Commerce & Economy Reviews

Book Review: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Arrogant philanthropist or cult leader? Ashlee Vance tells all in this biography.

The Fortune Book Club Book Review: Elon Musk


Title: Elon Musk
Author: Ashlee Vance
Publisher: Virgin Books
Publication date: 10 March 2016
Pages: 416
ISBN-10: 9780753555644
Rating: 3/5


Many have tried to get the story behind the remarkable man that is Elon Musk, but only one has succeeded. Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk is the result of countless interviews and stories from colleagues, friends and the man himself and is the only biography to show the real story behind the surprising success of the billionaire CEO.


I may have been optimistic with respect to the timing on some of these things, but I didn’t over promise on the outcome

Everybody’s heard of the real life Tony Stark that is Elon Musk but not many know much about the famed billionaire, and until I read Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk, I too was blissfully unaware of the trials and tribulations Elon had to face in order to grow both Tesla and SpaceX. Vance’s biography provides a good summary of both the personal and professional life of one of the most forward thinking men on the planet.

Either idealised as a cult hero or slandered as an arrogant and heartless entrepreneur, the book gives a layer of understanding that is often left out of media coverage. For example, it explains how Musk struggled to deal with an impending divorce while simultaneously keeping both Tesla and Space X above water.

Moreover, the book also explains how his blighted childhood led Musk to lust after emigrating to the United States and how it has shaped the man he has become. His move to first Canada then America, allowed him to hit the ground running and build important connections.

Furthermore Vance emphasises how Elon’s early years laid foundation to his infamous hardworking and goal oriented work ethic, by highlighting how Elon worked as a boiler room cleaner in unthinkable and life-threatening conditions. Chosen as the ‘job with the best wage’, 30 men started at the job but by the end of the week it was just Musk and two others. This shows his early sense of determination and how he usually pulls through against all odds.

Well, maybe it’s not luck. He’s done it twice. It can’t be luck totally.

Elon Musk also provides a fairly balanced insight into the man’s life, which at times showcases his somewhat autistic perspective. An example of this is when he fired his long serving personal assistant that was with him thick and thin, once he realised that the role was essentially redundant.

Finally, the chronological structure of the book is well thought through and supports the overarching theme of the biography that Elon Musk was always destined to be the man he is. His his tenacious and meticulous personality evolved from his early successes with Zip2 and PayPal that he was ultimately ousted of, and his love for electric cars and all things space was born from his childhood fantasises and love of science fiction.

Ultimately, while informative and well written I did find the book a bit lacking and there is something I just can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it was the overstretching chapters or the numerous footnotes that tainted my overall feeling for the book, but I can’t bring myself to give it more than a moderate 3/5. But if you’re looking to learn more about the enigmatic man that is Elon Musk, then Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance is a solid choice.

Mentioned Reading

  • The Flying Haldemans: Pity the Poor Private Pilot – Joshua Haldeman
  • The Paypal Wars: Battles with eBay, the Media, the Mafia and the Rest of Planet Earth – Eric Jackson
  • Rocketeers – Michael Belfiore
  • The Great Stagnation – Tyler Cowen
  • Average is Over – Tyler Cowen
  • Made in the USA – Vaclav Smil
  • Idiocracy – Mike Judge

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By Jake Doran

Masters in Advanced Computer Science student at Keele University, interested in all things tech and business, with aspirations to undertake an MBA in the future.

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