Elon Musk–Book Review

8.5 What a Life


He trekked across Canada homelessly while making a living on cleaning boilers and cutting woods; he threw parties to pay for his U.Pen bachelor degrees and turned down his Stanford PhD (they all fashioned this feat, don’t they?); he dealt with shady Russian arm dealers to buy a retired intercontinental ballistic missile by which he planned to send mice to Mars; he is building an electrical car that he hopes to define a generation to the equivalent of Ford Model T; Elon Musk is a mesmerising read of one of the most brilliant men in our time.

The slick, futuristic Tesla Model S and the upcoming Model X now attract a strong following across the globe. Do you know Tesla was on the brink of Bankruptcy many times due to monstrous supply chain inefficiency? Early this year, SpaceX led the race to be the first private company that sent supply to International Space Station. Do you know Elon once was so broke that his parent-in-laws offered to re-mortgage their house for him? Elon always attracts the brightest young minds but do you know that he churns out his staff with equal velocity? He traced the person who sold information to media using printer log and he was ousted from his own companies twice (this he outdone Steve). Rich anecdotes are planted along the main story line.

Elon is often dubbed as the real life Tony Stark (although they share similar technical sophistication, unflinching ambition, inexhaustive wealth, Elon seems lacking the flair of showmanship). The audacity runs deep in his family: his grandparents set various daredevil records including a flight from South Africa to Australia in a single engine propeller plane – with the whole family on board. That first photo in the book depicted the whole family sitting in front of the plane on a scorched airstrip. One thing stood out distinctively: they were all reading, including then toddler Elon! Since childhood Elon enjoyed wide range of books and quickly exhausted all the libraries in vicinity. Yet his “know it all” geek persona wasn’t so much appreciated as sport in school. He was bullied and was once beaten so badly he had to get a nose job done. He determined to move to US and thought Canada was the stepping stone. So he traveled alone to Canada only to find the relatives he was looking for relocated. He ended up trekking over Canada and sought occasional refuge at relatives’ houses. When he eventually got admitted to U.Pen, he made up his tuition by throwing parties and his visiting mom doubled as a cashier! He made his first $22million fortune from a pioneer online map service (it is hard to imagine a world without Google Map now); then he hit it big from the online payment service Paypal which he pocketed $180million. He quickly dived in to build his own space rocket. His frugal, unorthodoxly, Silicon start-up, bordering hazardous management style once made SpaceX the joke of the aerospace industry. His wealth was quickly evaporated into thin air with every rocket explosions. Although Elon’s over-ambitious targets often burned out the team, Elon commands a Steve-like “Reality Distortion Field” that constantly made his team achieve far exceed what was perceived possible. He believed in renewable energy and multi-planetary colonization and he is giving it all to make them a reality.

Elon is widely respected as a new comer to the rank of Steve Jobs and Richard Branson. Although His energy and resolve was unmatched, his pragmatic, often insensitive approach might be arguable. In many ways Elon took over the baton left by Steve. Crazy and “abnormal” people who are just smart enough make the impossible possible. Like Steve, Elon doesn’t tolerate class B employees. He felt little remorse when he unceremoniously dismissed his long time personal assistant when she asked for a pay raise. Elon berated all his executives before a Christmas party while their spouses waited next door. The book also scantly covered some of his controversies: ex-wife’s divorce lawsuit, questionable Stanford admission and co-founder status of Tesla.

The book is a well researched read on the journey of Elon Musk: his personal experiences and the business philosophies behind his enterprises. The ups and downs in his business and the emotional upheaval were reproduced with vivid details. What a life! It felt like he has lived many lifetime over already (considering extreme long hours he worked, he may literally lived longer). Sit tight, this book will give you the thrill on the pages like Model S do on the road.

Unlike Steve Jobs, this is still an unfinished book.


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