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

Tech journalist Ashlee Vance offers an unprecedented look into the life and mind of our generation’s most influential figure, Elon Musk. Peering back into childhood up to his latest ventures, this book review covers the gamut of Musk’s development from unknown prodigy to international mogul and offers a taste of his untouchable vision in the process.

The definitive biography of our generation’s very own Thomas Edison.


  • Want to know the real Elon Musk
  • Are fascinated by technology and where it’s going
  • Are a fan of Musk but know little about him

There are only a few businesspeople in the world as well known and admired as Elon Musk. His successes in a range of areas – from electric cars to space travel – have established him as a household name.

But what is it that makes Elon Musk so special? This book summary lay bare his interests and passions – the forces that drove him to become the man he is today. They outline Musk’s unique passion: the desire to save mankind from destruction. It’s this goal that fueled his work on solar power, electric cars and space exploration, and, ultimately, led to his prodigious success.

In this summary of Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance, you’ll learn

  • why Musk married, divorced, remarried and then divorced his second wife;
  • how fornicating mice kick-started Elon Musk’s mission to Mars; and
  • how Elon Musk made electric cars sexy.


The word “genius” gets thrown around a lot these days, but seems tailor-made for Elon Musk. Although his name is associated with numerous projects, ideas, and trends, more than anything he would like to be known for SpaceX, a company whose ultimate goal is to see humans inhabiting other planets. It’s his testament to a persevering future and commitment to making it a reality.

Being more ambitious than most people on the only planet we currently occupy, he lives a beat ahead of the rest of us, with one hand grasped firmly around possibilities beyond our ken. His tenacious and intrepid abilities have shaped him into a role model for any aspiring entrepreneur who wishes for success while making a global difference.

For that reason, Vance sees him more as a 21st-century Thomas Edison than a Howard Hughes, with a little P. T. Barnum dashed in for good measure: a public figure who has achieved astronomical wealth by capitalizing on people’s need for wonder. He lives in his own world, yet makes it part of our own.

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

Off the Ground

When Elon Musk entered the tech space with more passion and fortitude than anyone could have imagined, a certain malaise had beset the dot-com industry. Four years later, he sold his first company, Zip2, for $307 million, and used his $22 million profits from that deal to found what would become PayPal, which went on to be acquired by eBay in 2002 for a cool $1.5 billion.

Rather than drown himself in the pool of Silicon Valley, he relocated to Los Angeles, founding SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. In doing so, he suddenly became a competitor not only on an industrial level, but also on an international scale, taking on Lockheed Martin and Boeing but also Russia and China with his borderline insane vision. By 2012, when SpaceX sent a supply capsule to the International Space Station and Tesla Motors released its Model S, even those who’d dismissed him as a utopian-minded dreamer found their cynicism hard to maintain.

Then again, Musk had always been a provocateur. He first came to attention in 1984 when, at the mere age of 12, PC and Office Technology (a South African trade publication) published his original source code for a video game called Blastar. By his teens, he was already wanting to influence the fate of humanity for the better. He took not only great pleasure in, but also inspiration from, science fiction, and his ambitions of saving the world might very well have been inspired by the superheroes warring for peace across the pages of his comic books. Science fiction was always a touchstone for him; through it he learned that changing the world was impossible without first asking the right questions.

While growing up in Pretoria, South Africa, from a young age he saw America as his ticket to realizing his dreams. After just five months of studying physics and engineering at the University of Pretoria, he left it all behind for North America in 1989. He enrolled at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, but put more effort into extracurricular networking than classwork. While there, he met Justine, who would later become his wife. Soon enough, his unique brand of enthusiasm, vision, and personality won him an increasingly charismatic reputation. After two years of this routine, a scholarship whisked him away to the University of Pennsylvania, where he thrived and met lifetime friend, and future Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Adeo Ressi. Unknown even to those closest to him, his master plan had begun.

Getting his first company, Zip2, off the ground in Palo Alto, California, was the first of many challenges. The back-end software company, which connected newspapers to online city guides, allowed advertisers and users to communicate with each other via its proprietary platform, and Musk was determined to see it grow. After buying everything he needed with funds from an initial investment pool, he was almost broke before he started.

