Musk, Mantel, a meltdown and murder


Musk, Mantel, a meltdown and murder

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH's curiosity keeps him reading and keeps us informed.


LISBETH Salander is an interesting character. Remember, the genius computer whiz-kid in Stieg Larsson's detective novels? Elon Musk, like Salander, has a severe degree of Asperger's syndrome, but he doesn't make you feel as good as Salander. In fact, you wish he had a little of her humility, her silence.

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Walter Isaacson's biography of Musk, simply titled Elon Musk because, damn, everyone knows who this is, comes eight years after Ashlee Vance's book on Musk. That knocked me for a six because the world was still Musk's oyster back then and we didn't yet know he was Donald Trump Lite. Since then, he has become God's richest son on earth.

As Isaacson eventually says, the child who was bullied by his schoolmates in South Africa has now bought the entire playground. If he decides he wants to see you at playtime behind the bike shed, you'd better be there.

Isaacson has always set his sights on the big figures: Henry Kissinger, Warren Buffett, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs. Musk is the only one of his subjects who is certainly on the spectrum, and Isaacson doesn't turn a blind eye. Musk makes you feel proud of his accomplishments one moment and disgusted the next by his way of simplifying complex matters to fit his weird worldview.

Yes, it's interesting to read about his days in South Africa. About his schools and his old man who isn't too nice to people. The bullying and his love for Dungeons and Dragons. His emigration to the US was a necessity. You read with a mixture of admiration and disbelief how he brought Tesla and SpaceX into being, and of his haziness with Twitter and how he struggled not to make a complete ass of himself in the transition to X.

Musk is nobody's friend — especially not those who work for him. He admits he is a social failure, the man who wants to save humanity and take it to other planets yet struggles to empathise with anyone. He has four children with his wife, six with other mothers. He is anti-woke, and according to his closest friends, when he is in a mischievous mood he lies through his teeth.

Hennie Aucamp always said there are no more tragic heroes in the classical sense of the term because no one has enough height to truly fall. I think he spoke too soon. But one thing is certain: Musk isn't right in that interstellar skull of his. Isaacson probably isn't entirely happy with his new book, but measured by the emotional swings in my reaction as I read it, and my reluctance to stop reading it, it's dazzling. Surely one does not read biographies for the sole purpose of becoming fond of the person under discussion.

Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson was published by Simon & Schuster and costs R405 at Exclusive Books.


People who have watched TV in England will recognise Garraway as one of the presenters of ITV's Good Morning Britain. A British celeb. Why should we read about her now? Turns out, as a human being — well, as a mensch — she's much more successful than Elon Musk.

Garraway's spouse, Derek, contracted Covid in the pandemic, survived but is struggling to fully function again. In the aftermath of his discharge from hospital, Garraway had a meltdown, and that's the story she tells here. The point she's making? We are in relationships and marriages not only to have a great time, but also, and especially, to take care of our mates. A nice, quick read.

The Strength of Love by Kate Garraway was published by Bonnier Books and costs R577 at Exclusive Books.


Oh, I admire her! Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light. The woman who brings history to life in her novels. Nicholas Pearson, editor of her novels, made a selection of her journalistic writing here, hoping it would create a picture of what Mantel was like in life. And now I'm even crazier about her. Some of the essays are simply dazzling — “Last Morning in Al Hamra" should be pleasant reading for anyone who begins to feel the world and life have become alien to them. Elsewhere, she suddenly makes you understand the soul of the modern political leader: he/she/they not only want to commit their human failures, they also want to make their bow in the spotlight so that we, the afflicted, can thank and honour them. Take a bow, Cyril!

A Memoir of My Former Self by Hilary Mantel was published by John Murray Press and costs R485 at Exclusive Books.

Whirling words

I sympathise with Eliza Clark's ambition (to become a great crime fiction writer), but I don't admire her yet. Penance is about the lies with which people try to protect themselves. Clark's idea was to write a quasi-crime novel about a true case.

The case: three schoolgirls kill a friend and a true-crime author cooks up a book about it with information he stealthily obtained. There are plenty of smokescreens here: social media, podcast transcripts and lots of whirling words. Long stretches of boredom for the reader. If I weren't so curious, I wouldn't have finished reading it.

Penance by Eliza Clark was published by Faber & Faber and costs R385 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦ 

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