Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Posted by jack_miller | Published 6 months ago



With 6137 ratings

By: Ashlee Vance, Fred Sanders, et al.

Purchased At: $16.99

In the spirit of Steve Jobs and Moneyball, Elon Musk is both an illuminating and authorized look at the extraordinary life of one of Silicon Valley's most exciting, unpredictable, and ambitious entrepreneurs - a real-life Tony Stark - and a fascinating exploration of the renewal of American invention and its new makers.

Elon Musk spotlights the technology and vision of Elon Musk, the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, who sold one of his Internet companies, PayPal, for $1.5 billion. Ashlee Vance captures the full spectacle and arc of the genius' life and work, from his tumultuous upbringing in South Africa and flight to the United States to his dramatic technical innovations and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Vance uses Musk's story to explore one of the pressing questions of our age: Can the nation of inventors and creators who led the modern world for a century still compete in an age of fierce global competition? He argues that Musk - one of the most unusual and striking figures in American business history - is a contemporary, visionary amalgam of legendary inventors and industrialists, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs. More than any other entrepreneur today, Musk has dedicated his energies and his own vast fortune to inventing a future that is as rich and far reaching as the visionaries of the golden age of science-fiction fantasy.

When I walked into Barnes & Noble two weeks ago, I wasn't actually looking to purchase a book. Usually, I go in, browse for 30 minutes, and get out. But when I walked around to the Physics and Science section, the first thing I saw was Elon Musk's face.

Inevitably, I picked it up and began reading.

2 pages in, I decided I was in this for the long haul and sat on the floor, right there in the middle of the store. 15 pages in, my friends finally found me and forced me to leave. But I couldn't part with this. I needed this book. Those first 15 pages captured me like so few books do (in fact, only one book in the past year has totally stolen my attention like this).

So I bought Elon Musk feeling on top of the world and excited to keep reading.

I travel a lot between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, PA, so, since I'm in the middle of taking classes in Pittsburgh, I swore to only read this book on the bus, because I knew once I picked it up again, I wouldn't put down.

I was right.

The next day, I got on the bus, got to reading, and tuned out the world. Three hours later, I was nearly halfway through -- and WOW. Vance's writing style flowed right through my mind. No clunky sentences, no jarring phrases. It's such an easy book to read, despite the complex nature of the contents.

Elon Musk, if you don't know, is a biography. Yes, a biography. You'd expect the case-study of someone's life to be boring and uneventful, dragging until the very end.

This wasn't the case at all.

Vance opens the book at an interview with Elon Musk himself. The first line, a quote from Musk, "Do you think I'm insane?", perfectly captures the whole context of the biography. Because as you experience the story, as you see the challenges Musk went through to reach the pinnacle he's at today, the question nags at you. Musk isn't soft-spoken, or easy on his employees, or a man who kicks his legs up on his desk and snoozes while his companies mill around him. Vance shows how Musk is both the CEO and an employee of his companies, simultaneously the teacher and student. He gets in the work, asks all the right questions, gives all the right orders. His vision is THE vision, and if you get in the way, Musk has been known to fire you on the spot.

Musk breaks every convention, every tradition, every standard. Vance takes you deep into the details, from Musk's childhood and lineage in South Africa, all the way to Canada and the United States, where the bulk of the story unfolds.

When Musk looks at big businesses, he sees unmovable behemoths that refuse to change their methodologies. American innovation became a thing of the past. Technology and industry was growing - but nowhere near as fast as it should. So we follow Musk's journey from his small start-ups, Zip2 and X.com, and move into his larger, more permanent ventures, namely SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity.

I myself am a huge fan of Elon Musk. Still, until the past year or two, I only thought of him as "that guy who made SpaceX" and "that guy who runs Tesla." Until reading this book, I never knew the struggle -- no, the hell he went through to make and keep these companies. You think, oh, he just has a lot of money.

Yeah, now he does. But did you know SpaceX and Tesla were hours away from going bankrupt? Did you know that the Falcon 1 rocket kept failing, and one more failed launch literally meant the end of SpaceX? Did you know SpaceX tested these rockets on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and would fix problems they encountered in a matter of days, as compared to months by standard companies?

This book is the first time Musk has explicitly let anyone interview him for a biography. Aside from a few questionable quotes that have been publicly denounced by Musk after the publication of this book, we're still given a tremendous amount of insight into his head and how he runs the companies. Vance interviewed more than 300 people and spent over two years compiling this account. And I have to give credit to how up-to-date the information is. There are several events Vance mentions that occurred into 2015, such as the first landing attempt of Falcon 9 on the sea barge, which took place in January, and he refers to the second attempt as being in a couple weeks, which means that Vance included this information on a very tight deadline, probably mid-March (the second landing attempt happened on April 14, 2015).

