Elon Musk
September 20, 2023 1:07 PM - Subscribe

A writer famed for his biographies of geniuses turns his pen to cover the impetuous, vainglorious and obsessive CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, X (nee Twitter) and NeuraLink.

Notably, the book has already had one significant walkback – Isaacson’s statement that Musk turned off Starlink access for Ukraine in Crimea on the eve of a military operation has turned into Musk refusing to turn on satellite access for the area (which, even if true, is a distinction without a real difference, and does nothing to change the horrifying vision of a CEO strategizing a war from his phone). To state my biases up front: I become enamored with Musk as SpaceX achieved orbit, but grew increasingly disenchanted as the CEO’s behavior was publicly revealed (particularly his brutality, online antics and excessive regard of his own perceived cleverness). But I had a spare Audible credit, and I enjoyed Isaacson’s biography of Einstein, so I’ve been working through the audiobook (I’ve almost finished listening to the 18-hour recording as I write this).

So far, I’m in agreement with most reviews I’ve read: the biography is extremely male, very white (the coverage of Musk’s early years in South Africa barely mentions apartheid, and never dwells for a moment on the Black people that served Musk’s family, or that his father killed). It’s clear that the future billionaire’s childhood was quite brutal, but it’s also plain that Musk has never attempted to grow past his own history: Isaacson frequently refers to his adult subject as a traumatized child trapped in a man’s body.

The final quarter of the book concentrates on 2021 to early 2023, including his takeover of Twitter, which feels a little like padding: most of the details in this section are already well-known, although it does contain a few fresh insights.

To me, Isaacson’s central issue with Musk is the same he had for Jobs and, to a lesser degree, Einstein: he’s too willing to justify terrible behavior in the face of success. There’s never any serious consideration of the possibility that a less driven and more thoughtful person could have achieved an equal degree of success without destruction on the scale Musk constantly manifests, or even if doing so might be worthwhile.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, thank you.
posted by prismatic7 at 2:17 AM on September 21, 2023 [5 favorites]

At minimum the book has proven great for Twitter users, who have enjoyed posting excerpts of horrifying self-owns presented as anecdotes
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:25 AM on September 21, 2023

To state my biases up front: I become enamored with Musk as SpaceX achieved orbit
Given your username, I'd guess the drone ship names had something to do with it? Those are probably why I gave him the benefit of the doubt for as long as I did.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 8:48 AM on September 21, 2023

> Given your username, I'd guess the drone ship names had something to do with it? Those are probably why I gave him the benefit of the doubt for as long as I did.
That was certainly part of it. I've been a fan of space exploration since I was four years old, and admired what Musk appeared to be creating with SpaceX. But discovering exactly how the sausage was made - the outright lies, the constant abuse of everyone around him, hopping in bed with fascism, the total disregard of Earth's environment while reaching for the stars - soured me completely.

What remains is a dark and increasingly horrified fascination, which was enough to encourage my interest in the book.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 3:55 PM on September 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

I found the article by David Runicman "What makes Elon Musk tick?" an interesting insight into the man. Musk is followed by 155 million people - but follows just 415. Runciman followed the same people for some interesting insights.
posted by rongorongo at 12:51 AM on September 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

I purchased it this morning. I'll try to post a review when I get around to reading it (sometime in 2027).

Last month, I listened to the interview Isaacson gave to Lex Fridman. There was one part I found insightful, but also a bit alarming:
Lex Fridman I think also, to build on that, it’s not just addiction to risk and drama. There’s always a big mission above it. I would say it’s an empathy towards people in the big picture, humanity.

Walter Isaacson It’s an empathy towards humanity more than the empathy towards the three or four humans who might be sitting in the conference room with you, and that’s a big deal, and you see that in a lot of people. You see it Bill Gates or Larry Summers, Elon Musk. They always have empathy for these great goals of humanity, and at times they can be clueless about the emotions of the people in front of them or callous sometimes.
Grandiose thinking, big ideas, are important, but I think it's dangerous to confuse that with empathy.
posted by riruro at 11:24 AM on October 3, 2023

Yeah that's not remotely empathy, but I suppose it's fitting because effective altruism isn't remotely altruism either. Just a bunch of lucky billionaires who think they're super-geniuses.
posted by graventy at 9:24 AM on October 10, 2023

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