#1 New York Times bestseller
From the author of Steve Jobs and other bestselling biographies, this is the astonishingly intimate story of the most fascinating and controversial innovator of our era—a rule-breaking visionary who helped to lead the world into the era of electric vehicles, private space exploration, and artificial intelligence. Oh, and took over Twitter.
When Elon Musk was a kid in South Africa, he was regularly beaten by bullies. One day a group pushed him down some concrete steps and kicked him until his face was a swollen ball of flesh. He was in the hospital for a week. But the physical scars were minor compared to the emotional ones inflicted by his father, an engineer, rogue, and charismatic fantasist.
His father’s impact on his psyche would linger. He developed into a tough yet vulnerable man-child, prone to abrupt Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings, with an exceedingly high tolerance for risk, a craving for drama, an epic sense of mission, and a maniacal intensity that was callous and at times destructive.
At the beginning of 2022—after a year marked by SpaceX launching thirty-one rockets into orbit, Tesla selling a million cars, and him becoming the richest man on earth—Musk spoke ruefully about his compulsion to stir up dramas. “I need to shift my mindset away from being in crisis mode, which it has been for about fourteen years now, or arguably most of my life,” he said.
It was a wistful comment, not a New Year’s resolution. Even as he said it, he was secretly buying up shares of Twitter, the world’s ultimate playground. Over the years, whenever he was in a dark place, his mind went back to being bullied on the playground. Now he had the chance to own the playground.
For two years, Isaacson shadowed Musk, attended his meetings, walked his factories with him, and spent hours interviewing him, his family, friends, coworkers, and adversaries. The result is the revealing inside story, filled with amazing tales of triumphs and turmoil, that addresses the question: are the demons that drive Musk also what it takes to drive innovation and progress?
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
As one of the richest people on the planet, Elon Musk has a unique place in history, and Walter Isaacson’s illuminating biography examines the polarizing figure. Isaacson, who was granted unfiltered access to Musk for two years, charts the tech billionaire’s meteoric rise, from his South African childhood, which was dominated by his emotionally abusive father, to his experiences in Silicon Valley with PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX. The sections about Musk’s impulsive takeover of social media platform Twitter offer the most piercing insight into how the billionaire operates, for better or worse, and there are newsworthy reveals, too, like his satellite company’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war. Narrator Jeremy Bobb takes a reverent, documentary-style approach to the material, which fits the subject’s larger-than-life persona well. Elon Musk is a fascinating listen no matter your opinion of its subject.
I really liked this book!!
Comparing this to other Isaacson books...
In the Steve Jobs book intro, author Walter Isaacson outlines his motivation to write a book about Jobs. Also that Jobs declared he would have no control over his biography. In this Musk book, Isaacson never mentions his motivation to write about Musk. And no mention of Musk giving Isaacson free rein as Jobs did.
That suggests Musk _did_ have control over what was allowed in the book. It also suggests Isaacson's motivation was simply a big sack of cash. More power to him, he's probably the leading biographer in the book industry today and deserves it.
But this all shows throughout the book. Musk has interesting points to his life, and is a complex person (and shares a TON of similarities with myself beyond being the same age) but in my opinion he's not biography-worthy interesting. Certainly not compared to Isaacson's other subjects with which he was strongly motivated to write about (Da Vinci, Jobs, Ben Franklin, etc). Most likely this book exists solely because Musk finds himself fascinating and wants you to feel the same way.
A good biography should never be about admiring a person. Biographies should be about how interesting the character is. And that's why this book plays out more as propaganda, coercing the reader to respect - if not love, Elon Musk.
From the look of most of the reviews here, it worked.
Kindness is Cruelty & Cruelty is Kindness
As a survivor of childhood abuse, Musk is a fellow traveler. So, I read the book. It’s quite good and worth the time. The author weaves Musk’s psychological struggles with anecdotes about his leadership style. He does not sugar coat the fact that Musk is an abusive workaholic nincompoop who is usually tweaked out on caffeine drinks. I never paid much attention to Musk before this year, but I admire his life’s work, and for the most part, I think his heart is in the right place. Make no mistake, though; this guy is just as dangerous as he is visionary. Musk has enormous capacity for cruelty, and it seems to go much deeper than a lack of empathy. Don’t get me wrong. The book doesn’t imply that Musk is some uber villain sitting around twiddling his thumbs, but it hints at something that reminds me of the monsters from my past. As I approached the end of the book, I was already looking forward to evicting Musk from my thoughts. It would probably be fun to binge watch Star Wars with him, but I don’t want to even imagine what it must be like to work for him.