Business Books & Co.
A monthly in-depth discussion of a popular business book.
7 months ago

[S4E5] Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson

The world's most accomplished and polarizing business leader laid bare.

Transcript
David Kopec

Love him or hate him, elon Musk is the most influential entrepreneur and business leader in the world today. In today's episode, we discuss Walter Isaacson's blockbuster biography of the richest man in the world. Welcome to Business Books and Company. Every month we read great business this books and explore how they can help us navigate our careers. Read along with us so you can become a stronger leader within your company or a more adept entrepreneur. This month we read the authorized biography elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson, perhaps the best known biographer in the world, had intimate access to Musk over a two year period of research for the book. This 700 page epic will give you unique insight into how the mind of perhaps the most powerful business leader in the world works. In this episode, we'll share some interesting insights from the book, tell you what we liked, tell you what we didn't like, and who should really read this best selling biography. But before we get to Elon Musk, let's introduce ourselves.

David Short

Hi, I'm David Short. I'm a product manager.

Kevin Hudak

I'm Kevin Houdak, chief research officer at a Washington, DC based commercial real estate research and advisory firm.

David Kopec

And I'm David Kopek. I'm an associate professor of computer science at a teaching college. So let's start with world famous author Walter Isaacson. Why is Walter Isaacson so well known? What did he do before this book?

David Short

Isaacson is best known for his biographies of luminaries, including ben franklin, albert einstein, steve jobs, and leonardo DA vinci. But he has also been the CEO of the Aspen Institute and CNN, as well as the editor of Time magazine.

David Kopec

So an interesting thing about him is he has a lot of business experience himself, actually. He's not just a random writer, one of those guys who never gets out of the ivory tower. Most of our audience, I think, is familiar with the general outline of Elon Musk's life. But I think it's good if we give a quick summary so maybe we can work on this all together. Of course, he was born in South Africa, and when he went to college, he first went to Canada. Then he transferred to UPenn. And with his cousin and his brother, he started several companies. Over the next few years, with his brother, he moved to California and started Zip Two, which was kind of an early Yelp like site. And then he went on to start X, which was trying to revolutionize online finance. X ended up merging with PayPal, and together they became the PayPal that we know today. So those two were both successful. They had successful exits for him. He had a bunch of cash, always had an interest in space exploration and went on to found SpaceX, which of course, today is the main launch mechanism for NASA aircraft. It's the way that most satellites in the US. Get to space. Pretty incredible what it's done in 20 years. But at the same time he was the dual CEO of Tesla, which of course makes the world's most common electric cars, and his cousin started SolarCity, but he was highly involved in it. Tesla eventually merged with SolarCity and SolarCity through Tesla now, of course delivers solar panels, solar roofs, power walls, and that's not enough. He's also done several other really cutting edge startups. Neuralink, trying to put ships in people's brains, the Boring Company, trying to build tunnels for traffic, and most recently and most controversially, perhaps, he purchased Twitter last year and has renamed it X, taking it full circle back to one of his first startups. He's had five marriages. He has eleven kids. I believe he is known now for kind of his politics, which most people would consider on the right wing. He is currently, at the time that we're recording, the richest man in the world. And on a personal note, he's self described himself as autistic, being on the autism spectrum, and I think he's one of the most famous people who is autistic, actually.

David Short

And we actually have a number of episodes that listeners could go back to reference if they want to go deeper on some of these particular stories. So we did an episode on the founders with Jimmy Sony covering the founding of PayPal and X and the merger all the way through the acquisition by Ebay. We also read Liftoff by Eric Berger covering the early days at SpaceX, a number of stories that we hear in this book. And actually I believe founders at work even goes into a number of vignettes related to PayPal with some Max Levchin interviews at least, and maybe someone else I don't even remember. But yeah, going all the way back to season one.

David Kopec

Yeah.

