One of my favorite things in the world to do is lay on my couch and read.
Last night I finished Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. I didn’t expect to love it because I’m usually disappointed by biography written about people who are still alive.
I loved it and couldn’t put it down. I started it Sunday afternoon. A big biography typically stretches out over a week for me so gobbling it up in two evenings was pretty fast for me for a chunky (400+ page) biography.
I don’t know Elon Musk, but I know a lot of characters in the book. I’m friends with his brother Kimbal, who is prominently featured (I’ve invested in two of Kimbal’s companies – OneRiot, which wasn’t successful, and The Kitchen, which is doing incredibly well.) I’ve gotten a taste of Elon through my friendship with Kimbal, but I’m definitely not part of the social circuit the two travel in together, which has limited my frame of reference to random conversations with Kimbal after he’s come back from a SpaceX rocket launch.
In the past few years, Elon’s star as an entrepreneur has been burning bright. Vance’s book does what any good biography should – it covers the good and bad along the journey. Vance expresses his own skepticism and anxiety at the beginning, as his initial efforts to get Elon engaged in the book project didn’t work. Eventually a switch flipped, Elon engaged, Vance used it constructively.
From a purely factual point of view, I have no idea how accurate the book is. But many of the stories line up with whatever I remember from points in time. Some of the negatives are consistent with what I’d heard in the past, while others were new to me. Same with the positives. There’s plenty of broken glass along the way, including some that Elon has famously eaten while staring into the abyss.
Overall, the book paints a very comprehensive picture of someone who on the surface feels extremely complex, but simultaneously very internally consistent. This combination of complexity and consistency is by no means easy, nor does it result in a straightforward person or a clean path from past to present. I think that’s what I liked best about the book – Vance didn’t try to boil it all down, but let it flow with all the messiness that is an amazing life pushing the edge on all dimensions.