many centuries, an Episcopal See. It was also the capital of North Iceland for over 700 years. There has been a church on the site from the 11thcentury, and the present Hólar Cathedral was consecrated in 1763. It is the oldest stone built church in Iceland.

Hólaskóli School, founded in 1882, was an agricultural school, but there is evidence that some form of school has been present at Hólar right from the time of the first bishopric. Archaeological research has been carried out at Hólar over the past years and more than 40 thousand items found, some of which are now on display in the old schoolhouse.



Langanes is a veritable outdoor paradise teeming with birdlife, great for nature study and hiking as well as some tangible history. A trip to the outlying peninsula is an unforgettable adventure, passing remnants of ancient farms and more recently deserted buildings like Skoruvík. Below Skoruvík cliffs is Stóri Karl rock column, one of Iceland’s largest gannet colonies.