Must do’s: What we like this week

"Manson" is a thrilling portrait of a serial killer, and "Elysium" is this summer's action-packed movie highlight

Published August 10, 2013 2:00PM (EDT)

 Matt Damon in "Elysium"
Matt Damon in "Elysium"


"Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson" is Jeff Guinn's sweeping new biography of Southern California's notorious would-be rockstar-turned-satanistic murderer, Charles Manson. Set amid the unsettling backdrop of the late ’60s and The Summer of Love, the book explores the dark precursors leading up to the Family's first murders and culminates in their eventual capture and trial. Through in-depth prison interviews with Family members, Guinn's account provides possibly the "richest and most revealing portrait yet of Manson’s early life," writes Laura Miller:

Manson himself refused to grant Guinn an interview, but the impression left by this biography is that it was hardly necessary. The Manson Guinn portrays is not especially complicated or mysterious; his motives are usually pretty obvious. The sum total of the sweeping sociological opining in the book comes in its final lines, when Guinn writes, “The unsettling 1960s didn’t create Charlie, but they made it possible for him to bloom in full, malignant flower. In every sense, one theme runs through and defines his life: Charlie Manson was always the wrong man in the right place at the right time.” Brief, but exactly to the point.

"Code Name: Verity" is Elizabeth Wein's "terrific" new audiobook about two young female pilots fighting for the French Resistance in World War II. Its realistic portrayal of murder and torture in Nazi concentration camps may not be suited to all listeners of the young adult fiction genre, writes Laura Miller, but it is a welcome departure from the "dreamy romances" of many books for young girls:

Instead, “Code Name: Verity” is about female camaraderie and valor. Maddie and Queenie, who meet in the service, instantly cross class divisions to become best friends. It wasn’t just romances that broke the rules during wartime, after all. Maddie marvels at Queenie’s improvisational daring and Queenie views Maddie’s piloting talents as a pure and beautiful art that transcends the dirty expediencies of war. For all the intricacies of its plotting, this novel is rooted in character, and its two leads are so vividly acted by Christie and Gaskell that I feel it’s my duty to warn you not to listen to the end when driving. While “Code Name: Verity” is a more uplifting novel than I expected during those first few chapters, you still may have a hard time seeing the road through your tears.


Pick of the week: Matt Damon fights for the 99 percent

Despite containing a touch of action overkill, Neill Blomkamp's new dystopian sci-fi fantasy, "Elysium," is Andrew O'Hehir's professed movie highlight of the summer  — an "exciting, witty and vividly realized" piece of genius filmmaking with "tremendous resonance":

Like Blomkamp’s explosive debut “District 9,” which staged a caste conflict between humans and aliens in the filmmaker’s racially divided hometown of Johannesburg, “Elysium” barely pretends to be about the future rather than the present. It’s the middle of the 22nd century and Matt Damon’s character, Max, is a white kid who’s grown up in the Spanish-speaking barrio of Los Angeles – and, more important, on a poisoned, sickly and impoverished planet where slum conditions are general. The wilderness and wildlife we claim to cherish today are long gone, and while much of the human population has apparently died off, those who remain are something like a permanent helot underclass. Max is lucky enough to have a job, risking radiation exposure every day in a factory that assembles the police robots that brutally enforce law and order, under a thin veneer of official politeness. That’s a particularly nice touch in Blomkamp’s screenplay: Even the technocratic, bureaucratic and completely alienated state apparatus of this dystopian society still pretends to care about the individual.

By Liz Fields

Liz Fields is an Australian freelance journalist based in New York who has previously scribbled for Slate, ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald and more. Follow her on Twitter @lianzifields

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