He and his brother, co-founder Kimbal Musk, had only a couple of mattresses in their otherwise unfurnished apartment. His commitment was so unwavering that he would sometimes compare himself to a samurai — death had become more alluring than failure — and he could often be found sleeping on a beanbag in front of his office computer. It was the duty of whoever showed up first for work in the morning to kick him back into action. He also fell in with another co-founder, Greg Kouri, a Canadian businessman who threw a little water on Musk’s fire to keep him sane.

Paying it Forward

Selling Zip2 gave Musk the confidence he needed to shift gears into his next platform: an internet bank that would revolutionize the way money was exchanged online. Although the financial powers that be felt his vision was far too premature, citing security and other unresolved issues, he paid them no heed. He was, in fact, already working on it before the Zip2 buyout. What began as set out to revolutionize banking by allowing users to send money directly to anyone in the world with nothing more than an email address. When Musk was ousted from the company, later rebranded as PayPal, he wasted no time wallowing in anger, instead pushing forward as the company’s advisor and biggest shareholder. When eBay offered to buy them, he insisted they hold out for more money, leading to the $1.5 billion they ended up accepting. With the $180 million of gross profit, he earned from that deal, his innermost desires seemed achievable at last.

This whole sequence of events earned Musk a negative reputation among journalists who downplayed his involvement in PayPal’s rise to prominence. Such slander was, of course, unfounded and ridiculous, and it didn’t take long for Musk’s genius to win the public over. By the same token, he wasn’t exactly your typical CEO. Then again, neither was Steve Jobs. In any event, no one could deny his prowess, willingness to take risks, and, perhaps above all, his uncanny attraction for talent. Founders of such ubiquitous platforms as YouTube, Yelp, and Palantir Technologies all got their start at PayPal.

In the background of all this, Musk’s relationship with Justine was deepening. They married, but Justine soon found that, despite his affections, Musk treated her more like an accessory than an equal partner. When they finally took the honeymoon, they’d postponed because of the coup, Musk was struck by malaria and nearly died upon his return to the States. In characteristic fashion, he dusted himself off and got back to work as quickly as possible.

Up and Away

Musk turned his attention to Los Angeles. There he encountered the Mars Society, a group of likeminded scientists who, among other things, looked forward to possibility of interplanetary colonization. Musk shared this dream, and took full advantage of the connection to make more of his own.

The aeronautics industry’s best and brightest were thrilled to welcome aboard someone of Musk’s passion and wealth. Meanwhile, his closest friends were hoping he would lose interest in this crazy scheme and invest in something more tangible and practical. Former business partners saw his actions as the fantasies of a man who had never quite grown out of his childhood obsessions. The difference in Musk’s case was that he had on his side the brilliant mind of Tom Mueller, a bona fide rocket builder whose knowhow made possible the founding of Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, in 2002.

Musk envisioned SpaceX becoming the first commercial airline of space. The prospect was a win-win, giving scientists easy access to extraplanetary data, and the military access to space, by the financial support of someone who cared and understood the parameters involved in either sphere. Amid this progress, however, his wife gave birth to a son who died at 10 weeks of sudden infant death syndrome. True to form, he hid the tragedy and moved on. It was the only way for him to survive.

As they prepared their first rocket engine for testing, announcing plans for not one but two rockets, challenges mounted, but Musk’s growing team was up to them, traveling between California and a testing site in Texas to fine-tune their technology. This grueling schedule took its toll on Musk’s engineers, although most of them had been chosen for their surplus of midnight oil to begin with and coped with an excitement superseded only by their boss’ indefatigable own. But even as their engine became workable, many smaller problems arose, and by the time they were ready their usual testing site was no longer available within schedule. They found a small island serving as a military testing site in the Kwajalein Atoll (Republic of the Marshall Islands) and went to work. Their first launch in March of 2006 was a failure. Reminded of the fact that most rockets never flew the first time, and that leaving Earth’s atmosphere was no small task, Musk pulled up his bootstraps yet again. A second test launch on March 15, 2007, fared little better.

On the Road Again

When J. B. Straubel, an engineer with an idea for an electric car, caught Musk’s attention, the two became inseparable, if turbulent, allies as they set out to revolutionize an automotive industry that hadn’t been disrupted to such an extent since Chrysler in 1925. Enchanted by advancements in lithium-ion battery technology, they teamed up with Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning to make the dream a reality.

Eberhard’s visual mockup was the first step toward manufacture. They pitched Musk on the idea of investing in Tesla Motors, and he agreed. Straubel was called in to help and became an instant part of their master team. After figuring out a sufficient battery system, Tesla unveiled its flagship Roadster model in July 2006. Not long after, Eberhard was ousted from his position as CEO and left the company bitterly.

