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Elon Musk. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: Inside the new biography about Elon Musk, 'the boy who wanted to be a man'

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Disappearing islands

waterfront-view-of-traditional-housing-rural-thatch-houses-in-indigenous-kuna-or-guna-yala-village-san-blas-islands-panama-oct-2018 A waterfront view of houses on the San Blas islands. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

An exploration of how climate change is impacting the tiny islands in the Caribbean and the people that inhabit them. 

(BBC, approx 8 mins reading time)

As sea levels continue to rise, the same ocean that has historically helped to preserve the Guna’s culture, language and colourful mola clothing is threatening its very survival. Yet, unlike other Guna communities affected by climate change, the residents of Gardi Sugdub have a plan. In 2010, the island’s leaders began working with the Panamanian government to develop a new village on the mainland from which they once fled. Known as Isber Yala, the planned community is being built by the islanders on land they already own. At first glance, Isber Yala couldn’t be more different from Gardi Sugdub: instead of tightly packed wooden and metal houses facing the sea, the new community is comprised of prefabricated concrete homes set several kilometres from the ocean. Families are scheduled to begin relocating from the island to the new community in February 2024, and when they do, the Guna will be among the first climate refugees in the Americas.

2. The true crime problem

Sofia McKenna and Spencer Mugford disappeared in 2018 after taking a sailboat to a lighthouse off Connecticut. While Sofia remains missing, Spencer’s body was found and his death was ruled an accidental drowning.

But content creators and true crime podcasters online quickly concluded that there was more to the story, and speculation and conspiracy theories about the tragedy quickly spread across social media, blurring the line between entertainment and reality.

(Rolling Stone, approx 19 mins reading time)

People following the story searched high and low for any examples of “evidence” that Sofia and Spencer were victims of a crime rather than a drowning. Social media users posted that the boat and Spencer’s body were found in opposite directions; Sofia’s phone dialed a friend after it had been taken into police custody; there was no attempt to dial 911 from Spencer’s phone; and Sofia’s body has never surfaced. The latter in particular has prompted speculation that Sofia was either taken elsewhere to be murdered or held captive. The case has gained a cult following, and has been featured on a handful of podcasts and YouTube episodes, including videos made by content creators as far away as South America. Over 50 videos about the case posted to TikTok caused the #SofiaMckenna hashtag to go viral, garnering over 16 million total views on the platform to date. After learning about the case from TikTok, people from all over the world joined a Facebook group dedicated to finding Sofia that was originally founded in June 2018.

3. Ultra hardcore

retour-dans-lespacereturn-to-space2022de-jimmy-chin-et-elizabeth-chai-vasarhelyielon-musk-prod-db-netflix-little-monster-filmsdocumentaire Elon Musk. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This brilliantly written review by Ben Tarnoff of Walter Isaacson’s authorised biography of Elon Musk gives a profile of the X owner and touches on the subject of masculinity, societal norms and power.

(The New York Review of Books, approx 24 mins reading time)

The portrait presented in Elon Musk, then, is not only of a rationalizer but of something stranger: an irrational rationalizer. Musk is, on the one hand, the classic capitalist: boosting efficiency, squeezing his workers, pushing costs down and profits up. He serves the logic of capital accumulation with priestly devotion. But what compels this devotion is a doomed, frantic attempt to manage the symptoms of what one can only conclude is a profound sadness. He is desperate to extrude shit from the system, to be clean, to achieve the purifying discipline of the perfect factory. He believes the future of humanity depends on it. The problem is that the shit persists, no matter how strenuous his efforts at expelling it. If he ever actually succeeded, if the final catharsis were ever attained, you get the sense that he would die; that it would be him, along with his rockets, ejected into the void. “I am like a ripe shit, and the world is a gigantic asshole,” Martin Luther once declared, depressed and close to death. “We will both probably let go of each other soon.”

4. Baby brokers

An excerpt from Rachel Nolan’s new book about the history of privatised adoption in Guatemala, which has seen thousands of children taken from the country since the 1960s.

