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!

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

In Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, Isaacson provides an extraordinary account of Jobs’ professional and personal life. Drawn from three years of exclusive and unprecedented interviews Isaacson has conducted with Jobs as well as extensive interviews with Jobs’ family members and key colleagues from Apple and its competitors, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography is the definitive portrait of the greatest innovator of his generation.


I struggled with this book at first, as I do with almost all biographies. Unless I’m doing research for something, I can feel way too bogged down by all the details.

There was also the matter of how Isaacson approached the biography of Steve Jobs. Jobs was obviously a very flawed human being. I think the introduction should have been a little longer, to give the reader more of a warm-up for (the uninitiated) how not nice of a guy Jobs could be at times. I knew he wasn’t a super well liked person, but I didn’t know the full extent of it and not being adequately prepared for it made me struggle to keep reading because I just couldn’t root for him for the longest time.

There’s a passage at the very end of the book from Jobs’ wife that I think should have been somewhere in the introduction. She summed up Steve and Isaacson’s treatment of his life in this biography really well:

“Like many great men whose gifts are extraordinary, he’s not extraordinary in every realm…he doesn’t have social graces, such a putting himself in other people’s shoes, but he cares deeply about empowering humankind, the advancement of humankind, and putting the right tools in their hands.”

For its flaws, I really began to like the book after we got to the part about Pixar. I think the biography started to hit its stride there, as Jobs did in his life. And the rest of the book was more interesting to me since that is roughly the time period I lived through.

I also thought the epilogue to the book was superb. Absolutely superb.

I definitely walked away with a greater understanding of Jobs and how his vision informed Apple and all of the products I loved. End-to-end integration wasn’t a term I was familiar with before this book, but I really resonated with that idea.

I absolutely loved this quote from Steve Jobs himself, as he summed up his legacy:

“What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how-because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.”

Click here to purchase: Steve Jobs