For Musk, sky is no limit
“Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance (Ecco, 392 pgs., $28.99)
“We’ve become a nation of indoor cats,” Dave Eggers wrote in “A Hologram for the King” (2012), his existential novel about an American doing IT work in the Saudi Arabian desert. “A nation of doubters, worriers, overthinkers.”
Ashlee Vance, in his new biography of celebrity industrialist Elon Musk, delivers a similar notion of the deflating American soul. An early Facebook engineer tells Vance, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” The author quotes venture capitalist Peter Thiel: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
If Silicon Valley was holding out for a hero after Steve Jobs’ death, a disrupter in chief, it has found a brawny one in Musk. This South African-born entrepreneur, inventor and engineer is the animating force behind companies (Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity) that have made startling advances in non-indoor-cat arenas: electric cars, space exploration and solar energy. He is all of 43.
Musk is about as close as we have, circa 2015, to early industrial titans such as Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Along with his swagger, he totes surprise, style and wit. Tesla’s Model S sedan was not only Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 2013 — the first non-internal-combustion engine vehicle to win that award — but it also has a sound system that, in an homage to the film “Spinal Tap,” you can turn up to 11.
“Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” isn’t the first biography we’ve had of Musk, nor will it be the last. But it is easily the richest to date. It’s also the first one Musk has cooperated with, though he had no control, the author says, over its contents. Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek. He won over Musk, who initially declined to be interviewed, impressing him with his diligence after he had interviewed some 200 people.