(The Guardian, approx 19 mins reading time)

Guatemala is often cited as the worst-case scenario for what can go wrong when adoptions are commercialised and children are sent from poorer countries to wealthier ones. Outright kidnappings like Preat’s were rare, but other abuses were common. Some were technically legal: women pressured to give up babies or to sign documents they could not understand, or they were approached when pregnant about whether they wished to relinquish a child. There are also many documented cases of women being paid a small sum for their children – which was illegal. Despite plentiful evidence as early as the 1980s of corruption and abuses within the industry, international adoption did not become illegal in Guatemala until 2008.

5. Ferrari

release-date-december-25-2023-title-ferrari-studio-stx-entertainment-director-michael-mann-plot-set-in-the-summer-of-1957-with-enzo-ferraris-auto-empire-in-crisis-the-ex-racer-turned-entr Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari in the new biopic. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Director Michael Mann chats about making his new biopic of Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the eponymous carmaker and racing team, and how it took three decades to get off the ground.

(The Ringer, approx 8 mins reading time)

Watching Ferrari, released on Christmas and starring Adam Driver in the title role, is a visceral experience. “What I did not want was beautiful pictures and long lenses of cars weaving through wonderful Tuscan roads,” Mann says. “The artistic objective was to impact the audience in a way that they feel the experience of being in the car. I wanted to put them in the car, not be removed observers.” But Mann’s goal was not only to bludgeon the audience with verisimilitude. To him, fidelity is simply the best way into the life of a man obsessed with his craft.

During the period covered by the movie, Ferrari’s company, his racing team, and his marriage are in trouble—and he’s fighting for a way to save them all. “The only reason this had viability for me was because of the unique history of Enzo Ferrari, that happened to be three months in 1957 in which there’s so many tempestuous, operatic events occurring in his private, intimate life,” Mann says. “I would not have been interested in some kind of a linear biopic that crossed decades.” The way Mann sees it, the story is “a deep dive behind the giant representational figure, very stoic and distant with the sunglasses. And you don’t know what’s going on beneath.”

6. My Lovely Horse

The rescue centre’s founder Martina Kenny speaks about caring for sick and abused animals, how the housing crisis is adding to the problem and the damage that sulky racing can do to young horses. 

(The Irish Examiner, approx 7 mins reading time)

The shelter has more than 700 animals in its care — dogs, horses, goats, pigs, cats. It has three premises — the My Lovely Horse and My Lovely Pig rescue centres in Kildare and a My Lovely Horse facility in Cobh, Co Cork. But the numbers are always mounting and Ms Kenny said another litter of puppies and kittens would probably be admitted before the end of the day. “You might foster out two animals but another five will come in that day, so the number never drops below 700 anymore,” she said.

Now Christmas and harsh winter weather are coming, shelters will be under even more pressure.”You’ll have animals locked up and tied up in bad weather over Christmas. People will go away on cheap holiday packages and leave their animals starving in the back garden. Horses will be left tied to posts and poles.” And Ms Kenny is already seeing record numbers of animals, particularly dogs, coming to the shelter. “We’ve had 10 messages before lunchtime today from people looking to surrender their dogs.”


jeffrey-epstein-photo-by-new-york-state-sex-offender-registrytnssipa-usa Jeffrey Epstein. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

With Jeffrey Epstein’s name – and the names of those linked to him in court documents – in the news this week, this article from 2020 which saw Leland Nally call every name in Epstein’s personal contact book is well worth a read.

(Mother Jones, approx 53 mins reading time)

I made close to 2,000 phone calls total. I spoke to billionaires, CEOs, bankers, models, celebrities, scientists, a Kennedy, and some of Epstein’s closest friends and confidants. I sat on my couch and phoned up royalty, spoke to ambassadors, irritated a senior adviser at Blackstone, and left squeaky voicemails for what must constitute a considerable percentage of the world oligarchy. At times the book felt like a dark palantir, giving me glimpses of dreadful, haunted dimensions that my soft, gentle, animal being was never supposed to encounter. At other times it was nearly the opposite, almost grotesquely boring and routine. Seeing at close range the mundanity of Epstein and his fellow elites–how simple and childish they could be–was a sickening experience of its own. The worst call by far was with a woman who told me she’d been groped by Epstein, an incident she said she didn’t report at the time out of fear of retribution from Epstein. (I have been aggressively counseled to remind the readers of Mother Jones that an appearance in the address book is not evidence of any crime, or of complicity in any crime, or of knowledge of any crime.)

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