I want to congratulate you, Mr. Vance. Well done. Very well done. I'm going to reread this book in a few weeks (probably after the scheduled June 19th third Falcon 9 landing attempt, this time on solid ground, as opposed to a barge). Anyone who wants a ridiculously thorough insight into Elon Musk's life and companies should read this book. It had me from Page 1 all the way to Page 363, and even the appendices that come after.

This is an incredibly inspiring book, a important look into a game-changing business strategy, and a valuable lesson to the world. As Musk says, "If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it."

- khloe_torres

One of the most inspiring books I have ever read. A few life changing points for me:

1) First intro chapter shows how relentless the author was. Great lesson there. He didn't ask for permission, he just went out and wrote it. Said he was going to write it with or without him on board. Which ultimately won Elon's respect since that's how he operates too.

2) Elon and his brother Kimbal coming over at 18 years old from south Africa. Their tactic about picking up the newspaper and cold calling the most interesting people to take to lunch is awesome. I challenge myself to do this now and I think its a great strategy to get out of your comfort zone. I gather he had the idea for pay pal with that tactic - it landed him the bank internship where he discovered the inefficiencies of banking world.

3) Elon has no "fear" button. Inhuman ability to withstand massive risks, pressure, and family drama all at once.

4) I bought 20 books. That's how much I loved it. Would call up and take a "mad scientist" or business investor or tesla owner For coffee/lunch/networking and tell them about how great this book is and see what crazy ideas they had brewing as well. Started connecting them together and meeting all kinds of moonshot thinkers. Great Networking Icebreaker.

5) Requested a tesla charging station be installed at my place of work because well...we need to encourage more telsas around here and If Elon stops by we will be ready.

6) Googled Justine found her Ted talk she did about him And enjoyed Elons commencement speech too.

7) Started an interest in this whole solar idea, Bought a solar cell phone charger that will be a gateway into way Into it and go from there. Tours of people that have solar homes in the area.

8) Most ambitious dude ever with this whole Mars thing.

9) After you read this book you will never again complain about being busy.

10) I didn't realize Larry Page and Elon were so close. Hope he is wrong about the AI thing though, but also triggered me to buy the book "the singularity is near"

I love the impact of the cover and I write a favorite quote in and give as a gift of inspiration to innovators in the area.

- edith_ramos

I've been inspired by Elon Musk for a while. His accomplishments are legendary and I wanted to know more about the men behind them. This book doesn't disappoint. We see both the amazing drive and unstoppable vision as well as the ongoing challenges Musk has had working with people who are inevitably either not as smart, but as driven or more likely, both. Few had the fortitude to stick with him and the ones that do are fiercely loyal.

What I love most about Elon's story is how powerfully he deals with every obstacle thrown into his path. Literally nothing could stop him. Not looming bankruptcy or bad press or any of dozens of other issues that would have stopped most of us. I hope to find 5% of that drive in myself after reading this book.

- madelynn_collins

After reading this book it is clear for me that people like Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs look at life with a higher purpose in mind. They don't slow down for anybody and keep always going forward because they know they are creating something that will revolutionize the future.

It's perceived as selfish when they simply fire someone who is loyal and has sacrificed a lot for the company. Elon can be seen as a villain but in true he simply is looking at the bigger picture.

This man is building humanity's future, electric cars that don't damage the environment and can be recharged within few minutes, solar panels that will someday replace the electrical systems we currently use, rockets that aim to take people to Mars to populate it. He is a visionary and I am glad I decided to read Ashlee Vance's book about him.

- anika_foster

This book has made me one highly motivated aerospace engineering student and given me some great insight into what it would be like should I ever get hired at SpaceX.

