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

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest For a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

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’s 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.

Thorough and insightful, Elon Musk brings to life a technology industry that is rapidly and dramatically changing by examining the life of one of its most powerful and influential titans.

I really, really enjoyed this book! Which is not something I often say after reading a biography. Most biographies feel like work even if you’ve chosen to read the book for pleasure. They all seem to invariably contain sections that can only be described as just “a slog”. Not so with Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk.

Musk is obviously an interesting person with an interesting life. But so was Steve Jobs and others on the biography shelf – you don’t write a biography about an average person after all. What elevates Elon Musk above the rest, though, is Vance’s writing. Vance is a supremely talented writer, spinning together complex sentences that are both highly readable and devastatingly exact. Even if you don’t actually read this book, just pick it up and read a few pages to see this mastery in action. I am an official Ashlee Vance fan.

Another thing I enjoyed about this biography, besides the writing, was that Vance wasn’t afraid to deviate from the timeline. Most biographies run in a straight line from birth to death (or wherever the subject was in their life at the time of writing). Vance did go chronologically up to a point. But after he detailed Musk’s “darkest hour” in business in 2008, where he nearly lost Tesla and SpaceX, Vance devoted a hefty chapter each to Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City/the unifying principles that connect Musk’s businesses. This was a really good way to lay out the remainder of the book and actually made it really easy to then follow the development of those three businesses into what we see today.

On the subject of what this book was actually about, I emerged with a new respect for Musk. I’ve admired his work but didn’t know that much about the person behind the companies. Even when I did a little research into the Tesla Car earlier this year for one of my Writing Project Wednesdays (they’ll be back, I promise!), I only scratched the surface of who Musk was. What I admire the most about Musk is that he didn’t just build phenomenal, world-changing businesses….he managed to build phenomenal, world-changing businesses that fit into and serve his overall vision for his life’s while also being interconnected with each other. Absolutely amazing.

This biography was published in 2015. Since then, Musk’s star power hasn’t dulled any. If anything, he enjoyed a little boost from another high-profile relationship with an actress, Amber Heard. I’m looking forward to seeing what Musk does next…and hopefully, I’ll one day have a Model S of my own!

2 thoughts on “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest For a Fantastic Future

  1. Alex Moen says:

    Great blog, and a great book. I listened to the audibook version, and Elon is pretty much my hero. And although I try to get through biographies, I agree with you in that most are “a slog.” Good work, and keep it up.

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