One-Sentence-Summary: Exhaustive, nearly 700-page, book by a famous biographer of Elon Musk’s life from birth until 2023 with mild bias from the author.
The last sentence: “Sometimes great innovators are risk-seeking man-children who resist potty training. They can be reckless, cringeworthy, sometimes even toxic. They can also be crazy. Crazy enough to think they can change the world.” (p. 614)
booboo book rating: ★★★☆☆ (percentage of books with this rating: 18%)
Given the length of this biography, my Elon Musk book summary will consist mostly of excerpts that resonated with me plus some commentary. Lets get started.
I didn’t know about his scheme to close the Twitter purchase a day early in order to fire the prior CEO of Twitter and other C-level executives so Musk didn’t have to pay about $200M in bonuses.
“At 4:12 p.m. Pacific Time, once they had confirmation that the money had transferred and the necessary documents had in fact been signed, musk and his team pulled the trigger to close the deal. Jehn Balajadia, a longtime Musk assistant who had been reenlisted to help with the Twitter takeover, delivered at precisely that moment letters of dismissal to Agrawal, Ned Segal, Vijaya Gadde, and general counsel Sean Edgett. Six minutes later, Musk’s top security officer came in to say that all had been ‘exited’ from the building and their access to email cut off.” (p. 513)
“Twitter’s executives and board members insisted that any renegotiated deal must protect them from future lawsuits from Musk. ‘We are never going to give them a legal release,’ Musk said. ‘We will hunt every single one of them till the day they die.'” (p. 493) I wonder why the executives would want legal cover?
Referring to his decision about allowing Trump back on Twitter: “‘If he’s engaged in criminal activity – it seems increasingly that he has – that’s not okay.'” (p. 554) Musk said this!?!
“He drew the line at Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was ‘a giant hoax.’ Musk said Jones would stay banned. ‘My firstborn child died in my arms,’ Musk Tweeted. ‘I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the death of children for gain, politics or fame.'” (p. 554) A rare, wrong decision by Musk.
“Twitter had a little-known feature called ‘Bird Watch.’ It allowed users to put corrections or contextual statements on tweets they found false. Musk loved the idea but hated the name. ‘From now on we’re calling it Community Notes.'” (p. 537)
I, for one, LOVE Community Notes. I wish that I could follow an account that only feeds me Community Noted Tweets. I’ve unfollowed more than one account with too many Community Noted tweets.
I audibly laughed a dozen times reading this book. When I have time, I’ll go back to get these quotes, which may or may not funny out of context. Let’s test with this one that I found. If you want more funny quotes, comment.
Talking about SolarCity roofs: “‘Don’t worry about making ti as waterproof as a submarine.’ he said. ‘My house in California used to leak. Somewhere between a sieve and submarine should be ok.'” (p. 371) haha. A sieve is what you use to drain cooked pasta. 😂
“‘I am selling almost all physical possessions,’ he tweeted three days before X was born. ‘Will own no house.’ He explained to JOe Rogan the sentiment that led to that decision. ‘I think possessions kind of weight you down.'” (p. 345) I’m unsure how much he believes this, as the mentality seems to have spawned from his transgender child Xavier, nevertheless, welcome to the club (reference: my 9th personal commandment).
“‘I’m not Trump’s fan. He’s disruptive. He’s the world’s champion of bullshit.'” (p. 555)
“Jack Dorsey texted Musk. ‘I’ll continue to do whatever it takes to make it work.'” (p. 461) STFU Jack. You screwed the pooch on Twitter, something much simpler than sending Rockets to space, so sit down and go do something else. Because of your failure, Musk had to buy the whole damn company diverting his limited focus and resources from other activities with a lot of potential.
“As he stewed about the absurd price the Russians wanted to charge, he employed some first-principles thinking, drilling down to the basic physics of the situation and building up from there. This led him to develop what he called and ‘idiot index,’ which calculated how much more costly a finished product was then the cost of its basic materials. If a product has a high idiot index, its cost can be reduced significantly by designing more efficient manufacturing techniques.” (p. 99) Rockets have an idiot index of 50 times the materials cost.