Kevin Hudak

And Dave, I thought you did a great job summarizing his career thus far. I was most surprised to read more about Zip Two because I really wasn't familiar with what his brother Kimball and Greg Corey and others had really done with Zip Two. I was quite surprised. It wasn't just sort of a Yelp.com. It was really like a city guide with interactive maps with directions to different businesses and destinations. And Musk and his brother had really coded it from the bottom up, and at first they really looked at it as more of a b to B play. So they were partnering with some of these newspapers, whether it was Night Ridder or the New York Times Chicago Tribune. And I thought that was very much ahead of its time. And I remember in the book we have Isaacson recounting how they were getting slack from the Yellow Pages owners. No one's ever going to replace the Yellow Pages. And somebody walked into his office, I remember, with the big thick copy of the Yellow Pages and trying to almost intimidate them into there's no way you're replacing, you know, right now ubiquitous is city searches and Google Maps and things like that for our life. The Yellow Pages might exist, but who has a big copy of the Yellow Pages anymore?

David Kopec

Yeah, that's a great point. And that's another important thing to mention about him is that he's highly technical. Not only was he a successful programmer, but he actually gets very involved at a physics level in the work at SpaceX and highly involved in a lot of the technical work at Tesla. And he's personally taking on managing the software development now at X. So on top of being a successful business person, he's been a successful technical leader at all of his companies.

Kevin Hudak

Well, remember, the rules of physics, I think, are some of the only rules that he actually respects because they're mostly immutable. He does not respect the rules of deadlines, the rules of finance, the rules of HR and talent. But one thing that Isaacson does harp on and quotes him quite a bit is that the only rules that he really does respect and he knows that he can't change are those of physics. And so given his physics and engineering education both in Canada and the US. I thought that just gave him a really good head start to do what he did with Sip, two laterx.com PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, et cetera.

David Short

The funny thing about all of that is that while Elon certainly fashions himself an engineer and he's done a lot of impressive engineering things, his actual academic pedigree is only in economics and physics. So he didn't actually get a degree in engineering.

David Kopec

Yeah, he was going to go to, I think it was UCLA in physics, or was it Stanford?

David Short

He started at Stanford for his PhD. But he, I think, basically stopped one month in or maybe didn't even actually formally start.

David Kopec

I think it was like one day in I think he showed up and then was like, yeah, I'm going to go do the startup. It was something like that. Yeah, he's self taught largely in a lot of these fields.

Kevin Hudak

And I also think one thing that's important is that he is impressionable, right? He is not a stonewall to new ideas. Most importantly, when he just went to that meeting of I believe it was called the Mars Society and heard some speakers talking about Mars and the need for humanity to be a multi planetary species and some of that. Early impressionability that he had. Just being like a sponge and soaking up knowledge, whether in school or going to these events, I think was super important. Even going back to one thing I noted was Elon Musk, I believe, had his sons write letters to prominent scientists and world leaders, things like to I remember Elon and Kimball would try to arrange meetings with some of the more prominent folks wherever they were living. We saw that happen with Rockefeller. Remember in the Rockefeller Book? Titan by Ron Chernow? The Rockefeller kids growing up would always be encouraged to have those sorts of meetings with folks and just try to barge in the doors and have those conversations. I thought it was very interesting to learn that about Elon as well.

David Kopec

David, I love that you mentioned our prior episodes. Two other Elon Musk books, and I will actually put a link to both of those in the show notes so our listeners can get access to them. Before we get deeper into the book itself, I thought we should mention right off the bat something about its structure, because the book has a very unusual structure. The first half of the book is like a traditional biography. You get about a chapter per year, on average, of Elon's life. Then the second half, or you might say the last third, it's somewhere around there. The book totally transitions to going about a month per chapter or a couple months per chapter, because that's when Isaacson started following Musk. So you go from kind of this very hands know, feels like a third party is analyzing this person's life to suddenly Isaacson inserting himself in the story at some parts and really giving you a play by play of what the years 2021 to 2023 were like. So a very, very different feel in the second half of the book from the first half of the book. Speaking of that unconventional structure and Isaacson's kind of like Shadowing of Musk for a couple of years, how did you feel about that level of access?

