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B-Time with Beth Bierbower

Sep 1, 2021

I don’t drive a Tesla.  I don’t have solar panels installed in my home, and I have no desire to go to Mars.  Nonetheless, I really enjoyed reading the biography titled Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.  Musk is obviously a genius and his passion for doing things that he believes to be right for the planet and mankind shine through the pages of this book.


Musk had a rough childhood.  He was physically and emotionally bullied at school as a child and the bullying went well beyond being pushed around on the playground.  Musk’s parents divorced when he was young and he lived with his father who seemed to have his own mental health issues.  Musk is a survivor.


Musk not only has a clearer long-term vision than most people, he also knows how to make his vision happen in painstaking detail.  For example, when the Russians provided him with an outlandish figure to purchase one of their rockets, Musk showed his team a detailed spreadsheet containing all the parts and associated costs with building a rocket and committed to building his own rocket in the United States at significantly lower costs.  Many of the engineers that worked with Musk said they were far more creative at SpaceX or Tesla than they would have been at other companies because Musk won’t simply take “no” for an answer.  When something failed, Musk wanted to have a plan of action as to how to fix the issue which forced people to thoroughly think through problems.  People who were not clued into Musk’s thinking were dismissed at best and at worst, bore the wrath of Musk.


Musk is a lifelong learner and it appears he has tried to improve as a leader, although he still has a long way to go.  He is an interesting character and to have a glimpse into his psyche is fascinating.  I imagine that Musk can be quite charismatic, and it’s clear that Vance, the author of the biography, is appreciative of Musk’s accomplishments, but Vance also does a good job of revealing Musk’s various shortcomings.  Overall, I thought the book was balanced.


Since the biography was originally published in 2015, it was  cool to see things that Musk promised, come to life.  It takes more than vision to fight against the status quo – especially when you must fight the government as Musk had to do with SpaceX and Tesla.  Musk is a controversial figure for sure, but then again, most people who drive significant change are, which is why Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance is worth reading.