“Elon sometimes has similar mood swings [to his dad]. ‘When Elon’s in a good mood, it’s like the coolest, funnest thing in the world. And when he’s in a bad mood, he goes really dark.” (p. 36). Please tell me this is not going to be a main theme of this book. This is normal human behavior. Somehow we have decided that being calm and cool 24/7 is normal. Hell fucking no it ain’t. Sometimes, you’re happy. Other times, you’re sad. Hopefully, less often, you are irate. But you should be all of these emotions and Elon, and his father, showing emotions like normal humans, seems not at all out of the ordinary. Oh course, you could medicate if you wanted to achieve the unhuman 24/7 calm and cool personality. Let’s be very clear about that.
As a world traveler of 100+ cities, locals from Colombia to Casablanca talk about how corrupt their government is as if America is not. America is more corrupt on a larger scale than any nation on the planet. They are able to hide it better. Let’s just be honest about this. Two real-life examples from Elon Musk:
In regards to a meeting in New York with Rudy Giuliani, “‘He didn’t have any idea whatsoever about Silicon Valley, but he and his henchmen were eager to line their pockets.’ They asked for 10 percent of the company, and that was the end of the meeting.” (p. 78)
In reference to a 2004, $227 million NASA contract awarded to a SpaceX competitor. “Kistler has been awarded the no-bid contract, he wrote, because its ‘financial arrangements are shaky’ and NASA did not want it to go bankrupt.” (p. 132)
This is a type of corruption: “When NASA had awarded SpaceX the contract to build a rocket that would take astronauts to the Space Station, it had, on the same day in 2014, given a competing contract, with 40 percent more funding, to Boeing. By the time SpaceX succeeded in 2020, Boeing had not even been able to get an unmanned test flight to dock with the station.” (p. 348)
Recalling a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, “Although Musk was not a card player, he pulled up to the table. ‘There were all these nerds and sharpsters who were good at memorizing cards and calculating odds,’ Levchin says. ‘Elon just proceeded to go all in on every hard and lose. Then we would buy more chips and double down. Eventually, after losing many hands, he went all in and won…It would be a theme in his life: avoid taking chips off the tale, keep risking them.” (p. 86)
You are reading my Elon Musk book summary and review by Walter Isaacson. Be sure to check out my digital bookshelf for 100+ book summaries.
“‘I was pretty mad, and when I get mad I try to reframe the problem'” (p. 99)
“Life cannot be merely about solving problems, he felt. It also had to be about pursuing great dreams.” (p. 94)
“Haldeman [Musk’s grandpa] came to believe that the Canadian government was usurping too much control over the live of the individuals and that the country had gone soft.” (p. 11) Was probably true then, is probably true now. Little did he know that in 2021 it would mean freezing bank accounts of protestors. Talk about too much control. But this is the way of all governments, doing too much, too much power, spending too much, until it all falls down.
I’m fully in agreement with Musk’s disregard for government requirements and mandates, oftentimes creating an annoyance for the majority while serving very few. Example: “‘What the fuck is this?’ he asked, pointing to a government-mandated warning label about air bags and how to disable them when a child is in the passenger seat. Dave Morris explained that the government required them. ‘Get rid of them,’ Musk ordered. ‘People aren’t stupid. These stickers are stupid.'”
Agreed. So fucking stupid along with so many other rules. How about the airlines announcing on every flight that smoking is illegal? Is the government going to require airlines play this stale message forever? Who does it serve? How effective is it? The government isn’t in that business which causes a lot of useless signs, rules, mandates, laws, etc. Once a government official fined me. I told him that I’d fight the small fine, costing the government more money. The official told me that’s not important to him and that he’s doing his job which doesn’t include a cost-benefit analysis.
In reference to the ‘existentially soul-sucking’ paperwork, requirements, regulations, safety reviews, etc. imposed on SpaceX launches, “This is how civilizations decline. They quit taking risks. And when they quit taking risk, their arteries harden. Every year there are more referees and fewer doers.” (p. 608) Government has become daddy. Every time one bad thing happens in a sea of good, new requirements, laws, regulations, safety checks, etc. go into place, putting giant barriers and limits on humanity.