Musk’s cultural importance was also coming into focus. Robert Downey Jr., for example, shadowed Musk for the Iron Man movies, although the degree to which Musk inspired Tony Stark was exaggerated by mainstream press (and by director Jon Favreau). Either way, Downey imagined Musk as someone with whom Stark would certainly have hung out — hence the Tesla Roadster in Stark’s office — and used that to fuel his performance.

Meanwhile, Musk and his wife were enjoying the good life, or so it seemed, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and living in Bel Air with Quincy Jones as a neighbor. But despite having five children and plenty of capital, his marriage, like his mind, was buckling under the weight of his own ventures. He was losing money fast, and filed for divorce. On the relationship front, he would go on to marry, and divorce, actress Talulah Riley twice over.


On September 28, 2008, SpaceX completed its first successful launch, much to the world’s astonishment. Any excitement over this accomplishment was just as soon tempered by the company’s dire financial straits. And so, Musk focused his efforts on Tesla, leading to another milestone in 2012, when Tesla’s Model S sedan went out into the world. Given his habit of missing deadlines, no one expected it. Yet none of this was enough to soften his mainstream image, especially when Eberhard sued him for slander, libel, and breach of contract.

Despite these and other setbacks, including well-publicized engine fires, the Model S sold well as an emblematic product for the company. Tesla had now become part of our culture. It was a lifestyle, not just an accessory, that survived only by Musk’s tenacity.

In 2006, Musk became chairman of his cousins’ company SolarCity, which, also by 2012, had grown into the country’s largest solar panel installer. And in 2013 he revealed his concept for a new transportation system called the Hyperloop. Modeled on the tubes used to transport documents in banks and offices, he imagined the Hyperloop as a safer and more efficient alternative to trains. This, too, was misperceived as a pipe dream (no pun intended), but felt real soon enough when Musk released his detailed plans. We may not know the future of this or any other idea crystallizing in his hyperactive mind, but we do know that he won’t stop dreaming until the world wakes up from its own complacent slumber.

Saving the human race is what drives Elon Musk.

Achieving success in the sustainable-technology industry isn’t easy. Many try and most fail. And yet Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SolarCity, has managed to succeed not once, but twice. How did he manage it?

It comes down to the way he sees the world. Musk is not your average money-obsessed, Silicon-Valley entrepreneur. Uniquely, he possesses a kind of universal empathy. Harboring a deep care for the whole of humanity, Musk is driven by a single goal: to save us, the human race, by relocating humanity to Mars. In Musk’s view, the Earth, vulnerable to asteroids and with dwindling resources, is no longer a tenable home.

This concern never leaves his mind, and has instilled in him an unshakeable determination to get things done. Of course, this doesn’t always manifest itself well. Musk is notorious for setting unrealistic goals, assigning incredible workloads and verbally abusing his employees.

Musk even berated an employee who, instead of attending a company event, chose to be present for the birth of his child. Musk demanded that he consider where his true priorities lay. The way Musk sees it, you can either commit 100 percent to changing the history of the world, or not at all.

Love him or hate him, Musk is nevertheless respected by employees for his sense of mission. They know it brings success. And he’s no hypocrite, either. Musk’s sense of purpose is plainly evident in his grueling weekly schedule. Monday begins at SpaceX, in Los Angeles, where he works until Tuesday night. He then jets to Silicon Valley, where he spends Wednesdays and Thursdays at Tesla. Then it’s a flight back to L.A. There’s no way someone could commit to such a lifestyle without believing in what they were doing.

Musk’s unhappy childhood shaped his innovative and ambitious character.

Thanks to a unique and powerful sense of purpose, Elon Musk is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in modern society. But how did he come to see himself and the world the way he does? Well, it all started with a difficult upbringing in South Africa.

The young, near-friendless Elon Musk had a difficult relationship with his father, Errol. And yet when Musk’s parents separated, Musk chose to live with his dad to give him some much-needed company. But life with his father was difficult. In addition to the turmoil at home, Musk was often bullied by classmates, once receiving a beating so severe that he couldn’t attend school for a week.

To escape this, Musk retreated into reading and study. Possessed of an astonishing photographic memory, Musk was able to read two encyclopedias – and remember everything. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was one book that deeply influenced Musk; it led him to realize that answering a question is easy, but that asking the right question is much harder.

