The NEXT next Steve Jobs- Elon Musk: Inventing the Future by Ashlee Vance

There was a point in 2011/2012 where you  couldn’t sit on a train without seeing some guy in a business suit hunched over Walter Isaacson’s book about Steve Jobs. Something about the guy fascinated us- since he died in 2011, we’ve already made two movies about him.

Seriously, Kutcher???!

If there’s a successor to Steve Jobs, it’s got to be Elon Musk. The dude builds electric cars and solar panels, launches rockets from tropical islands and his name makes him sound like a Bond villain.

He made his first millions (lots of millions) from PayPal. Instead of cashing out and spending the rest of his life swimming in coin, Scrooge McDuck style, he put his money into SpaceX and Tesla. And when it looked like those ventures were cash guzzlers that would never deliver a successful product, he threw in even more of his own money. Now he’s worth an estimated $13 billion.

Elon Musk: Inventing the Future asks us to consider one fundamental question: how much do we want to risk? Another way of asking it: how much faith do we have in our ideas? As I already mentioned, Musk burned through his money. His first three rocket launches were failures. His electric cars couldn’t run for more than 5 minutes. In both cases, people were skeptical because his companies flew in the face of the way things had always been done. Journalists treated him like a megalomaniacal joke. His personal relationships imploded. Yet, at least to hear Musk tell it, he never wavered in his conviction he would succeed.

It’s always kind of tricky to review biographies, because you’re really analyzing the merits of two different people-the author and the subject. In the case, the subject is obviously fascinating. But the book is still…not great. The author is a little too in love with his subject at times. He also has an annoying tendency to parrot Musk’s views on thing (for example, the auto industry) and present them as absolute truth.

Although the book delves deep into Musk’s business skills and professional aspirations, it mostly glosses over his personal life. I got the impression (maybe unfairly) that the author tabled some unpleasant things in Musk’s past in order to stay in his good graces. Musk’s difficult childhood is mostly alluded to (the author says Musk didn’t want to upset certain members of his family) and his marriages and divorces are also not given much time. I’m not saying I wanted the book to be nothing but fluffy gossip; but when a man marries, divorces, remarries and then re divorces the same lady, I want to know the dirt.

The weaknesses of the book do not outweigh its strengths. Musk is almost certainly going to be around for awhile, and it’s interesting and inspiring to hear from a man who thinks that those who say the sky is the limit are aiming too low.


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