The Rise and Fall of Synanon A California Utopia - Rod Janzen
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The Rise and Fall of Synanon A California Utopia  - Rod Janzen

Written by Rod Janzen
Format(s): PDF
Language: English

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 evolved quickly into an experimental commune and "religion" that attracted thousands of nonaddict members and was strongly committed to social justice and progressive education. Over 25,000 people were members of Synanon at various times, including jazz musicians Charlie Haden and Stan Kenton; supporters of the group included Senator Thomas Dodd, comedian Steve Allen, and psychologist Abraham Maslow. In its later years, however, the group became involved in highly publicized violent actions--including putting a rattlesnake in the mailbox of a Los Angeles-area attorney--making the group's name synonymous with paranoid cults.

Based on extensive primary sources and interviews with former members, The Rise and Fall of Synanon explores how the institution evolved in the context of American social, political, and economic trends. Historian Rod Janzen argues that the group's downfall resulted from members giving too much power to Synanon's charismatic founder and a small group of top-level associates. Media attention focused on the group's cultlike activities, neglecting the community's significant successes in drug rehabilitation and social integration. Janzen's in-depth analysis of Synanon serves as a fascinating 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 stances of fear and active opposition.

Review
"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." -- Choice

"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

Review
"Synanon, for all its size and cultural significance, has not previously been the subject of this kind of overview study. Janzen's scholarship is impressive, making use of a vast amount of primary material. The combination of written and oral sources is particularly appropriate." -- Timothy MillerUniversity of Kansas, author of The 60s Communes

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