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Reviews for Elon Musk

by Walter Isaacson

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Reckless ambition, ruthless drive, and psychic demons swaddle the soul of a wounded child in this sweeping biography of the celebrated industrialist. Biographer Isaacson (Steve Jobs) paints Musk as a tech visionary who wants to colonize Mars with his rocket company SpaceX, decarbonize transportation with his Tesla electric cars, and guarantee freedom of speech on the internet (as long as said speech doesn’t personally offend him) by buying Twitter. He portrays Musk as an innovator who embraced risk-taking both for better (he replaced a standard, $3-million cooling system on his rockets with a commercial home air-conditioning system costing $6,000) and worse (his decision to leave out a part designed to keep fuel from sloshing caused a rocket to explode in mid-flight). Musk is a callous, volatile boss, raging at underlings and forcing them to work round-the-clock. (“You have ninety days to do it. If you can’t make that work, your resignation is accepted” went a typical pep talk.) And he’s a monumental head case—as a boy, a loner abused by his father and beaten bloody by bullies; as a man, a manic-depressive drawn to chaos in business, romance, and any number of ill-considered Tweets. Isaacson shadowed Musk for two years and conjures a richly detailed, evocative portrait that nails his impulsive personality. The result is an illuminating study that demonstrates why Musk is the most captivating of today’s plutocrats. (Sept.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting. To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos. Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.