I just watched a couple of clips from the video of this year’s Yale commencement—the awarding of honorary degrees to Janet Yellen and Elon Musk. Janet Yellen, with her marvelously warm smile, looked as if she had just been named Miss Congeniality. By contrast, Elon Musk, who couldn’t quite figure out where he was supposed to stand to have the hood placed on his shoulders, seemed somehow both disengaged and uncomfortable—like a man who had about fifty places he’d rather be or fifty things he’d rather be thinking about.
Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Ecco / HarperCollins, 2015) reveals just how complicated he is. He’s been tested over and over and not only survives but thrives. He’s a passionate man willing to take big risks, a man who wants to save humanity from itself but who works himself (and his top workers) to death. He’s got a big ego, and sometimes he’s a jerk. And, of course, he’s brilliant.
Inevitably compared to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Musk holds his own. Right now most people view him as either “the” or “a” guiding force of the technology industry. As for his personality, a venture capitalist said that “he’s nicer than Jobs and a bit more refined than Bill Gates.” (p. 287) Whatever you think of him as an individual, his accomplishments are staggering.
If you’re looking for a great summer read, one that I personally found inspiring, I can highly recommend this book.