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Walter Isaacson is a great storyteller and a master biographer. As a writer, he is drawn to complex subjects from the genius ranks like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Kissinger and Steve Jobs. His latest book, Elon Musk, is exceptional. As a business icon, Musk has already achieved the global notoriety that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford achieved in the 20th century. Isaacson connected with Musk several years back and was given inside access to shadow him and interview his friends, business associates and family members. It was a front row seat to a tumultuous and fevered period of entrepreneurship for Musk’s business enterprises Tesla, SpaceX, Starlink, the Boring Company, Neuralink and most recently the addition of Twitter. The result is a remarkable 600 page book that will probably be required reading in executive suites and business schools for decades to come. It helps illuminate the 21st century economy where we now live.
The book also works as a psychology primer on personalities on the spectrum such as Asperger’s syndrome. Musk confirmed his Asperger’s on live TV during his Guest Host opening monologue on Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 2021. It is available on YouTube and his social awkwardness is on full display. Musk’s Asperger’s manifests in various ways to include extreme intensity to achieve daunting goals deemed impossible by many of business colleagues. Add to that a lack of empathy for those around him. Creating and managing disruptive startups on the cutting edge of the economy is already stressful but he adds epic visions and drama that can raise anxiety and stress to even higher levels. Suffice it to say, Musk is addicted to drama and risk.
Musk’s high drama and shortage of empathy infuses turbulence into his family dynamics as well. Now 52 years old, Musk has fathered 11 children by three different women. The resulting crazy quilt family structure leads one to the conclude that Musk is a magnet for chaos and is drawn to creative women who thrive on edgy relationships. Isaacson does a masterful of weaving these very complicated story lines together with short chapters, pictures and pithy vignettes.
Business histories can make for tedious reading but this book is not. As a youngster, Musk was inspired by comic books, video games and science fiction. As a young adult he was inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Innovator’s Dilemma. Musk’s primary business model is big disruption and high risk. His start-ups, their booms, busts, flameouts and moonshots make for breathtaking, page turning reading.
Another theme of the book is ‘Elon Musk as an engineering problem solver. Musk has a brilliant mind and is most comfortable questioning everything on the automotive assembly line or the launchpad or the control tower. The book contains lots of fascinating anecdotes as Elon the engineer takes on outlandish tasks from launching rockets, to safely landing rockets for reuse, to driverless cars all while trying to optimize assembly lines for really cool
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