Elon Musk (Review)

To say that Elon Musk pushes the envelope is to greatly understate the man’s accomplishments. The business titan with the odd name is changing the paradigm of innovation. These days companies come out with underwhelming new apps, style changes, and fresh colors and claim revolutionary change. That attitude does not describe Musk at all.  He has labored to develope a new power utility, an amazing car company, and a private Outer Space corporation.

I knew all of this before I picked up Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk.  In fact, I had been eagerly anticipating the book.  The other day, I spotted Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future waiting for me at the Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Library. I didn’t hesitate. I snatched it off the shelf and brought it to the check-out desk right away.

Ashlee Vance

Ashlee Vance

This biography is laid out in chronological order. It begins with Elon Musk’s childhood. Musk was born June 28, 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. He grew up with five siblings whose parents  were entrepreneurial globe trotters. Young Elon was somewhat of a loner in a privilaged Afrikkaner culture. He showed exceptional genius at an early age.

This biography covers Musk’s business life, which is to say is the lion’s share of Musk’s life.  His first venture was the video game “Blastar” that he created at age twelve. In the mid 1990s Elon and brother Kimbal began the start-up Zip2, an Internet based city guide for newspapers. Zip2 was eventually acquired by the Compaq computer company.

With funds from the Zip2 sale, Musk co-founded a financial company, X.com. In 2000, X.com merged with Confinity which had a cash transfer service PayPal. The new company focused on the transfer service. The development was largely financed by Musk, who was PayPal’s largest shareholder. A corporate coup during Musk’s vacation saw the acquisition of PayPal by eBay.


The PayPal drama is the prelude to the really hardcore, juicy story of Musk’s most famous companies, SpaceX and Tesla Motors. Here is where Ashlee Vance’s writing skills shine.  Both companies are the product of much struggle and near financial catastrophe. This is the first example of business writing that had me sitting at the edge of my seat.

The closing pages of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future describe Musk’s joint venture, SolarCity and its expansion into the solar power generation industry. The book goes on to outline the revolutionary ultra-high speed transportation system called Hyperloop. There is also a brief mention of Musk’s visionary mini-satellite based Internet Provider Service that has been featured in the current tech and business press.

Musk’s well-written biography left me feeling both exhilarated and somewhat down  at the same time, in a personal sense. I saw the future and realized it doesn’t include me. My dream car, the past few years, is the Tesla Roadster. The car is out of my reach.  Space flight has long been a fascination of mine, but I’m no rocket scientist.  Maybe, someday, I will live in a home or apartment that has SolarCity solar panels, but that day seems distant.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Overall, the dreams of Elon Musk are much needed visions that could power a rebirth of American know-how and industrial might.  Musk says he is motivated by the need to help mankind, not exploit us. His companies are headed in the right direction and are giving birth to meaningful job opportunities.

Vance’s book revealed a hard driven, hard driving industrialist who I continue to admire and find inspiring. Musk comes off as demanding, with more than a touch of narcissism. He’s someone I’d like to meet, but could not have as a boss. Unlike most powerful people with massive egos, Musk has found ways to channel his energy in truly constructive, positive ways.

This tome goes beyond business writing and biography. It’s a book for progressive thinkers and people who are concerned about the future. I recommend it highly.

{ Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future written by Ashlee Vance; 392 pages; published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins; ISBN: 978-0-06-230123-9 }

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this piece of advice from Elon Musk: “Constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, Controversy, cultural highlights, Gadgets, Science, Transportation, Youth and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Elon Musk (Review)

  1. Thanks for the review. I was looking forward to read it this weekend. Glad I came across your review.

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