My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Like any book, you get out of it what you are looking for. I picked up Elon Musk as part of my research on inventors and entrepreneurs, so the approach I took was one from a removed point of view — not that of a Musk fangirl.
Vance spent the majority of time talking about the businesses, which suited me just fine. If you’re looking for any personal information or dirt on Musk, though, you’ll probably find more in the tabloids or his ex-wife’s blog. Vance approaches the topic of Elon Musk by lightly covering Musk’s family history then launching into the stories of Musk’s businesses.
Through this lens you get an idea of how Musk evolved as he took on one business after another and matured into who he is now. You get to read about Zip2’s rise and fall, the PayPal era (and in Musk’s eyes a debacle?), then finally onto the risky moves of investing in his dreams.
And,that is the feeling you get when reading Vance’s accounts the build up of SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. They are all part of Musk’s huge dream of a better world and a way to space — specifically a way to living in space. While some people call Musk an insane dreamer, you get the feeling that the drive in Musk that creates these companies and innovations is something a lot less than the Evil Megalomaniac Overlord on a power trip.
Despite of this thread of awe that Vance weaves through the narrative, he does put in the darker side of working for Musk. He notes the many failures, the pain that Musk has caused his employees and those around him, as well as the sheer asshole that Musk can be if you get the in the way of his vision.
But aren’t all great visionaries that get stuff done assholes in one way or another?
As for reading this book from the perspective of learning something about the world of successful inventors and entrepreneur, there are tidbits sprinkled throughout which give you a glimpse of what, exactly, drives their minds and drives the successes. However, the most poignant examples of this come from the last chapter where you get the clear, big picture view of the whole empire that Musk has built up to support his dream and businesses.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the failures — but not because Musk was failing. I enjoyed hearing how he bent the world to his machinations and made it happen despite all the utter crap that came down on him. There is a good deal of insight as to the world of Silicon Valley and the early startup culture. There is a lot of hope, a lot of failure. Some rebound, others never do. But, there is also a lot of strength of industry throughout the companies, and you can see this in a narrative way that would compliment a dull textbook nicely.
All in all, you will learn a bit about Elon Musk, but you will also get a clear picture of Musk’s companies. For those that despise Musk for dreaming big and daring to fail, they will hate the book claiming that Vance is a fanboy. For those that love Musk for the same reasons, they will love the in-depth view of what happened behind the scenes during SpaceX and Tesla’s startup phases. Regardless if you love or hate Musk, this is a good book to read for an insight into a Silicon Valley, business, industry, and as a psychological study on people with amazing amounts of ambition.
Â Featured image: Tesla Comic Book via Musk’s Twitter feed.