The Rise and Fall of Synanon: A California Utopia
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
Imprint: John Hopkins University
Sales Date: 2023-10-03
Published: October 2023
Imprint: John Hopkins University
Page Count: 320 Pages
Illustrations: 39 halftones, 1 line drawing
Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.00
320 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.78 in, 39 halftones, 1 line drawing
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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.
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
"Authoritative and highly readable."Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times
"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."Jessica Warner, Addiction
"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."Robert S. Fogarty, Journal of American History
"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."Michael Orth, Utopian Studies