Kevin Hudak

I thought it was really Know. We had mentioned before that Isaacson had amazing access, including those full two years joining Elon for what were really high impact confidential meetings, receiving around the clock text messages and emails from Elon. Elon even encouraged his friends and colleagues and even some of his enemies to speak to Isaac sin at length. For some of the book, particularly in that first half or two. He's referring to other pieces on Elon. Even some of those books that we've covered in the Know most prominently Lift Off by Eric Berger at Know. I thought it was almost not jarring, but it was very surprising in the second half, Dave, as you mentioned, you start seeing the personal pronoun I throughout the book, and you start seeing Isaacson really insert himself more into the narrative. At one point, it seemed like Elon was bouncing ideas off of Know, particularly in even some interpersonal matters. Did it seem like I handled this too harshly? I would maybe entertain some ideas that maybe Walter got a little too close to his subject as well in some of these things, and we saw some of the results of that, but maybe that's the right thing to do as a world class biographer. It resulted in some stunning vignettes, some stunning scenarios of what Elon was like in that Twitter war room, what he was like when he was going to the Tesla factory and doing design meetings with his designers and engineers. So I thought overall contributed to a pretty positive take and lens through which we viewed the recent life of Elon Musk.

David Short

One thing I just noticed was, to be honest, a lot of the SpaceX stuff felt very similar to Eric Berger's book. And I know we did a whole episode on it and I know it is cited in the book, but the way that Isaacson does citation in this is very broad. So it's just sort of for each chapter there's a list of sources in general and it just did feel like there was a whole lot that came out of that book. And I don't know, I just was surprised that there wasn't a more detailed focus on Annotation and where references might have come from. Especially given the fact that so much of it is primary interviews and whatnot at the end that it just feels like especially someone at Isaacson's level where I'm sure he has research assistance, et cetera, to help him with this. That there just could have been a little bit more focus on specifically citing what happens and where he got the information from.

Kevin Hudak

Yeah, I agree with that too. David Short and I would also say that this made me want a sequel to Liftoff, right? Because I remember the cinematic quality of Liftoff that I often cite. And now we get to see the, you know, Isaacson describes the Falcon Heavy, the Starship, and I really would love to also see that through that narrative of Eric Berger because I thought that book was absolutely exceptional.

David Kopec

He also heavily used Jimmy Sony's book, The Founders for the PayPal section of this book. In fact, if you go back and you look at the sources, it says that Jimmy Sony generously handed over all of his notes to Isaacson. So you're getting a lot of kind of a summary of these two other books that we read within this book, which, if you haven't read the other two books, they're both great books and you should listen to our prior two episodes. But you're getting a lot actually of their content in this book, which might be a good thing for those who only want to read a single Elon Musk book. Now, Kevin, earlier you mentioned that there were some surprising revelations. Some of those came out of the fact that Isaacson was so close to him. Let's talk about a few of those.

Kevin Hudak

Yeah, I thought earliest in the book, and not necessarily surprising to me per se, but really his extreme childhood, often getting beaten by bullies on his playground, going to summer camps where the boys would beat each other up. And that was meant to convey some sort of personal development and maturity, but it more resembled the Lord of the Know. Aside from that, in South Africa, he also had a very, very tumultuous relationship with his father that had some small highs and successes, but was ultimately really.

David Short

Fraught with low know.

