The Rise and Fall of Synanon: A California Utopia (Paperback)

The Rise and Fall of Synanon: A California Utopia By Rod Janzen Cover Image

The Rise and Fall of Synanon: A California Utopia (Paperback)


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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.

Rod Janzen is a Distinguished Scholar and professor of history at Fresno Pacific University. He is the author of The Hutterites in North America and The Prairie People: Forgotten Anabaptists.
Product Details ISBN: 9781421448107
ISBN-10: 1421448106
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication Date: October 3rd, 2023
Pages: 320
Language: English