At this early stage, Musk was already pondering questions that might expand and improve human civilization. By the time he started high school, he had strong opinions about solar power, conquering other planets, paperless banking and space rockets. He was also becoming entrepreneurially aware, selling his video game creation, Blastar, for $500 when he was just 12.

Musk’s confidence and determination flourished even more during his college years.

In 1988, Elon Musk decided that he didn’t want to do military service in South Africa. So he left the country. Though he dreamed of moving to the US, Musk first went to Canada. His first year was tough, as he went from relative to relative and drifted between odd jobs. Then he enrolled at Queen’s University, where, as his self-confidence began to soar, his character took definite shape.

Musk was more ambitious in college than in high school. He entered public speaking contests, studied business, and even successfully wooed the woman of his dreams, Justine Wilson, who later became his first wife and the mother of his 6 sons.

Their courtship was romantic and competitive. To begin with, Wilson had no interest in Elon Musk. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. When he got stood up for their first date at an ice cream parlor, he found out where she was studying and asked a friend of hers what her favorite ice cream was. He then showed up carrying two chocolate-chip ice creams. This tactic of success-through-determination came to be a distinct approach in all areas of Musk’s life.

After two years at Queen’s, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania and continued to flourish. As he grew more comfortable among his fellow physics students, Musk made friends who proved valuable – and not just personally, but monetarily as well. Musk and Adeo Ressi, a good friend, hosted house parties in a 14-bedroom house they’d rented; admission was $5, and Musk, strait-laced and sober all the while, raked in considerable profits. One night even brought in enough money to pay a month’s rent!

Musk’s first start-up turned him into a dotcom, Silicon-Valley millionaire.

Fresh out of college and eager to jump on the dotcom bandwagon, Musk created his first company. In 1995, he and his brother founded Global Link Information Network, which was later renamed Zip2. Their aim was to help businesses clueless about the internet to get online for the first time.

Few small businesses understood the consequences of the internet; they had little idea how to get on, and saw little value in listing their business online or in having their own website. Things were tough at first, Musk and his brother worked very hard and still didn’t sell. They received a lot of rejections, the most amiable ones declaring that the internet was “the dumbest thing they’d ever heard of.”

Things began to change when Mohr Davidow Ventures, the venture-capital firm, invested in the start-up after being impressed with Musk’s energy and drive. They moved Musk down and hired Rich Sorkin as CEO. And, as the money started coming in, they hired better engineers, who changed and shortened much of the bulky coding. This got on Elon’s nerves. He was, after all, a self-taught coder.

However, Mohr Davidow also brought a more refined structure and outlined more realistic goals. Jim Ambras, the vice president of engineering at Zip2, knew that when Musk said a task should be completed in an hour, that actually it would take a day or two. When Musk said something would take a day to complete, it would actually take a week or two.

Finally, in February 1999, PC-maker Compaq Computer offered to pay $307 million in cash for Zip2. But Musk never considered sticking around at Compaq and was already thinking of new projects. He wanted to become a successful CEO.

Losing the war over PayPal left Musk with millions.

Musk, with his newfound money, joined the big-boys’ club. He used his earnings from Compaq to buy a McLaren sports car, a condo and a small prop plane. But the rest of his money went straight into his next business:

In those days, people were reluctant to buy books online, let alone share bank account details. But by partnering with Barclays, Musk succeeded in establishing as one of the world’s first online banks, backed up with FDIC insurance and three mutual funds for investors to choose from.

Things were going well, but, soon enough, some major competition arrived. Max Levchin and Peter Thiel had been working on their own payment system at Confinity, before creating the first version of PayPal.

After a brief battle, the companies decided, in March of 2000, to join forces: Confinity possessed the sexier product (PayPal), and had the money and superior banking products, so the merge made sense.

But Musk was soon to be pushed aside in his own company once again. Two months after the merge, Thiel resigned, Levchin threatened to do the same, and Musk found himself in charge of a divided company. Though most of his coworkers favored PayPal, Musk persisted in promoting the brand. Meanwhile, computer systems failed regularly and the website crashed weekly.

Then followed one of the meanest coups in Silicon Valley’s history: as Musk and his wife Justine boarded a plane for their overdue honeymoon, the executives went to the company board and asked Thiel to come back as CEO and to demote Musk. The coup succeeded, and Musk was left as an advisor.