- simone_campbell

I just finished reading Elon Musk’s biography. Musk has always been my hero and this book sure did justice. One quality that I really admire in him is his ability to set clear vision. Once he sets the vision, Elon gives his blood, sweat and tears to make it a reality. People laughed at him when he first announced his vision on inter-planetary life. Since then he demonstrated significant enhancements in rocket technology and was able to produce a re-usable rocket. The analogy he gives is that of commercial plane, imagine after every flight between London and LA you throw away the plane how expensive will be your air ticket. Elon says his reusable rockets will make space travel 100 times cheaper. His reusability concept is brought to life with Falcon 9’s successful landing back on earth. Recently Elon presented how he plans to take humans to Mars in 2022 and build a city. SpaceX’s BFR project will carry 100 crew members along with equipment needed to set up a colony. He is not our typical Silicon Valley techie who wants to create a multi-million dollar corporation and cash out. His goals are bigger than money and fame. He wants to make a significant impact on humanity and make this world or even world beyond us a better place to live. His commitment and drive is unparalleled, he is ready to solve issues 3 in the morning on Sunday, and he works 7 days a week and doesn’t shy away from getting his hands dirty. He is hard to work with and does set tough goals for his people. Do you need to be tough to achieve success like SpaceX and Tesla? Can we taste the similar success with a little softer management style? What makes great entrepreneur? Do we need to be relentless like Elon? Or a management style of Richard Branson is equally productive where you place trust with people and they deliver?

- lyric_miller

Before reading this book, I had always learnt about the great revolutions in the history books. But, After reading it, I realised that we are part of this great revolution created by individuals like gates, jobs, Bezos and Musk. Personally, I am more addicted to Musk now, may be because of his great vision. After reading about his journey to create the Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City, I understood that how visionaries actually think. And, specially his vision is for the betterment of human race. He is making every damn possible effort to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and ultimately reducing the global warming. This books provides a great opportunity to dive into the mind of musk. He is a different individual for sure. Making all things possible. He has beaten not only big car manufacturers from US, Europe, China and Japan but also Big organisations like NASA. I recommend this book to everyone!

- maci_ramirez

So good to have this book, if u wanna buy go for it

- adelaide_ramos

Excellent book which covers musk's life from an early age right up to the present
insightful stories and details about his companies and the struggles to get them off the ground
very inspiring and great book
Highly recommend to any Elon fan

- ford_hernandez

[NOTE: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

An interesting read for me, considering I never went in depth into what Musk has accomplished (to be fair, I came to this book because I find Tesla cars sexy and thought ‘well, why not read this, at least I’ll know more about the man’).

I’m kind of sitting on the fence about this book. I liked learning about how Musk’s companies came to be, the problems encountered along the way, how things were at times one inch from just failing, but worked out in the end, out of both luck and determination. In a way, it’s a positive ‘lesson’: that sometimes things fail, but it shouldn’t prevent you from fighting for them and taking risks, because they just may succeed as well.

I also appreciated that the author interviewed other people, employees, ex-employees, friends, ex-partners, etc., and that he made them part of the whole: people without whom Tesla Motors or SpaceX wOuld’ve never been able to take off, engineers and mechanics and designers whose role was absolutely not negligible. Since a large part of the book was focused on these companies, acknowledging more than just one actor was a good thing to do.

I would’ve d liked it to go more in depth about how exactly things worked out, when it comes to the science/engineering part. Elon Musk seems like he knows his stuff, too, and has learnt over the years what he didn’t know and made him shoot for impossible deadlines at first (now I guess they’re just improbable, hah), and… I don’t know, I expected something more detailed in that regard. Maybe less of the business aspect, and more about the engineering the way Elon Musk himself goes about it?

Also, for a biography, I think it didn’t go to the bottom of things either when it comes to the man, and lacks a certain detachment. Musk doesn’t come off as a very empathetic person, to say the least, and while objectively I understand his drive, humanely the way he treats his employees is, well, not great at all. So I would’ve been interested in seeing more reflecting about this: coming from him, but also coming from the biographer. There -is- something wrong in the way all these visionary projects have come to be, and it was pretty much glossed over. (In short, was the harshness really needed, does innovation has to come to such a price, and would things have tanked with just a bit more empathy?)

This was instructive, and I kind of liked it, so 3 stars… But while I know more about Tesla Motors, SolarCity and SpaceX, I don’t feel like I know -that- much more about Musk himself now.

- leslie_mitchell

After reading just the first chapter of Ashlee Vance's 'Elon Musk', I couldn't put the book down. From the outset this is an engaging insight into the enigma who is Musk.

Prior to reading the book, I thought that my knowledge of Musk was pretty good. However, I still found there was a new surprise on every page.Vance has done well to capture a story of the billionaire's background, from bullied schoolboy to minimum wage worker, right through to him becoming one of the most pioneering minds of a generation.

It is an honest and fair portrayal of both his family and business life, a pleasure to read and delves just enough into the areas of interest in the subject's life.

Anyone looking for some inspiration should definitely buy this book!

