Book Review: “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance

Elon Musk: Tesla SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

(just realized I forgot to mention, this is the book under discussion)

Elon Musk is the single most influential figure alive today.

I don’t hesitate to say that, not one bit.

In only 44 years on this planet, Elon Musk has been involved with five consistently cutting-edge companies: Zip2 (early Internet mapping), PayPal (Early Internet banking), Tesla (modern electric cars), SpaceX (cheap, reusable rockets), and SolarCity (solar power).

Every single one of those sectors has changed the world, or will change the world. Musk is a man who has changed the world in five COMPLETELY DIFFERENT sectors. His efforts will eventually lead towards an emissions-free world, and eventually, a new world altogether.

Check out this audacious video of SpaceX trying to land a rocket on a barge in the ocean, so it can be reused.

Sure, they missed the target, but think for a second about even thinking to try something like that. That’s the sort of futurism you don’t get much of today.

Musk, as portrayed in Vance’s book, is almost a stereotypical sci-fi nerd: he loves video games, thinks about the future constantly, and is obsessed with living on Mars. The only difference between Musk and the commenters on Kotaku or Polygon? Musk actually gets things done.

An early anecdote in Vance’s book has Musk debating whether he should pursue a career as a video game developer. Musk says, essentially: “I would have enjoyed it, personally, but what good would it do for the human race?”

That’s the version of Musk which Ashlee Vance presents in his new book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.” The first authorized biography of Musk, this book presents a fairly comprehensive overview of Musk’s life. It is a worthwhile read for anyone who doesn’t know the story of this modern-day genius.

A genius entrepreneur

Musk is a dazzling scientist AND an unstoppable businessman. It is this combination which has propelled him to a billion-dollar fortune, and his position as the heir-apparent to the Silicon Valley throne left empty by the death of Steve Jobs.

Vance’s book is full of many examples, interviews and anecdotes about Musk’s business prowess. But really, his track record speaks for itself.

Here is Musk, hilariously young and just as awkward, taking delivery of a McLaren F1, one of the rarest cars in the world. Musk would later go on to wreck the McLaren, which he had never insured. Just another day in the life.

An object in motion

However, it is important to qualify that by Musk’s very nature, this book is bound to be absolutely outdated in only a few years. Vance concludes that “Elon Musk is very much an object in motion,” and has many revolutionary projects ongoing at any moment. Since the completion of this book, Musk announced a divorce from his wife, SpaceX has advanced further in their testing of reusable rockets (blown up their first rocket in seven years, too), and Tesla has announced a bevy of small-scale improvements, perhaps the coolest of which is this automated charging robot.


It is important to remember that five years back, Tesla and SpaceX were jokes in Silicon Valley, and Musk was quickly depleting his personal fortune. Now, in my mind, five years from now we will be in the midst of a full-blown electric car revolution, kickstarted entirely by the elegance and appeal of Tesla.

Heck though, I’m just an English major with an intuition. Musk wouldn’t like me— he says too many smart young people in the U.S. are pursuing careers which don’t benefit the greater good. Maybe he’s right. My little blog here will never take us to Mars. Musk and the team at SpaceX are doing work which really, honestly, may help save the future of the human race. Almost no matter what you do, that fact makes you feel small.

Reading about a man like Elon Musk gives me hope though, that there is more to the world than Tweeting and branding and marketshare. There is more to this planet than politics and proxy wars and people dying.

Knowing Elon Musk exists assures me, there IS a fantastic future out there. And I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Pick it up via my Amazon affiliate link if you’re interested in reading it!

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