When reading the Biography Elon Musk, Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a fantastic future by Ashlee Vance it became apparent to me that we have begun to enter a new age of industrial and technological innovation. This new age of industrial achievement is currently being spearhead and championed by the eccentric, adventurous and genius entrepreneur, Elon Musk. He is an entrepreneur who is challenging some of the biggest industries and countries in the world through its Silicon Valley startup culture and bootstrap attitude, Rivaling the strength, ambition and innovation of history’s great industrialist such as henry ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller. Though he is significantly different in that he is a visionary set on saving humanity. It is this Vision that made me want to explore the biography of Elon Musk.
Ashlee Vance gives us a critical but fair look into Elon’s life through this Biography. He achieves this by giving us a look into Musk’s early life as a curious and awkward child prodigy growing up in South Africa who was constantly bullied in school and tortured mentally by his father. Later he takes us to his early years as an engineer writing code for his early companies. Throughout these time Vance reveals the ruthlessness and sometimes down right mean actions of Elon. He gives us interviews of former employees including one in which an employee was fired for deciding to attend his child’s birth instead of working. One thing was made very clear in the book though and that was that even though he might have made several enemies throughout his career, many still respected him.
Musk’s begins to enter the scene at the end of the dot com implosion of the 2000’s. Elon was one of the few who not only survived but made money after the bubble burst. At that time companies in Silicon Valley were playing it safe, resulting in innovation taking a back seat to short term returns for investors. Innovation in the valley had plateaued. Elon took the money he had made from selling his internet company, now known as Paypal and decided not only build electric cars but to do it cheaper, faster and better than the big car companies. Continuing on the fossil fuel alternative he also invested in the company Solar City whose aim is to replace our reliance on fossil fuel and to rely on solar power.
Elon decided to enter into another industry whose momentum had also seized, the aerospace industry. The US’s field of space exploration initially gained its momentum a year after the Soviet Union sent its satellite sputnik into orbit but has since dwindled (Weinzierl). During the time that Elon decided to start his company the US and private companies relied mostly on Russian built rockets to get to space. Elon aimed to change that through his company Space X. Though Space X has a major revue stream by sending satellites to space its main goal is to get humans to become an interplanetary species. Musk has stated that his goal with Space X is to revolutionize space technology to make it possible for people to live on other planets (Kearney)
Ashlee Vance leaves out first hand opinions from Elon’s competitors, such as giant players in the Us’ Military-industrial complex. There is also little from his rivals in the Auto and Energy industry. Though in his defense, several of these companies did choose to not comment for this book. Ashlee Vance also fails to give attention to the fact that what musk is doing is mainly aimed for the rich, with expensive cars and even more expensive future rides to outer space for the ultra-rich. Although Vance shows Musk as a champion of humanity a lot of what musk is promising is not for the working class or poor.
Unlike the business magnates mentioned, Vance shows us that Elon places great emphasis on bettering Humans existence on this earth and less on global domination through his businesses. This vision also set him apart from his contemporaries such as Steve jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zukerberg. Vance makes this argument when he writes “Where Mark Zukerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to…well…save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation” (Vance 17). Not only is Musk trying to save the planet by introducing vehicles and affordable solar panels that will reduce our carbon footprint he is constantly reminding us that his goal, and reason for his Company Space X is to make humans an interplanetary species. He is much less like figures in history or the billionaires of today and more like a super hero, often compared to and referred to as the real life “Tony Stark” AKA Ironman. (“The Innovators”)
In this biography Vance paints a picture of an eccentric, ruthless, abrasive, hyper focused and very human industrialist. He makes an effort and accomplishes to distinguish him from what we know to be your typical business magnate. He sets him apart from history and his contemporaries. I believe Vance proves his argument through the first hand interviews of people who know Musk Personally. He also shows us that Elon starts his missions during times that industries become complaisant. Vance shows us the Vision that Musk has and how different and ambitious it is compared to others. This is definitely a book I would recommend to anybody who wants to see how a person can take a vision and make it reality.