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Publisher's Summary

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' 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.

©2015 Ashlee Vance (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Fred Sanders narrates this smartly written biography with the right balance of gravitas and entertainment value, providing accents for some of the major characters including a convincing South African accent for the story's star.... The combination of great narration, well-written and well-researched content, and a bigger-than-life subject propels this nuanced work into the upper atmosphere of audiobook biographies." (AudioFile)

What members say

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The best of competence porn

This book basically exploits your desire to read about extremely competent people, and you'll love it. Books like this are probably so entertaining because there is so much mediocrity in our own lives. It is refreshing to read about someone who apparently suffers from no mere human limitations.

It's a nice complement to Walter Issacson's Steve Jobs. In both, you will read about how an asshole with vision can create wonderful things by brute forcing his way through the inconveniences of reality. Both are fantastic books, but Issacson is the better journalist. Vance is so enamoured with his subject that you find him deflecting criticisms of Musk. He comes off as a bit of a fanboy, but you will forgive him, because it is so much fun to be a fanboy to Musk.

The heart of the book is the story of 2008, when both SpaceX and Tesla nearly went bankrupt. It's gripping: I couldn't press stop till I finished that section and so was stuck awake in my bed till 1:00am.

The book offers some genuine insights: one good engineer working constant overtime can achieve as much as eleven engineers trying to coordinate with each other. That's how you achieve truly great, new things. Good for them. Personally, I'm happy to listen to audiobooks while tending the garden, and so I'll have to accept that Vance won't write a book about me.

28 of 28 people found this review helpful

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Gifted people should attempt the extrordinary

If anything is to be learned from Ashlee Vance's biography of Elon Musk is that gifted children often have unsettled childhoods. However if those same kids develop into financially successful people the world might be better were they to put those resources and their talents to work doing things that seem to be impossible. I originally ordered this audio book because it seemed to me that Mr. Musk had attempted to do two of the three hardest and most complicated engineering and manufacturing tasks any one could attempt. One was space vehicles, and the other modern cars. I would say that the third is aircraft, which Musk may attempt later. That he has so far succeeded in the two he has tried is amazing. He not only did this but, I was to learn, he and his employees have totally rethought both systems, and are doing it entirely within the US, and with American labor.

His story could have be the all-to-familiar tale of a hi-tech engineer in Silicone Valley or Wall Street physicist-turned-finance-guy that made a pile of money early – in his case as a founder of PayPal – and then retired to live a life of luxury with no more than a dose of philanthropy to “give back to society”. Musk pushed past all of that to pursue childhood fantasies and dreams – turning them into real-life gains for humanity.

Consider that his company, SpaceEx, was the first private company to put a payload in orbit. Only a handful of entire countries had done that before. In fact SpaceEx, I believe, is the only organization (including countries) to have a orbit-payload-enabled booster rocket successfully execute a controlled lift-off, hover and vertical landing. As for electric cars, by starting from scratch, the whole process has been rethought. And going beyond the physical layout of the vehicle, the company is organized differently. Early in the process, his team at Tesla recognized that their vehicle (and electric vehicles in general) will have less need for maintenance and repair – a mainstay of dealerships. So Tesla made the decision to sell them directly through the internet and by showrooms that stand in conjunction with free solar-powered charging stations. He is getting a lot of serious push-back from traditional dealerships and, by extension, several state governments for this. But it really is the most efficient method. Without substantial maintenance income, Tesla dealerships would have had an extremely hard go of it and would have had to raise the already high sticker price too high to be practical. And efficiency is one of the many obsessions of Mr. Musk.

The only quibble I have with the text is that author makes a little too much of the apparent misery of Musk's childhood. Bullying has always been hardest on gifted children and Musk was obviously gifted. Surely the role of his parents, both positive and negative, must have been an even a larger influence than any school beatings. At least Elon as a child never really had to overcome grinding poverty. The book makes it clear that his father (also an engineer) left much to be desired as a parent – although no one in the family agreed to provide examples. But the fact is Musk choose to live much of his teenage years with his father even after his parents split. As strident and pedantic a task-master as anyone could image, his father still allowed his children to roam and explore to a great degree. To the teenage Elon, this must have been worth putting up with the negative stuff.

This the kind of book that both inspires and repels. It provides insight into much of what drives this extraordinary and often difficult man. And for those of us not blessed with his kind of visual photographic memory (and so very few are) we should take in this story to both marvel at its nuance and sincerely hope that the contributions of Musk continue.

To all of us, but especially to those to whom financial success has come, “Be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.” – the educator Horace Mann, as quoted by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

105 of 120 people found this review helpful

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This is not really a book about Musk...

The book is about the companies. It tells a high level story of their founding and Musk's role.

Unfortunately, it does very little to tell you about Musk. Who is he? What drives him? Why does he make the decisions he makes?

Those questions are essentially skipped. Rather than the writer asking Musk for the answer, he circumvents that conversation by talking to everyone (and like everyone, I'm talking about friends of friends) OTHER than Musk, which is a shame.

Honestly, I feel like I got more about who Musk is, and advice on how to adopt his philosophies from the 15 minute interview he did for TED.

In the end, this was nice because it summarized the stories of Musk's companies, but if you're looking for a book about Elon, and/or hoping to take away some wisdom from Musk's outlooks and experiences, this book is not for you.

43 of 49 people found this review helpful

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excellent read!

makes you want to change and be a better person. The reader was amazing. highly recommended

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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A great, in depth look into Elon Musk

I have to admit that I am a Tesla Motors, SpaceX. and overall Elon Musk fan. I knew the skeleton of most of these stories and was excited to listen to all of the additional details that really describe the emotions and atmosphere at the times while these companies were being created. The author definitely did his homework to get all of the most accurate information as possible. This is not a book that was put together based off of someone who is just reading articles and researching on their own.. This book is the cumulative sum of all of the direct conversations the author had with Elon Musk as well as all of the key people in his life that played a part in his entrepreneurial adventure into becoming the industrialist that he is today. There were many moments that I laughed out loud at how candid Elon is about things. It's a very unique perspective on life and tackling challenges in general. Superb all around, I'm going to be listening again soon.

50 of 58 people found this review helpful

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Inspiring

I've listened to it sometimes feeling that i was reading science fiction, sometimes feeling frustrated for wasted time, lost opportunities and abandoned dreams. How deeply humane, how inspiring, how essentially American! Up to this point Elon Musk has a legacy and his life and achievements will inspire generations to come. But I want to thank Ashlee Vance for embarking on such a project and delivering in such an elegant form. One of the best biographies I've read, unbiased, unintimidated and above all timely. We still need heroes.

39 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • GRAND FORKS, ND, United States
  • 05-23-15

Excellent

Extremely well written and researched. Fascinating subject. Great reader. I'll probably listen to this one again at some point.

39 of 47 people found this review helpful

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awsome biography

a great telling of the most amazing industrialist of our time....very entertaining.

out of a 100 audio books...the first one I've ever listened to twice. .back to back.

49 of 60 people found this review helpful

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  • Luke
  • California
  • 05-21-15

Interesting and Informative

The best overview of the Elon empire I've come across. Makes you excited for the future. I did like how the author was highly skeptical of many key aspects of Elon's life and companies - added to the authenticity of the biography. Worth a listen.

36 of 44 people found this review helpful

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Never knew what the guy did before this

I knew of the companies he runs, the product of his thoughts, but never knew the mastermind behind them. I left the book fully aware of the man most likely to change the world in the very near future. Very well written biography of a very interesting man.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Samuel
  • 01-24-17

captivating

listened to the whole story over a period of two weeks. captivating story with a well spoken narrator.