Kevin Hudak

Isaacson seems to be making the case that many of elon's demons that were cited by so many of his coworkers and even his partners, like grimes, the dark elon, almost mirror the behaviors of elon musk. The breaking point between elon and errol that I did not know about was when errol actually had two children with his much younger elon's. And I knew about that part, but what I didn't realize was that was really the breaking point where elon decided that this is now in a reparable relationship. And it was interesting that that last vignette was regarding his father. Was his father sending conspiracy theory emails to an email address that elon had already changed and forgotten about. And I thought that was an interesting and probably fitting send off for the character of elon musk. In this book. A few other things know. One, the extent of a back injury that elon musk suffered following a demonstration of sumo wrestling in japan where elon was in the ring and attempted a judo throw on a 350 pound sumo wrestler. He ended up actually blowing out a disc in the base of his neck. He had three operations to try to repair that disc, and at some points in the various headquarters that he has, isaacson described how he would have to lay on his back, lay flat on the floor just to try to get through that pain, and it becomes a big factor in the second half of the book. Speaking of health stuff, too, he ended up having a bout with malaria in 2001, where he almost died. I didn't know about that either, but I thought it was super interesting that elon, recognizing how important he was for the mission of x for PayPal for his future, he actually took out a 100 million dollar key man insurance policy, which actually would have been a lifeline for peter thiel and PayPal at that point. Peter thiel later went on to say that he was very, very glad that elon didn't die. Regardless, there and then. Finally, before I open it up to you guys, I really think it was a revelation to me the extent to which he locked down twitter while he was making the 75% layoffs or reductions in force. I thought it was crazy how he was able to fire most of the officers, including the CEO, as a surprise attack the night before they were meant to have their ride off into the sunset. And as a result, and you guys can correct me if I'm wrong, because he fired them before they resigned and before everything was triggered, he essentially saved the company $200 million in stock incentives that they would have otherwise received. So I said saving. But many people could say that's very well, stealing something that they might deserve from their past productivity and their past.

David Kopec

Performance, while what elon would say was it was their past lack of productivity that justified not giving them the stock options. That's hard for us as outsiders to really determine. Was the CEO doing a good job? I think his name was Agarwal before Musk was there or not. There's two sides to it in the book, but it's really only one side. It's really only elon's side because Walter Isaacson was so close. I want to go back to the childhood. The childhood really came across to me as violent, multiple violent incidents. They claimed he went to a summer camp where literally kids would die sometimes because of all the fighting between encourage fighting between.

Kevin Hudak

It was only one a year.

David Kopec

Dave gopack, okay, only one kid a.

David Short

Year would mean that honestly jumped out to me as like, how is that not fact checked by like, did that happen or not? Because I could believe that the counselors may have told it. But then Isaacson even kind of frames it that way and it's like, well, why didn't you do I mean, he must have he must have done the research. And found out that they did not, in fact die, but just decided to go ahead and leave the elon quotes in because it's more cinematically interesting. But come on, children died annually at this place. Of course there's no way it's true.

David Kopec

David Short and I read a previous biography of Elon Musk called elon musk and the quest for a fantastic future by Ashley Vance. I think it came out in 2014 or 2015. And if I recall from that book, the incident where he got beat up and thrown down the stairs at school was covered, and that was here in this book, too. And I thought Ashley Vance was trying to cover his childhood pretty well, and that alone seemed like, okay, elon was getting really bullied, and maybe a lot of his personality was shaped by that bullying that went on in his youth. But this book takes it to a whole nother level. I mean, it really feels like he was regularly being exposed to both violence against him as well as witnessing extreme violence. Like, they mentioned once that him, his cousins, and his brother went to a concert, and they walked us by people who had been shot in the street with blood dripping out of, like the level of violence in that first chapter of his life is something that I would think would cause all kinds of PTSD and trauma for anybody.

Kevin Hudak

Well, and Elon is know with multi planetary species, with getting to know this idea, it's almost like an apocalyptic prophet sometimes that we need to get off the planet, but it's also like, what is the joke about folks with know, I'm paranoid because people are out to get me. And it really did seem like growing up in pre and post apartheid South Africa, it looked like the world was falling apart around him. So it almost makes sense that he then carries that need to escape, that need to move from him at an early age. I was also surprised, Dave Kopek, when I thought that May Musk and Elon had a very sweet relationship. Obviously, they were next to each other in the SNL appearance, and Isaacson covers that. But it was actually Elon who was the first of the children to leave May and move in with his father, Errol, in the place that he was living. And that was Know, Isaacson explained it that Elon sort of almost felt bad for him or didn't want him to spiral even more, but I thought that was really interesting. And then some of the other kids, like Kimball, followed him to the father's house where they know at first it was very warm and friendly and they were showered with gifts and experiences. But then it's always Know reversing back to his worst demons, his worst self.

