Walter Isaacson on Elon Musk: It’s almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Published: 2 weeks ago

Updated: 2 weeks ago

Reading time: 3 minutes

The bestselling biographer of such inventive personalities as Steve Jobs has written a new book about the volatile billionaire who has built electric cars, launched rockets, and thrown wrenches into the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Whether you like Elon Musk or not, whether you despise him, you have to admit that he's interesting.

As he himself stated while hosting Saturday Night Live in 2021, \I've reinvented electric cars and I'm sending humans to Mars on a rocket ship.

Did you think I'd be a creepy, normal dude too?\\ Walter Isaacson has written biographies of Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, and next week CBS's sister company, Simon & Schuster, will publish a biography of Elon Musk.

You just have to say, 'I want to talk to you about Elon Musk,' and explode!

People like to talk,\ Isaacson said.

When asked what kind of access he had to Musk, I said, \I want to be there for you for two or three years.

I want to be in every meeting.\\ He said, 'Good.'\ As for what Musk looks like, Isaacson said, \There's not a single Elon Musk.

He has many personalities.

Almost multiple personalities.

And you can watch him go from being so dazed and funny to being deep in engineering mode.

And then, suddenly, the dark cloud occurs.

Almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.\\ Isaacson writes that Musk's playfulness stemmed from a cruel childhood in South Africa with his abusive father, Errol. \It's all about the traumas and impulses of childhood,\ he said.

That made him adventurous.

This made him feel more comfortable with drama.\\ Musk himself said in his 2022 TED Talk, \To be honest, I didn't have a happy childhood.

It left deep scars on the way his father treated him,\ Isaacson said.

When he is bullied in the schoolyard, his face hits concrete steps, and his father takes the side of the person who beat him instead of Elon.

Errol Musk said, \I raised him to be tough.\ That's why Errol Musk doesn't apologize too much.\\ By the time he was 31, Musk founded and sold two software companies, making him a multimillionaire.

One of them was PayPal.

With this money, he founded SpaceX.

Isaacson says SpaceX's factory floor isn't like Boeing's: Everyone here is willing to take risks and know how to move fast.

Musk and I were walking down this aisle and when he saw that people were a little lethargic or not enough people, he was like, 'Where is everybody?

Put it into action!

This needs to be done by tonight!\\ That would never happen at Boeing.\\ And why the urgency? \He thinks it's urgent for humans to become multi-planetary, to get to Mars,\ Isaacson said. \You think there might be a crisis on Earth, or something could happen, and we need to be a multi-planet species.\ You know, there are people who really try to avoid eye contact, because it can be cruel,\ Isaacson said. \\You can get really angry.

Musk is open about Asperger's syndrome, but he believes empathizing with his employees will only slow things down.

As Isaacson explained, he would say to me, 'Yes, I don't have that much empathy.

I'm not like you, I don't want the other person to just love me.

I have to fulfill this duty.' If anyone has learned how to get along with Musk, it's design chief Franz von Holzhausen.

He has been working at Tesla for 15 years and has shaped every Tesla model, including the radically designed, stainless steel Cybertruck. \\Sometimes it's not easy.

You have to put some personal things aside, but in the end the reward is worth it.\ Pogue said, \Let's say I'm Elon and I say, 'We have to do it this way.' And you, based on all your career and wisdom, disagree?—In those moments, you agree to disagree,\ von Holzhausen said. \\But it's Elon's company after all.

These days, SpaceX and Tesla aren't Musk's only projects.

There's the brain implant company Neuralink; a tunneling operation, The Boring Company; Tesla's solar-roof division; and xAI, a new artificial intelligence company.

Tesla is also developing the Tesla Bot, a humanoid robot designed to do our dirty work for us.

And then there's Starlink, a constellation of 5,000 satellites that can bring internet signals to the entire planet, including remote areas and disaster zones.

Last year, Musk sent thousands of Starlink terminals to help the Ukrainian military for free.

