Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, By Ashlee Vance
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Ecco (May 19, 2015)
Reading Sara Review: Ashlee Vance is the first biographer to get exclusive access to Musk and his family to write this book – and she really digs into everything from his mysteriously dark childhood, to his near-fails at most of his companies, to his highs and lows as a boss, to his incredible genius.
The book is well written, and if you are interested in learning more about one of the greatest minds of our generation, you should read this. Elon Musk is changing our world. Seriously. It is incredible. It is not exactly a “page-turner” because there is no real mystery – we know that Tesla got off to a tough start, but has ended up being a luxury car worth the struggle. We all saw the news when SpaceX’s rockets failed – but we know that they are doing incredible things now.
Musk is not necessarily someone that I would want to work for, per se. Some of the stories of his falling out with colleagues and partners are quite damning. However, he is very likely a genius and I can imagine that at his level it is more difficult to get along with people who are not also at his level – which is why he surrounds himself with other like-minded geniuses to work for him.
There was one piece in particular that felt extremely topical for me. Vance was describing Tom Mueller, one of the founding employees of SpaceX. Mueller is described as the type of kid who was maybe a bit of an “oddball” who tinkered with fixing things. For example, he discovered a smashed clock in an alley once – and took it home after school and fixed it. Sound familiar? Mueller’s story ends up pretty good – he is still at SpaceX, and helping Elon Musk change the world. As for Ahmed Mohamed, the boy who was arrested in Texas for bringing a clock to school, we have yet to see – as expected there are all sorts of conspiracy theories surrounding his situation. But what we can only hope is that there are more creative minds like Ahmed and Tom Mueller growing up today, and that we are nurturing their tinkering creativity – because they might be the people who create amazing things later that change our world.
At the end of the book, we get some glimpses into his vision for the future (things like putting a roller coaster in both the Tesla and SpaceX factories). Musk might be a little crazy – or he is a total visionary. I’m not ready to buy a ticket to colonize another planet with him just yet, but now that I know more about him, I will certainly be following what he does next. I wonder what type of celebration he and his friends had after learning that there is water on Mars!
There are two quotes in the book that resonated deeply to me about how important Elon Musk’s lifework is for humanity. First, Vance says early on in the book “He’s the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He’s less a CEO chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to… well…save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation.”
The second one is a quote from Larry Page, co-founder of Google, as saying “If you have all this money, which presumably you are going to give away and couldn’t even spend it all if you wanted to, why then are you devoting your time to a company that’s not really doing anything good? That’s why I find Elon to be an inspiring example. He said ‘Well, what should I really do in this world? Solve cars, global warming, and make humans multiplanetary.’ …those are pretty compelling goals, and now he has businesses to do that.”
The epilogue is telling of Musk’s continued ambitions – I am sure that writing a biography of a man who is constantly coming up with new quests is difficult, because when do you press send when Musk’s story is far from over? The Hyperloop and Musk’s new ambition for space internet are all still unfolding. I am sure there will be a Part 2 and 3 for Musk’s story.
Wine Review: In anticipation of making this book a Book & Wine Wednesday review, I solicited some friends to try a South African wine with me – because Elon Musk is from South Africa, so it seemed fitting. The wine was a Pinotage, made by Barista. Pinotage is a red wine grape, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The description made a bold claim of this wine being like rich coffee and tasting of cherry pie filling.
I missed the cherry pie filling completely – and instead it had a very rich, smoky flavor. I felt like I was drinking a campfire. It wasn’t exactly good –or bad. It probably needed a peppered steak with it, or a hearty cheese with it, which we did not have after devouring some pizza. I honestly was not sure at first that I should recommend it here, my friends gave super mixed reviews and did not seem to want to “go on record” recommending it.
However, the more that I thought about it, the more it fit with this review. Elon Musk’s style is not for everyone, it can be harsh – but when you get past that to the creativity and passion, it is something that you can enjoy (or it might be above your skill level). I think that is true for this wine. I would not want more than a glass, but perhaps it is because my palate isn’t as refined? I found the Barista for $16, so definitely worth a try for a unique and interesting wine!