Interestingly, a quote from Musk on the very next page summarizes what I believe the role of government has become: “We don’t want to design to eliminate very risk.” (p. 610)
You are reading my Elon Musk summary and review of the Walter Isaacson biography. Enjoy.
About the supply chain process of Tesla: “The process began in Japan, where the cells for lithium-ion batteries were made. Seventy of these cells were glued together to form bricks, which were then shipped to a makeshift factory in the jungles of Thailand that once made barbecue grills. There they were assembled into a battery pack with a web of tubes as a cooling mechanism. These could not be flown by airplane, so they were shipped by boat to England and driven to the Lotus factory, where they were assembled into the Roadster chassis. The body panels came from the new supplier in France. The bodies with batteries would then be shipped across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal to the Tesla assembly facility near Palo Alto.” (p. 159)
This was cerca 2010, but wait a minute, doesn’t that process let out a lot of extra CO2? I thought climate change was a serious warning since the 90’s? How was such a polluting system implemented at the same time climate change activists were fighting for less pollution? If climate change isn’t a priority, how can the masses be expected to take it seriously?
Bill Gates shorting Tesla to make money is unconscionable if you believe in global warming. It’s another example of ‘tell me one thing’ yet ‘do something else’ with your actions.
“The Twitter Files highlighted an evolution of mainstream journalism over the past fifty years. During Watergate and Vietnam, journalists generally regarded the CIA, military, and government officials with suspicion or at least a healthy skepticism…But beginning in the 1990s and accelerating after 9/11, established journalists felt increasingly comfortable sharing information and cooperating with top people in the government and intelligence communities.” (p. 572/3)
On Musk almost dying after returning from a vacation in South Africa: “A doctor who was an expert in infectious disease happened to walk past Musk’s bed and realized that he has malaria, not meningitis. It turned out to be falciparum malaria, the most dangerous form, and they had caught it just in time.” (p. 88)
I’m a Covid skeptic, and I have been ever since my Dad told me about it in early January 2020. The main reason why is because of how much a guess modern medicine is. I visited the doctor many times and heard similar stories, too, where they had no idea what was wrong with me. They guessed. Modern medicine is merely an educated guess. But, somehow, we knew everything about Covid from the very beginning. I was amazed! But mostly skeptical.
You are reading my Elon Musk summary and review of the Walter Isaacson biography. Enjoy.
Above all, a biography already? He accomplished a lot. I must’ve missed the news, but I first heard of the book days after its release. To me, it seems oddly timed. Who commissions a biography when there’s still so much ahead? When you’re currently on a big uptrend in terms of wealth and fame?
Apart from that, I find it interesting how some people can view Musk as altruistic and some as evil. To me, the man is obviously one of the good guys. I could be wrong, but today, politicians and entertainers are most revered. I, for one, want more visionaries.
His health and lifestyle choices shocked and appalled me. Granted, my perspective is coming (maybe mistakenly) from my only other reference point of the series Silicon Valley, where he’s infusing blood from younger, healthy kids to live forever. He’s chugging coffee and Red Bulls, playing hours of video games, staying up late, sleeping on couches, and eating junk food.
“After he had been photographed looking blubbery during his two-day Greek vacation with Ari Emanuel, Musk decided to go on the diet drug Ozempic and follow an intermittent fasting diet, eating only one meal per day. That meal, in his case, was a late breakfast, and his version of the diet allowed him to gorge as he pleased for that. At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, he went to the Palo Alto Creamery, a retro-hip diner, and ordered a bacon-cheese barbecue burget with sweet potato frieds and an Orea and a cookie-dough ice-cream milkshake.” (p. 497)
I’m confused about his grave concern about AI destroying humanity. I don’t see that future, not even a possibility. It doesn’t exist in my reality. I would have loved to hear more about how that might actually happen.
In chapter 59, Isaacson dedicated 15 pages to analyzing Musk’s rude interactions with two employees. It was also the most boring ten pages of the book, and I wonder why he decided to do that. These things are normal, especially for someone who’s responsible for thousands of people’s livelihoods and other stresses that the author nor myself can imagine.