- margaret_young

If you have an interest in what our children may have to deal with in the years to come then the Life of Elon Musk must hold interest for you .
Insight in to not only a gifted brain but the ability of Musk to see the advantage of bringing together the greatest brains and putting every penny of his fortune to the betterment of mankind through science and simple logic if you have the foresight of brilliance.
Elon if ever proof was needed this book is proof that he is a gift to Humanity. May his God Bless him.☺

- caspian_ortiz

I feel that Vance had done an amazing job of researching and writing this book. The book is set out in such a way that you are able to follow the progression of Elon’s childhood, early years and progression to the powerhouse CEO that is making headline shows across the globe.
There were moments when I wouldn’t shove a page or a quote in front of the closest person and get them to read it to highlight the genius that is Elon Musk.
The book was published a few years ago, so don’t expect the most recent falcon heavy launch to appear in there!!

- tiffany_richardson

I am a massive fan of what Elon Musk is doing. I don't think that there are many people alive that have such a wide spectrum of interests and that are doing so much to further the survival of humanity as a race.

But then no one is perfect. This book is brilliant at going through his life up to a few years ago, warts and all. It's not a sycophantic false look and holding him on a pedestal. More it explains who he is, for the good and bad.

A very very strong recommendation.

- johnny_rivera

I read this on my phone over a series of business flights and I found myself seriously looking forward to the next one and disappointed when I finished. The insight it gives, particularly into the people surrounding Musk and their contribution to his endeavours is illuminating. Vance takes us with him on his journey of discovery and investigation as he researches his subject and we share in the frustrations of areas that remained locked away while we revel in a greater understanding of this remarkable and visionary entrepreneur.

- alayna_ramirez

Picking up this book, I had feared to would only be a praise account of Elon Musk's not too incredible accomplishments but having come to the end (yes, I read the Acknowledgements at the end too 😁) I found a narration of a life lived in a dynamic, cruel, yet empowering world that we all share, yet Elon has thrived in.

This book takes you on a concise yet anecdotally rich story of the life of Elon (includes accounts of his great grand parents too) painting the struggles of a child that morphed through different cycles into the person we think we know. It paints instances of his genius as well as extracts of his harsh and sweet sides too. Guess you don't change the world by being cookie-cutter nice. 😅

I especially enjoyed how Ashlee managed to rope in accounts of co-founders and their signifance in the companies for which Elon has become the poster child of, the economic and social considerations that influenced them, as well as how we got to have a new sided "Elon did everything" view of these companies in, and more.

I have walked away with a great appreciation of the sacrifice Elon and the workmates that have laughed, cried, mourned, and exhibited a plethora of other emotions as Elon's "Unified Theory" has began to come to fruition. I am especially pleased to see the accounts of loyal employees who stay in the dark despite carrying most of the work but being motivated by the common goal. What a tale! It may be sad in some cases but to see that someone, who others would happily take on offering more praise and maybe more pay, stay on because they believe in the dream and goal; that to me makes working for Elon great and worth the pain.

Hopefully I shall find out at some point too 😉

In short, I thoroughly recommend this book! Thank you Ashlee, thank you Elon Musk and Co.

- amara_davis

I have a Tesla Model S and it has positively helped me.

As a result, Elon Musk pops up everywhere, when checking Tesla details.

SpaceX appealed. Literally reaching for the stars and believing it could be done.

Well now I have read this well written and balanced book, I know much more about Mr Musk. I admire his achievement traits but hope he learns to soften the after burn when ending an employee's job. Every person counts.

I also fully believe Elon Musk will help us reach Mars. He has gifts the rest of us do not, although perhaps we can identify with some.

A great read. It's 5am and I just had to get to the end of the book! Nuff said.

- chaim_young

Totally excellent book and strongly recommended. I never realised how there could be a business sending rockets into space until this book showed how bloated and uncompetitive the existing companies like Lockheed Martin are - therefore possible to undercut them on price and with better performance. Electric cars are inherently simpler, quieter and environmentally superior but the main stream auto companies were stuck investing in obsolete petrol and diesel technologies. Remarkable achievement to shake up two industries.

- ivanna_king

Brilliantly researched and written story about a guy who had amazing brain power,imagination and dedication to fulfilling his dreams,that seemed crazy to most people at the time..a driven man who pushed others as hard as himself to realise the impossible.
Highly highly recommended reading to anyone interested in the evolution of many of the technologies that we take for granted today.. An extraordinary book you definitely wont want put down..

- lacey_myers

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