Takeaways From a New Elon Musk Biography: Ukraine, Trump and More

A brand new biography of Elon Musk portrays the billionaire entrepreneur as a fancy, tortured determine whose brilliance is commonly overshadowed by his incapacity to narrate on a human stage to the folks round him — his wives, his kids and people on whom he relied to assist develop the house exploration and electrical automobile companies that made him the wealthiest man on Earth.

Mr. Musk’s life to date — his troublesome childhood in South Africa, his stormy romantic relationships, his success as a visionary who constructed SpaceX and Tesla, and his impetuous determination to purchase Twitter — is detailed by way of scores of interviews together with his household, buddies, enterprise associates and Mr. Musk himself.

The e book, which shall be launched on Tuesday, is by Walter Isaacson, the journalist whose earlier works have chronicled the lives of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin.

It opens with a quote from Mr. Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who as soon as stated, “The people who find themselves loopy sufficient to suppose they’ll change the world are those who do.”

The New York Times purchased copies of the e book at a retail retailer that was promoting it prematurely of its approved launch.

Mr. Musk purchased Twitter in October 2022 for $44 billion, after a shock bid for the corporate after which a seeming reluctance to comply with by way of with the deal.

  • Days after Twitter’s board authorised the deal, Mr. Musk instructed his 4 teenage sons that he had bought the social community to sway the following U.S. presidential election. “How else are we going to get Trump elected in 2024?” he stated. (It was a joke, Mr. Isaacson writes, however Mr. Musk’s sons nonetheless didn’t perceive his rationale for purchasing Twitter, an app they not often used.)

  • After buying Twitter, Mr. Musk and his lieutenants combed by way of its workers’ inside communications and social media posts, on the lookout for indicators of disloyalty, Mr. Isaacson writes. The “musketeers,” as Musk loyalists have been identified inside Twitter, searched Twitter’s Slack archives for key phrases together with “Elon,” and fired dozens of workers who had made snarky feedback about Mr. Musk.

  • Mr. Musk staged a shock raid on a Twitter information facility in Sacramento, Calif., final winter, shortly after buying the corporate. Mr. Musk had determined to maneuver servers housed within the facility to a different Twitter information heart to chop prices, however Twitter’s infrastructure leaders warned him that shifting the costly tools safely may take months. In a match of anger, Mr. Musk determined to maneuver the servers himself, enlisting a small group and a flock of shifting vans to haul them away on Christmas Eve. (He later stated he regretted the choice, which led to service outages.)

Mr. Musk’s sprawling household has been a supply of consolation amid the frequent turmoil of his industry-spanning enterprise pursuits, Mr. Isaacson writes. But his relationship together with his father, Errol, is a supply of trauma that is still with him.

  • Mr. Musk’s father is described as emotionally and bodily abusive and is quoted talking disparagingly of Black folks. When Mr. Musk agreed in 2016 to satisfy his father, from whom he has been largely estranged, a good friend remembers to Mr. Isaacson, “It was the one time I had ever seen Elon’s fingers shaking.” Mr. Isaacson writes, “There are sure individuals who occupy a demon’s nook of Musk’s head house. They set off him, flip him darkish, and rouse a chilly anger. His father is primary.”

  • While the musician Grimes, also called Claire Boucher, was giving start to his son X in May 2020, Mr. Musk took an image of the supply and shared it together with his family and friends, together with her father and brothers. Grimes was understandably horrified and scrambled to get it deleted. “He was simply clueless about why I’d be upset,” she instructed Mr. Isaacson.

Mr. Musk’s politics defy easy categorization. Despite his assaults on liberal critics, his rants towards “woke” Democrats and his occasional promotion of far-right conspiracy theories, he’s portrayed as extra disillusioned with the leftward drift of the Democratic Party than he’s a fan of Republicans.

  • Mr. Musk repeatedly professes to not be an admirer of former President Donald J. Trump, telling his biographer, “I’m not Trump’s fan. He’s disruptive.” Mr. Isaacson writes that Mr. Musk harbors a “deep disdain” for the previous president “whom he thought of a con man” and appeared, Mr. Musk says, “form of nuts.”

  • But neither is he a Biden supporter, although he tells Mr. Isaacson that he would have voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 had he solid a poll. (He determined to not vote as a result of he was registered in California and regarded it a waste as a result of the state was not aggressive within the presidential election.) Mr. Musk describes an encounter with Mr. Biden a number of years in the past through which he got here away unimpressed. “When he was vice chairman, I went to a lunch with him in San Francisco the place he droned on for an hour and was boring as hell, like a type of dolls the place you pull the string and it simply says the identical senseless phrases again and again.”

Mr. Musk has lengthy been frightened about synthetic intelligence, which he considers a possible existential menace. He was a co-founder of OpenAI earlier than breaking ties with the group in 2018, and lately introduced he was forming a rival A.I. firm, X.AI.

  • Mr. Musk “summoned” Sam Altman, the chief govt of OpenAI, to a gathering at Twitter’s headquarters in February 2023, shortly after the discharge of ChatGPT. Mr. Musk angrily requested Mr. Altman to “justify how he may legally rework a nonprofit funded by donations right into a for-profit that might make thousands and thousands.” The encounter, Mr. Isaacson writes, left Mr. Altman “pained.”