The company changed its name from to PayPal and was finally sold to eBay, in July, 2002, for $1.5 billion. Musk netted $250 million, enough to make his wildest dreams possible.

Musk’s determination led him to another frontier: the space industry.

After his 30th birthday in 2001, Musk decided to escape the rat race. He relocated his family to Los Angeles, right around the corner from the hub of space industry.

Musk had always been keen to get involved in space. At the time, the Mars Society was developing a plan to test the feasibility of putting life on Mars by sending fornicating mice into orbit. Musk thought the plan was good; the only improvement, he thought, would be sending the mice straight to Mars.

In the end, the plan was dropped, but it didn’t stop Musk from entering the space industry. He decided to make his debut by exploring how one might construct cheaper rockets. In June of 2002, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was born, with the mission to emerge as the South-West Airlines of Space. At a time when sending 500-pound payload started at $30 million, Falcon 1 would carry a 1,400-pound payload for $6.9 million.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Musk’s demands were unrealistic. His original timeline forecasted a completed first engine by May, 2003; a second engine in June; the body of the rocket by July; and everything assembled in September. The first launch was planned for November – a mere 15 months after the company started!

Unsurprisingly, it took about 4 years for SpaceX to successfully launch a rocket. Although Musk dislikes the lack of a clear plan of attack, he understands that things don’t always work out first time, failure is just a part of the process. The reality is that most launches fail. He knew that 9 out of 20 Atlas launches had succeeded, so failure was the norm. But, come hell or high water, he was determined to use his skills to ensure that SpaceX succeed in the end.

His passion and drive, however, proved inspirational. SpaceX’s became the first commercial company to carry the Dragon capsule to space and retrieve it safely after an ocean landing. The company continues to develop in incredible ways, as we’ll find out in a later book summary.

Under Musk, Tesla Motors gave the electric car a future.

Electric cars used to have a less-than-cool reputation; they were certainly no match for high-power brands like Jaguar and Ferrari. But if you’ve seen any of the new Formula E cars, you’ll know things are changing. One man pushed harder than the rest to make electric cars cool and desirable, and that was Elon Musk.

Musk helped the world recognize electric-car technology for what it was: exciting, and always progressing.

It all started when J. B. Straubel and, unbeknownst to him, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, were working on electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. On July 1st, 2003, Eberhard and Tarpenning founded Tesla Motors; Straubel joined later.

The idea was to license the technology that AC Propulsion developed to power the tzero (a full electric car that accelerates faster than a Ferrari!), and to use the Lotus Elise chassis for the body of the car. But venture capitalists didn’t invest and didn’t see beyond the shoddy plastic finish of the tzero.

Musk, however, chose to invest $6.5 million, becoming the sole shareholder and chairman. He thought the project could revolutionize electric cars, making them popular and efficient, and the world a less polluted place.

Despite a slow and unceremonious beginning, Tesla emerged as a great success. In mid-2012, Tesla’s Model S sedan changed transportation forever. With continuous internet access and a sensor that allowed the driver to start the engine without touching a single button, it’s been referred to as a “computer with wheels.”

In November of 2012, Motor Trend named it car of the year, and later, Consumer Reports gave the car the highest rating in its history (99/100), declaring it probably the best car ever built! America hadn’t seen such a successful car company since the emergence of Chrysler, in 1925.

This achievement is rather astonishing, as Silicon Valley had been little involved in the automotive industry, and Musk hadn’t even manufactured cars before. But when we consider Musk’s determination, this success is perhaps not such a big surprise after all.

From SolarCity to Tesla, Musk’s companies are unified.

Musk’s star power stems from three ventures simultaneously: SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity. This is because they all ultimately help him pursue his real, and unifying, goal: the survival of the human species.

Musk had long wanted to go into solar, but prior to creating SpaceX, he hadn’t thought there was any money in it. So when his cousins, the Rive brothers, were brainstorming about a new venture, Musk suggested solar.

The brothers spent two years studying the solar-power industry before hitting upon their idea. Though solar panels were slowly becoming more affordable, the cost and effort of installation was enough to drive many consumers away. So the Rive brothers decided to give customers what they really wanted: someone to take care of the whole process, from selection to purchasing to installation.

Musk helped his cousins come up with the structure and became the chairman and largest shareholder. Six years later, and SolarCity has become the largest installer of solar panels in the US, living up to its goal of making solar panel installation painless. It’s expanded from individual customers to businesses like Walmart and Intel and, in 2014, it was valued at close to $7 billion.

