Book: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

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.

Highly recommended.

  • josh

    That’s an excellent point about how vance approached writing what is very much an in-progress bio. I don’t know any of the musks but i know a few people who are either friends or peers, stories about his thoughtfulness, recall and his linear approach to work jibed with AV.

  • bethhartman

    Next on my list for sure. Thanks for sharing! You may also enjoy the Wait But Why blog series on Elon, Tesla, and SpaceX if you haven’t seen it already – here is the most recent post: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/08/how-and-why-spacex-will-colonize-mars.html/

    • It’s a fun blog. I discovered it yesterday.

      • bethhartman

        Started with chapter one last night – already curious to know if you agree that after the early 2000s crash there was a retreat from working on big “game changing” innovation, and also if the book overall increased your desire to invest in more of these game changers?

        • The book didn’t change my view on what we invest in. We’ve had a very consistent and deliberate strategy since we started Foundry in 2007 that we believe is valid for at least 20 years.

          • bethhartman

            Thanks for the reply Brad! Almost finished with the book now and more inspired than ever for the future. Will be very interesting to see what happens in the next 20 years or so!

  • Sebastien Latapie

    One of my favorite recent reads as well. Gobbled it up in a few days! What really got me in this book was Elon’s intensity – the laser like focus on so many different fronts. Inspiring but not something I would ever dare replicating.

  • Pretty strong recommendation, and I’ve always admired the ambition of Musk…I just bought it, will dig in soon.

  • tyronerubin

    Held off from reading it. But as soon as @bfeld:disqus recommends it. It immediately changes things. Downloaded audiobook and starting ASAP. thanks!

  • mikedariano

    Thanks for sharing Brad. One question on how your experience as an investor relates. Vance writes, “when Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”
    If Elon is a “100” on the way he dives into something and works on it, what is the range of ratings for successful founders/creators that you’ve dealt with?

  • Jessica Gomez

    I really enjoyed the book as well! I’ve found myself referencing it in conversation in the last couple of months since reading it. Agree with the strong recommendation.

  • Ironically it may have been the end of the first internet cycle that allowed Elon to think big.

  • I’ve got to to take time to read this one – I’ve heard it’s great.

    From what I know about Elon he truly seems like an amazing entrepreneur who is providing a a huge positive impact to humanity.