Childhood demons drive Elon Musk, contends hotly anticipated biography

Elon Musk Photo: Getty Images

A hotly anticipated biography of Elon Musk describes the turbulent tycoon as a man driven by childhood demons, obsessed with bringing human life to Mars and who demands that staff be “hardcore.”

“Elon Musk” is written by star biographer Walter Isaacson, a former editor in chief of Time Magazine who is best known for his best-selling portrayal of Apple founder Steve Jobs as well as his looks into the lives of science focused men such as Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci.

Some US media outlets got early access to the more-than-600-page book ahead of its official global release Tuesday, and several excerpts were also published in recent days.

Hours before its release on Amazon, advance orders had made “Elon Musk” the second best-selling book in the United States, behind a self-help title co-written by Oprah Winfrey.

Much of Musk’s early life is already publicly well known, with attention focused on his abusive father Errol Musk, who Musk despises.

Many of the account’s previously unknown nuggets come from a more recent period, when Isaacson shadowed his subject with fly-on-the-wall access into his everyday life.

A widely reported passage recounts how Musk personally scuttled a plan by the Ukrainian military to carry out a major operation in Crimea by denying Starlink internet access, drawing a furious response from Kyiv.

But Isaacson was forced to walk back his description of the episode after Musk tweeted that the Starlink access was not yet up and running in Crimea at the time of his decision.

Musk’s chaotic and impulse-driven takeover of Twitter (now renamed X) also gets a lot of attention, with the billionaire seen as struggling to recognize that technology and willpower will not be enough to reverse the platform’s fortunes.

Also a recurring theme in Isaacson’s telling is Musk’s vindictive tendencies toward doubters and critics.

After acquiring Twitter late last year, Musk and his closest lieutenants combed through email and social media and fired dozens of employees who had criticised the new owner.

In another episode, Musk defied the warnings of executives and with the help of a small team moved critical servers out of a Sacramento data centre to cut costs, which led to a series of major outages.

He also refused to join forces with Bill Gates on charity endeavors because the Microsoft founder had bet against the success of Tesla on the stock market.

The book also says that Musk, who frets about depopulation, now has 10 children, including a previously unknown child with on- and off-again partner Grimes.

Reviews have been mixed, with the Washington Post praising the reporting but disappointed that Isaacson “prioritised revealing anecdotes and behind-the-scenes reportage over a sophisticated critical lens.”

Influential US tech pundit and Musk critic Kara Swisher said the book told the story of a “sad and smart son (who) slowly morphs into (the) mentally abusive father he abhors.”

“Often right, sometimes wrong, petty jerk always,” she said of Musk’s portrayal in the book.

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