  • Mr. Musk’s determination to start out X.AI got here partly out of considerations about underpopulation. (He is the daddy of 10 kids.) “The quantity of human intelligence, he famous, was leveling off as a result of folks weren’t having sufficient kids. Meanwhile, the quantity of laptop intelligence was going up exponentially,” Mr. Isaacson writes. Mr. Musk believed that “sooner or later, organic brainpower could be dwarfed by digital brainpower.”

  • Mr. Musk’s gave X.AI’s early workers three objectives: Create an A.I. chatbot able to writing code, an A.I. chatbot educated to be politically impartial and a synthetic intelligence that might cause and pursue reality. “You ought to be capable of give it massive duties, resembling ‘Build a greater rocket engine,’” Mr. Musk instructed Mr. Isaacson.

Mr. Musk’s relationship with the media, which was already strained earlier than he purchased Twitter, reached new ranges of rigidity after the deal was introduced.

  • The “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David confronted Elon Musk on the marriage ceremony in 2022 of Ari Emanuel, the chief govt of the media conglomerate Endeavor, who had seated them on the identical desk. “Do you simply need to homicide youngsters in colleges?” Mr. David requested Mr. Musk, grilling him on his assist of Republican candidates within the wake of the college taking pictures in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 college students lifeless. “No, no,” Mr. Musk replied, in response to Mr. Isaacson. “I’m anti-kid homicide.” Mr. Emanuel additionally seated the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, one other Musk critic, on the identical desk. “It ended up being a microcosm of Twitter,” Mr. Isaacson wrote.

  • As Mr. Musk’s erratic tweets broken Twitter’s relationship with advertisers, he sought counsel from boldfaced names within the media {industry} on the right way to restore the rift. One was David Zaslav, the chief govt of Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns HBO, the Warner Bros. film studio and CNN. They spoke for greater than an hour. “Zaslav instructed him that he was doing self-destructive issues that made it more durable to draw manufacturers that have been aspirational. He ought to give attention to bettering the product by including longer video choices and making adverts more practical.”

For years, Tesla has been the highest-profile enterprise in Mr. Musk’s portfolio of corporations, serving as a continuing supply of delight and stress.

  • The firm’s early struggles contributed to a protracted, troublesome interval for Mr. Musk, one which took a bodily and psychological toll, he instructed Mr. Isaacson in a 2021 interview. “You can’t be in a continuing struggle for survival, all the time in adrenaline mode, and never have it harm you,” Mr. Musk stated. But he additionally acknowledged that he had discovered function underneath stress: “When you’re now not in a survive-or-die mode, it’s not that straightforward to get motivated day-after-day.”

  • Even as the corporate discovered success, it attracted critics within the type of short-sellers who wager towards Tesla’s inventory. That observe reached a fever pitch in 2018 as Tesla struggled to satisfy manufacturing objectives, infuriating Mr. Musk, who referred to as short-sellers “leeches on the neck of enterprise.” But he acknowledged that a few of these merchants had additionally collected an impressively correct image of the corporate from insiders and even drones flying over Tesla’s manufacturing facility. “The diploma of inside info that they had was insane,” he stated.

  • Production sprints and struggles at Tesla and the house exploration firm SpaceX additionally sharpened Mr. Musk’s philosophy, which he distilled right into a five-step method that he referred to as “the algorithm” and which he repeatedly invoked to workers. It concerned, so as: questioning necessities, deleting elements or processes, simplifying and optimizing, accelerating processes, and, lastly, automating. “I turned a damaged file on the algorithm,” Mr. Musk instructed Mr. Isaacson.

Mr. Musk created SpaceX to assist humanity change into a multi-planetary species. The firm’s success to date is a credit score to his willingness to just accept dangers, typically efficiently and typically not.

  • During the countdown to a pivotal launch in 2015, an unidentified liquid started dripping from a Falcon 9 rocket, horrifying Mark Juncosa, a prime SpaceX official. Mr. Musk deliberated briefly earlier than deciding to proceed, leading to a profitable launch. At the time, Mr. Juncosa assumed that Mr. Musk had based mostly that call on a sophisticated danger evaluation, however realized he was incorrect after reviewing footage years later. “I believed he had finished some advanced fast calculations to resolve what to do, however in reality he simply shrugged his shoulders and gave the order,” Mr. Juncosa stated of Mr. Musk. “He had an instinct of what the physics have been.”

  • To obtain interplanetary flight sooner or later, SpaceX wanted to discover a technique to generate income within the current. So in 2015, Mr. Musk introduced Starlink, searching for to faucet into the profitable market of offering web service, on this case by way of a constellation of low-orbit satellites. The service has change into a significant lifeline to folks in struggle zones and helped the Ukrainian army defend towards Russian invasion. But Mr. Musk has additionally been criticized for not permitting Ukraine to make use of the service to launch a drone assault on a Russian naval base final 12 months, fearing that it could have provoked a serious escalation within the struggle. “We didn’t need to be part of that,” Mr. Musk stated.

  • In 2021, SpaceX for the primary time efficiently despatched a crew into orbit with no skilled astronaut aboard. Afterward, Mr. Musk mirrored on the function that he and his firm had performed in advancing house exploration. “Building mass-market electrical vehicles was inevitable,” he stated. “It would have occurred with out me. But turning into a space-faring civilization will not be inevitable.” He added, “This flight was an ideal instance of how progress requires human company.”

SARAH NIR contributed reporting.

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