David Kopec

Yeah, I mean, Errol comes off as somewhere between a lovable rogue and somewhat criminal. I mean, he's somewhere between those extremes and he kind of seems to osculate between them, depending on his mood.

Kevin Hudak

Well, remember, Too, Elon also bought into some of this and transmitted. Remember, you know, you have Isaacson saying clearly Errol was not he did not own an emerald mine. He was more like an emerald smuggler almost. And then I believe when Elon had his first girlfriend, I don't think it was Justine, but it was a girlfriend in Know, he told her that her father owned an emerald mine. So there's also kind of selective embracing of Errol. And it's again like Rockefeller, too, growing up know, his father, there's selective embracing of the tactics and ethos of the father. Then there's sort of selective discounting of that as well.

David Short

And it is ultimately and this was a shock to me, I guess I'd vaguely heard about it, but I didn't know the details that Errol actually has, I believe, multiple children now with Jenna, his former stepdaughter. So it's a really crazy story. And the way they tell it in the book is that it was when Errol visited with Jenna's mother and her, elon noticed something inappropriate with them and he forced Errol to leave at that point and sort of distanced himself from that. Ever since, he suspected something untoward there. Again, I think we only really have that from Elon's perspective here. So who knows if that's specifically what really happened there. But that entire story is crazy and it certainly does make you believe that Elon certainly went through a very difficult upbringing with that man.

Kevin Hudak

Well, remember too, Dave short. So Elon actually put Errol on a boat out at sea to try to moderate his disgusting behavior, as Elon tells it. And that didn't even stop it. But in the end, that was well, in the future when we're looking at I believe it was zip two, was it that Errol invested about $200,000 worth of money. May Musk did as well. And so in the beginning, it was sort of that initial lifeline that helped Elon and Kimball really put that company together.

David Kopec

Uhoh, you brought that up. Now everyone's going to say, well, he just got lucky. He was just born to the right parents, right? Doesn't seem like he was. I mean, those parents at least. Errol was super harsh. But the rest of the family is actually pretty fascinating on its own. The family history going back a couple generations is covered pretty well in the book. And his brother, of course, is a very successful entrepreneur. His mother was, I believe, a successful model. And Errol himself, while he is probably a criminal, is a fascinating character and somebody who certainly exposed his sons to the entrepreneurial lifestyle, to the zest for adventure. And so I think there's some real positive qualities that he came away from from this kind of troubled youth as well.

David Short

The other thing I would add is Isaacson's relationship with Errol seems quite complex in this book. As you know, while Elon hasn't talked to his father in many years, apparently Isaacson seems to have grown fairly close with them where they were regularly communicating over these years.

Kevin Hudak

And in the Acknowledgments, he kind of thanks him profusely he identifies him. And I thought it was kind of a warm thanks reserved for Errol and the family as well.

David Kopec

Okay, let's move on and talk a bit about how Elon Musk, the manager, comes across throughout this book. Of course, this is a business podcast, so my sense was that there was a lot of comparison from the beginning to the end of Elon Musk to Steve Jobs. And that makes sense because Isaacson wrote, of course, the best selling biography of Steve Jobs, which was also an authorized biography of arguably the most famous business person at the time. So Isaacson would be the perfect person to compare the two. But he does a ton of it throughout the book. And at least as Elon comes across in this biography, I think it's a fair comparison. The two big traits I notice that they have in common. One is they're both extremely results driven almost to a fault. And then the other side of that is really being a micromanager, extreme attention to detail, trying to understand how every single part of the product works, getting personally involved in product decisions at the lowest level, and having a strong technical understanding. Now, I think Elon Musk has a stronger, even technical understanding than Steve Jobs did. For sure, I would say. But they both weren't like, in the clouds. They really knew what was going on. What did you think about the comparison between Elon Musk and Steve Jobs?