Later, Isaacson dedicated more than a hundred pages (17% of the book) to the purchase of Twitter, making up less than 4% of Musk’s lifespan. Some chapters covered a few days like Chapter 81: Content Moderation / Twitter, October 27-30, 2022, and Chapters 80 and 81 covered October 27th when Musk walked into Twitter with the bathroom sink.
Isaacson has used an inappropriate amount of obscure words, too many to list here, hundreds. However, I will note that I had no idea the word ‘toddler’ for a young child came from the word toddle, which means short, unsteady steps from someone learning to walk.
Isaacson felt it necessary to mention how many women were on the board or on stage at a Musk-related function many times. Isn’t heavy engineering and programming a male-dominated profession (90%+)? I’m unsure why the author thinks this holds relevance unless he’s suggesting Musk is sexist.
I found it strange his constant use of Musk and others using an encrypted messaging service as if it was something private. Halfway through the book, he started giving that secret application a name: Signal. Call me crazy, but seems plotted.
Isaacson seems to be mostly neutral, removing him and his bias from the biography with one notable exception: has been affected by the Trump derangement syndrome. Whenever he referred to the former president, he ensured to use adverbs like mumbling and aghast. This slightly calls into question the validity of the book given Musk’s public opinion of Trump is anywhere from neutral to slightly positive (and in light of the Biden Administration’s investigation into Tesla and SpaceX probably more positive.).
Additionally, he referred to Robert Kennedy Jr., as “a fervent antivaxxer” (p. 578) which he is not. He has said he’s not. His kids are vaccinated. He is vaccine-skeptical.
This blog will contain both my summary and review of the book Elon Musk.
Talking about their term “open-loop”: “The term is used for an object, such as a bullet as opposed to a guided missile, that has no feedback mechanism to provide it with guidance. ‘Whenever our friends become open-loop, meaning that they don’t have iterative feedback and don’t seem to care about the outcomes, we take it upon ourselves to let each other know.'” (p. 291)
I think this is a very important and not recognized idea in policing, government, and laws. Humans can temporarily short-circuit oftentimes in intense situations. If that intense situation is with a cop, the human will likely be injured or killed. Similar to my perspective above, a human can be upset. So upset they punch someone. That is normal human behavior. It’s not going anywhere and we’re only hurting people by ignoring its existence.
“‘He enjoyed being around a party but not fully in it.'” (p. 52) I hate to fanboy-out so hard, but this sounds like me. When looking for a place to live in a new city, I often choose the area with nightlife even though I almost never go out. If I go into a nightclub, the ideal way would be to own the joint and be secluded in my own private room on the second level, looking out over the dance floor from two-sided windows.
He proposed to Talulah Riley two weeks after meeting her. I don’t get it. Why? Firstly, he just got out of a relationship. Secondly, what does marriage bring? Why, tell me?? I’m a 35-year-old who never thought about getting married to any woman I’ve ever met. Adds complexity. Unlikely to work successfully. Putting my finances on the line. For love, I suppose. Maybe.
I wasn’t aware the first three SpaceX rockets failed, but this explains the stories I’d heard about him sleeping on the Tesla factory floor during this period.
Regarding Heidi Klum’s Halloween party, “Even though they were ushered into a VIP area, they hated the party. Maye found it too loud, and Elon was annoyed that everyone was trying to take selfies with him. Slo they left after ten minutes.” (p. 553)…haha, tough life! But really, it’s interesting how complaints can morph. This would not be a complaint for so many.
Usually, I list out some new words I learned, but I will not for this book summary because Isaacson decided to use hundreds of obscure words like paroxysms, bête noire, esprit de corps, ersatz, akimbo, I could go on.
In summary, Elon Musk is either well-written, or I’m so interested in the subject that it’s an easy read. Maybe a combination. I like how the book is broken down into small sections, making it easy to read while waiting in lines. Unlike Steve Jobs, who was a public figure for 4 decades, Musk’s life in the public eye resembles TSLA, exponential growth, so I think starting with a bit of current events then jumping back to his childhood would have served this book well.
Thanks for visiting my Elon Musk book summary and thanks to Walter Isaacson for writing it!