But Isaacson said that when he believed Ukraine had gone on the offensive by attacking Russian ships in Crimea last September, Musk shut down his services there. \Musk felt this would lead to World War III, and so he single-handedly dismissed Starlink along the Crimean coast,\ Isaacson said.

In fact, as Isaacson now admits, that's not exactly what happened.

Starlink didn't work in that area in the first place, but when Ukraine asked for services there, Musk refused to activate it.

Pogue asked, \How does Elon feel about having so much global power?\ You know, he says to me, 'I'm in the middle of this?' Isaacson replied. \\But frankly, he loves it.

He loves drama.

He loves being an epic hero.

I think it's a little dangerous, because he loves it so much.\\ But when it comes to controversy, Musk's acquisition of Twitter last year for $44 billion would have been hard to overcome.

Immediately fired more than 80% of employees; He reinstated Donald Trump's account; relaxed the rules against hate speech and misinformation.

Twitter has seen an instant, visible and measurable increase in hate speech after Elon Musk's takeover, with investigators finding Musk threatens to sue researchers who have documented the rise in hate tweetsElon Musk's Twitter is now worth a third of its $44 billion price tag, says Fidelity Elon Musk and Twitter: Is it over his head? (Sunday Morning\\) In July, Twitter changed its name to X.


He likes the letter X,\ Isaacson said. \\This is mysterious to him.

There's SpaceX.

There was, which was the first payment company, and that was PayPal.

His son has a name that looks like the password that Druid automatically generates [X Æ A-12 Musk], but they call him X.\\ Musk had 11 children with three women.

Isaacson's book reveals that Musk's ex-girlfriend, musician Claire Boucher, whose stage name is Grimes, had a new baby boy last year.

His full name is Techno Mechanicus Musk.Of course, Musk was never a typical CEO.

He smoked marijuana on camera during an interview; Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg challenged the cage match; and he is in trouble with the government, whose arrangements he often despises.

SEC fraud case against Elon Musk threatens to resolve TeslaFAA's moves to fine SpaceX over August Starlink launch (CNET) \If you ask him what's the biggest problem facing America these days, he'll tell you that we're avoiding too much risk, that we have too many arbitrators, and that we don't have enough builders, and that's why we don't build high-speed trains or rockets that can get into orbit,\ Isaacson said.

Already, the U.S. government is hiring SpaceX to carry our astronauts into orbit; contracts with Starlink to bind our military; and plans to pay Tesla to open up its network of electric car charging stations to all drivers.

But in a recent New Yorker article, journalist Ronan Farrow writes that the U.S. has become dependent on Musk, albeit becoming more unstable.

In his article, Farrow noted that Tesla board members raised concerns about Musk's use of the prescription sleep aid Ambien and did not discuss Musk's use of ketamine.

But whatever their eccentricities, Elon Musk has truly changed the world.

Tesla's success has triggered a global shift to electric cars, and SpaceX has made 261 successful launches in a row for a fraction of the traditional cost to taxpayers, in large part because the company has figured out how to download and reuse its boosters after each launch.

When asked if he admires Musk, Isaacson said, \A biographer should point to the light and dark threads.

And you have to criticize the dark filaments, you have to admire the light filaments.

But then the hardest thing is to show how intertwined.\And what about his legacy?\ asked Pogue. \\Do you think we'll be talking a hundred years after Elon Musk is gone?\\ It has brought us to the era of electric vehicles that GM and Ford have given up on,\ Isaacson said.

When NASA retired the space shuttle, it said, \Yes, we can get astronauts into orbit.\ So, a hundred years from now, we'll still be baffled in some ways at how dark it can be, but we'll say, 'Yes, yes.

He put his finger on the surface of history and the waves appeared.\\ READ A QUOTE: \\Elon Musk\\ by Walter Isaacson For more information:Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster) \\Elon Musk\\, in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, September 12 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Story produced by (X) David Rothman on Twitter.


Write a review

Starlink Tesla Elon Musk Ukraine SpaceX Twitter