Kevin Hudak

So I thought that the comparison was absolutely critical. I can't say it better than Isaacson. So I'll just read a very short section. According to Isaacson, what set them apart is that Musk, unlike Jobs, applied that obsession not just to the design of a product, but also to the underlying science, engineering, and manufacturing. Quote from Larry Ellison. Steve just had to get the conception and software right, but the manufacturing was outsourced. Ellison says. Elon took on the manufacturing, the materials, the huge factories. Jobs loved to walk through Apple's design studio on a daily basis, but he never visited his factories in China. Musk, in contrast. And now back to Kevin here. Remember, he would sleep in a tent or in a sleeping bag on the roof of the Fremont Tesla factory. He would literally station himself in the conference rooms of the factories to monitor the supply chain, walk around to individual ports on the assembly line for the Tesla plant, just to check in with those engineers. So as a result, versus Jobs, he really had that core understanding of what was going on, the production level. Remember, he was always interested in either replacing or cutting.

David Kopec

Right.

Kevin Hudak

And so he would always look for ways to do the job cheaper with less weight for the rockets and deleting things, as opposed to just letting them sort of live on. And I also think, just to add Dave COPEC, isaacson also makes a strong comparison between Jeff Bezos and Elon here, right. Because Elon is much more in tune with the foundational engineering the infrastructure of his projects, right. SpaceX versus Blue Origin. Elon really lives that mantra that the product manager and the project folks should be as close to the engineers as possible and have that near symbiotic relationship. And it really shows in some of the results. Right. Like, Bezos and Elon had a fun back and forth, but ultimately it was Elon's company that was getting humans to the International Space Station and back, where Jeff Bezos was basically launching just suborbitally with Will Shatner and others and bringing them back down. I think when we talk about Elon Musk's management style, I just wanted to also chime in on the importance of the algorithm. Right. This was what Elon and later all of his disciples at his various companies lived by. And there were five commandments. The first was question every requirement and who it came from, even if that meant going to the engineer, going to the regulator who made a requirement, and questioning them, challenging them about it. The second commandment was delete any part of the process you can. The third, simplify and optimize. The fourth, accelerate cycle time. Right. Elon sort of jokes that he's the gas and he's meant to accelerate everyone around him, and then five, and very deliberately last automate as much as you can. Right. But don't over automate. He always says automate last, or else you'll end up with his self confessed over automation at the Fremont Tesla assembly lines. Right. He came in and realized that we were automating things that humans can actually do better than machines right now. So really, that algorithm becomes something that's quoted in the hallways of the six plus companies that. Elon leads.

David Short

I think the perfect anecdote from the story about Elon's management style and the good and the bad of it is the Twitter server escapade. So over Christmas, I don't know if it was last year or two years ago, I guess it must have been last year. So less than a year ago, Elon decided that Twitter needed to get rid of their server farm in Sacramento. And so he told the infrastructure, know, we got to do this. They told, well, you know, it's going to take a month to plan it, and then it's going to take three months to do it. We'll have this done in April. And Elon said, no, that's ridiculous. We shouldn't have to wait that long. And they told him, well, it's what we have to do. And he was really frustrated about it. And so he goes off on a Christmas vacation with his cousins, and then midway through the vacation, one of the cousins comes up with the idea like, why don't we just go out to Sacramento and see what we can do? And so they know, they fly out to Sacramento, they show up in the middle of the night and they get someone in the facility to let them in. And the guy basically says, there's nothing you can do. We got to have this specific system that comes in to be able to lift them up, to then be able to unplug the servers. And then Elon says, well, I've set up servers before I know how to do this. And he pulls out a pocket knife and climbs down under the servers and unplugs pops up the floor below it and managed to unplug the first set of servers himself. So it escalates from there. And ultimately they're moving the servers out manually into trucks that they randomly found. They literally hire apparently someone who was recently homeless in order to do the moving of the servers. And it's a kind of ridiculous little system that they do. They actually agree to pause temporarily because it is like the day before Christmas. So they agree they'll wait until that weekend. So they do fly back to Kimballs for actual Christmas, but then they come back three days after Christmas. And in three days they manage to get out 700 of the servers from that Sacramento place and send it over to Portland. Apparently 30 servers per month was the fastest that had ever been evacuated from this building before. They managed to do 700 in three days. But it seems like a great story. Oh, Elon move fast and break things like it's no big deal. We later find out that according to the book, things are still breaking at Twitter as a result of this paper. So Elon didn't actually know what he was doing. The infrastructure team had told him that it was going to be really impactful. And it turns out that there were 70,000 different places where there was hard code that specifically referenced the sacramento center. And so, no, there wasn't redundancy. You couldn't just unplug these servers. It turned out these servers actually had private customer information. And so it was potentially illegal to actually even do the transfer that they did. And they still decided to proceed with it. And they just put a lock on the servers, on the trucks that were being sent across the country to Portland and some air tags in the truck, and it all worked out. They got the servers, but it actually didn't. It broke twitter, it caused instability. Ultimately, they claim in the book, it was the reason that spaces went down when ron DeSantis did his announcement for becoming a candidate for president, the reason for the instability was because of this. Who knows? Again, that's kind of covering for another elon story. So I'm not sure I fully believe that's the reason why things broke, but it was a really interesting story to see because it's just know, elon is this force of nature. He can make things happen that would never happen otherwise, but he can be fundamentally wrong about the whole thing that he's doing too. And this idea that you can just take things back to basic physics is not always true. You actually do need to understand what are the processes that are going on within an organization to be able to know whether or not the basic physics about whether or not the servers can move is the only thing that matters.

