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