Musk’s businesses, while successful individually, also strategically complement each other. Tesla makes battery packs that SolarCity can sell to end customers, and SolarCity supplies Tesla’s charging stations with solar panels.

This is because, despite being passionate about cars and solar panels and batteries, they are all just side projects for Musk. His main goal remains to ensure that humans start living sustainably now so that humanity has a future. In this way, all his endeavors are united by one ambitious goal.

Musk aims to further transform the aerospace, automotive and solar industries with the Hyperloop and other projects.

Musk has always had grand plans – so grand that people often find them a little far-fetched. In August, 2013, he unveiled more of these plans: the Hyperloop, as well as other developments at Tesla and SpaceX.

The Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation for fairly short distances. It’s a large-scale pneumatic tube, just like the ones used to send mail around offices, but, in this case, it’s for transporting people and cars in pods.

Similar ideas have been proposed before, but Musk’s is different. His design runs under low pressure, while the pods float on a bed of air. Each pod is thrust forward by an electromagnetic pulse, and motors throughout the tube give the pods an added power-boost when needed.

These solar-powered mechanisms could keep pods going at 800 miles per hour; at that speed, you could get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

For Tesla and SpaceX, Musk has other plans. Tesla’s primary focus in 2015 will be bringing the SUV Model X to the market. Then, planned for 2017, is the highly anticipated Model 3. This car will cost just $35,000, instead of over $100,000 – the price of a typical Model S.

In 2014, Musk also announced plans to build a Gigafactory, the world’s largest lithium-ion manufacturing facility. That will increase the batteries available in the marketplace, a crucial part of the strategy to make Tesla cars driveable over long distances, even without access to a recharging station.

In the near future, SpaceX will begin testing its ability to take people into space. SpaceX aims to perform a manned test flight by 2016, and to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in the following year.

SpaceX is also likely to move into building and selling satellites, one of the most lucrative areas in the industry. Musk is reportedly daydreaming about perhaps becoming the first man to set foot on Mars!

Musk’s success comes with a turbulent personal life.

Throughout this book summary, we’ve seen that Musk isn’t always an easy person to get along with. Even his marriages are a testament to this.

Married three times, twice to the same woman, Musk is romantic and hot-headed. His first marriage was passionate. However, he wasn’t always a compassionate husband – Justine recalls how she once reminded him, in exasperation, that she was his wife, not his employee. Musk responded by telling her that if she was his employee, he’d have sacked her.

According to Justine, Musk gave her an ultimatum in June, 2008: they would either fix their marriage that day or he would file for divorce the next morning. Justine asked to wait another week, so Musk bulldozed ahead and filed for divorce the following day.

Nevertheless, Musk suffered emotionally following the divorce, and his friend Bill Lee tried to lift his spirits with a holiday to London. There, Musk met the then 22-year-old actress Talulah Riley who became his second wife.

He divorced Riley in 2012, stating that he “would always love her but wasn’t in love with her anymore.” They remarried directly after the divorce was finalized, when he found it impossible to date while maintaining his unbelievably busy schedule. (By his calculations, a woman requires a minimum of 10 hours per week.). In late 2014, they divorced again.

Many thinks Musk can be tough to the point of being mean and capricious. Some even say he lacks empathy completely citing the dismissal of his most loyal assistant, Mary Beth Brown, as an example. Practically doing everything for him, she had long been the only link between Musk and all his interests. Yet, when she asked to be compensated on par with other SpaceX execs, he told her to take two weeks off and that he’d take on her work to gauge whether the request had merit. When she came back, he told her that he didn’t need her anymore.

Yet, despite these personal failings, those closest to Musk say that he is a loving and caring person at heart. And Riley claims that, despite his incredibly busy schedule, he always tried to get home to have dinner with his family and play computer games with his children.


While Elon Musk has certainly encountered his fair share of criticism, Ashlee Vance’s unparalleled portrait paints him as an individual of profound empathy.

As is often the way with geniuses, Musk’s concern for the human race sometimes feels off-putting to those accustomed to grand narratives of individuality. This is the sacrifice one has to make when thinking of people and technologies that have yet to exist. He lives partly in a reality removed from our own, and it’s all we can do to catch up.

Whether we agree with his politics (such as they are) or his vision, we can take his passion as an example of how to enrich our own lives with meaning. Above all, he has shown us that life is meaningless without goals, and that some goals are greater than all of us put together.

