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Elon Musk

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Jeremy Bobb

20 Hours 27 Minutes

Simon & Schuster Audio UK

September 2023

Audio Book Summary

Epic feats. Epic failures. An epic story.

Walter Isaacson charts Elon Musk’s journey from humble beginnings to one of the wealthiest people on the planet – but is Musk a genius or a jerk?
From the author of Steve Jobs and other bestselling biographies, this is the astonishingly intimate story of Elon Musk, 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 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, Walter Isaacson had unprecedented access. He 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?

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  • Robert S.

    Isaacson is a disciplined and impressive author who, understandably, focused far more on the negative incidence than Musk's remarkable achievements. This is what journalists tend to do but it doesn't give balanced credit to the magnitude of Musk's many interventions and remarkable skills. Isaacson makes it sound like Musk is always at war but this wouldn't explain how Musk has garnered so much loyalty while achieving more than any other entrepreneur or industrialist the world has seen. If Musk is truly more often unpleasant than decent, why are Tesla and SpaceX repeatedly in the two top spots for job selection by the best engineering schools? Why was the remarkable Jim Keller blown away by Musk's first principles thinking in a field Musk shouldn't have known much about? How did Musk manage to be the lead architect in designing the Holy Grail of rocket engines, full-flow staged combustion cycle with seperate turbines for the oxidiser and the fuel, something neither the Russians nor the Americans had managed to do? These are important themes that Isaacson didn't balance well possibly because doing so would have made the book too technical. Sure, Isaacson highlighted the fiery stories of which there are bound to be many for someone pushing so hard to change the world but his gentler, inspirational stories were too few to explain why so many people want to work for him and why his inner circle supports him so intensely. As a single example of Isaacson's lack of foresight he effectively writes off The Boring Company as one of Musk's failures in just a couple of paragraphs. This is a company to which Musk has dedicated less than 2% of his time yet its Las Vegas achievements, despite endless red tape, are astonishing. The moment FSD is allowed to operate in those tunnels their utility will increase by a couple of orders of magnitude while their efficacy and economic sense will become glaringly obvious. Unfortunately Isaacson instead gave the media endless fodder with which to attack the one being who has done the most to help set us on a path for, interalia, reducing noxious emissions. This is a pity.

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  • Damilare O.

    Awesome book.

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