E-books and audiobooks

E-book reviews: serial entrepreneur Elon Musk and blogger Tim Urban unravel some big ideas

Shocking case study of eugenics in the US and Shirley Maclaine’s kooky memoir round out this week’s non-fiction e-book and audiobook selections

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 6:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 6:00am

The Elon Musk Blog Series

by Tim Urban

Wait But Why (e-book)

3 stars

Readers will have heard of Elon Musk, but maybe not Wait But Why. So this e-book is a good introduction to the “world’s most remarkable living entrepreneur” (as TED Talks’ Chris Anderson dubbed Musk) and the blog-cum-website, about everything from “How to pick a life partner” to “7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook” to “The Elon Musk Series”, which is repackaged into this offering. Readers who thought the Dummies book series was brilliant will probably love WBW, which is cuter and more personal, although others might wonder whether sentences such as this, about atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperatures, are necessary: “No one is more of a dick than Venus [where the average temperature is 462 degrees Celsius].” Tim Urban, one half of WBW, states that though Musk was the prompt for the WBW blogs that became the book, he did not pay for, or vet, the writing. The man behind PayPal, Tesla Motors electric cars, SpaceX (their fourth rocket launch, last year, was a success) and more, approached Urban because he was tired about stories about him when more people, he thought, should be reading about fossil-fuel supply, battery advancements or why humanity should be multi-planetary. This book allows the earthbound to dream.


by Adam Cohen

Penguin Press (e-book)

3.5 stars

If the term eugenics doesn’t send a shiver through you, this book will. Adam Cohen tells how in 1927 the US Supreme Court allowed the state of Virginia to sterilise Carrie Buck, a woman wrongly labelled “feebleminded”, meaning she was considered a threat to the national gene pool. Used as a test case, she – ­like others thus accused – was thus considered oversexed and morally loose, leading to “differential fecundity”. Cohen points out that Buck's biggest disadvantage at the time of the inquisition was she was pregnant. Although she had ended up in Virginia’s Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, she was neither: she was just uneducated and unlucky. To make matters worse, the victims often were not told what was being done to them. That was the true for not only Buck, but also her sister, Doris, who believed she’d had an appendectomy when the truth was that she had been part of America’s mass eugenic sterilisation programme, which targeted tens of thousands of people. The scariest part is that the Supreme Court ruling has never been overturned, meaning that federal courts, citing Buck v Bell, still have the right to impose forced sterilisations.

Above the Line

by Shirley Maclaine

Simon & Schuster Audio (audiobook)

2 stars

In 1955, when Shirley Maclaine was 20, she was in a Hong Kong bookshop when a book, A Dweller on Two Planets, about Atlantis, fell on her head. Its author, Phylos, had apparently channelled information to the man who wrote the volume. “I just knew instinctively that I should hold on to this book and one day I would understand it,” says Maclaine, adding she became interested in channelling and the lessons of Atlantis 20 years later. Readers instinctively turned off should avoid Above the Line, about the production of an indie comedy on the Canary Islands. Those who think of Hollywood productions as luxury fests peopled by pampered stars will be shocked to learn how different it can be: shooting started on Wild Oats with Maclaine and co-stars Jessica Lange and Demi Moore not knowing who had been cast with them or whether there was sufficient funding (there wasn’t). While things go from bad to worse, Maclaine, who narrates her book, experiences past-life memories of her time on that lost continent (the islands apparently formed the remnants of that civilisation). This is one for New Agers, people who believe in souls, and the curious.