The key message in this book:

Elon Musk is an exceptional man. Ambitious, passionate and driven, he never takes no for an answer. His deep concern for humanity’s survival is coupled with a large ego and difficult personality. No matter what others think of him, Elon Musk has propelled sustainable technology to astonishing new heights, and he will continue to do so, as one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the aerospace, automotive and solar industries.

Actionable advice:

Think big.

Next time you have an idea, don’t worry about how crazy it sounds. Take a page out of Elon Musk’s book. Fornicating mice on Mars, all electric cars faster than Ferraris, marrying the same woman twice? Nothing is too absurd. Think the impossible and then make it happen.

About the author

An in-demand writer on technology, Ashlee Vance cut his chops on The New York Times, for whom he served as a Silicon Valley insider, before moving on to Bloomberg Businessweek. Before his highly regarded work on Elon Musk, he wrote Geek Silicon Valley, a definitive history of America’s tech capital, in 2007. He also runs the “Hello World” video series hosted on Bloomberg, which follows trending tech leads around the globe.

Ashlee Vance is an award-winning feature writer for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Vance is also the host of the “Hello World” TV show. Previously, he worked for The New York Times and The Register. Vance was born in South Africa, grew up in Texas and attended Pomona College. He has spent more than a decade covering the technology industry from San Francisco and is a noted Silicon Valley historian.


Business Biographies, Biography, Business, Science, Technology, Biography Memoir, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Autobiography, Engineering, Company Business Profiles, Business Professional’s Biographies, Rich and Famous Biographies

Table of Contents

1 Elon’s World 1
2 Africa 23
3 Canada 45
4 Elon’s First Start-Up 57
5 PayPal Mafia Boss 75
6 Mice In Space 97
7 All Electric 145
8 Pain, Suffering, and Survival 181
9 Liftoff 213
10 The Revenge of the Electric Car 263
11 The Unified Field Theory of Elon Musk 317
Epilogue 361
Appendix 1 375
Appendix 2 381
Appendix 3 387
Acknowledgments 393
Notes 397


In the spirit of Steve Jobs and Moneyball, Elon Musk is both an illuminating and authorized look at the extraordinary life of one of Silicon Valley’s most exciting, unpredictable, and ambitious entrepreneurs—a real-life Tony Stark—and a fascinating exploration of the renewal of American invention and its new “makers.”

Elon Musk spotlights the technology and vision of Elon Musk, the renowned entrepreneur and innovator behind SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity, who sold one of his Internet companies, PayPal, for $1.5 billion. Ashlee Vance captures the full spectacle and arc of the genius’s life and work, from his tumultuous upbringing in South Africa and flight to the United States to his dramatic technical innovations and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Vance uses Musk’s story to explore one of the pressing questions of our age: can the nation of inventors and creators who led the modern world for a century still compete in an age of fierce global competition? He argues that Musk—one of the most unusual and striking figures in American business history—is a contemporary, visionary amalgam of legendary inventors and industrialists including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs. More than any other entrepreneur today, Musk has dedicated his energies and his own vast fortune to inventing a future that is as rich and far-reaching as the visionaries of the golden age of science-fiction fantasy.

Thorough and insightful, Elon Musk brings to life a technology industry that is rapidly and dramatically changing by examining the life of one of its most powerful and influential titans.

Veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance offers an unprecedented look into the remarkable life of the most daring entrepreneur of our time. Elon Musk paints a portrait of a complex man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation—from PayPal to Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity—overcoming hardship, earning billions, and making plenty of enemies along the way.


“Mr. Vance tells the stories of both SpaceX and Tesla with intricacy and insight. . . . What does come through is a sense of legitimate wonder at what humans can accomplish when they aim high, and aim weird. — Dwight Garner, New York Times

“[T]his work will likely serve as the definitive account of a man whom so far we’ve seen mostly through caricature. By the final pages, too, any reader will sense the need to put comparisons to Steve Jobs aside. Give Musk credit. There is no one like him.” — New York Times Book Review

“[A] spirited and riveting biography.” — Wall Street Journal

“The SpaceX and Tesla founder certainly sees setbacks as an unavoidable part of innovation. But a brilliant new biography paints a picture of him as an obsessive, intolerant perfectionist.” — Financial Times

“Fascinating and superbly researched…” — The Guardian UK

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