cover image Elon Musk

Elon Musk

Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster, $35 (688p) ISBN 978-1-9821-8128-4

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.)