Kevin Hudak

And Dave short, you brought up what I thought was a shocking revelation that I was going to mention later was the ron DeSantis spaces announcement. I had never heard or knew that it was the server keeper that led to that. And I think about the server keeper, elon later says that was one of the times he calls it, I believe, like shot in the kevlar foot or shot that he shot himself in the foot. The other thing I found funny about the server caper was that his youngest nephew or youngest cousin james musk is basically like a mini elon in some ways. And I remember that he was sitting there, they had movers to move the servers who build at $200 an hour, and he basically found the equivalent of college hunks moving junk for $20 an hour. And that was like his kind of mini cut like what elon would do at the top but his 200 /hour reduction a $20 per hour reduction at the same time with servers that expensive with all that private personal data on there, I would almost lean towards maybe pricing it a little bit higher than $20 per hour. And finding a provider who you have a little bit more trust in, yeah.

David Kopec

Sometimes it feels like he can be a cost cutter to a fault. Let's talk a bit about some of the controversies around elon musk. Now of course there are many and in fact, even as we're recording this, we won't go into them. But there are more, and it seems like there are more and more every week, but there are some big ones that are tackled in the book. I thought we could go through a few of them and talk about what we learned about those controversies as a result of reading the book. So let's start with the takeover of Twitter. Since we've just been talking about it, what did we learn about that takeover? Why did Musk take over Twitter?

Kevin Hudak

So his overall objective, I believe, was indeed freedom of speech. Right. He started getting this sort of anti woke attitude as he was growing older. But subconsciously, Isaacson suggests he may have kind of wanted to own the playground following all that childhood trauma that we just discussed, where he was always bullied on the playground. So I think Musk did like this idea of owning the playground. I will say the other really interesting thing about the takeover of Twitter was he at first was talking about that 44 billion number, something like $50 or more per share. He then had some second thoughts, and his family was very urgently telling him that he should not be taking this on. It's just not mission aligned, and it's just not him. I think Kimball was one of his strongest the advocates against this decision. Musk, to his credit, Elon musk actually did have some second thoughts. He started moving back. It sounds like Isaacson paints it as this idea of Twitter having more bots than they had known about at the beginning. He tried to use that as a rationale to pull out. But ultimately, the way Musk describes it, know, the judge sort of forced him to continue on with the same terms. And thus we now have slash X.

David Short

Yeah, I think a couple things that I remember from the time that maybe it's touched on a little bit, but I don't think it was focused on very much is that the entire market fell out from under tech. So the value of every comparable company, facebook, et cetera, crashed dramatically during this period. So while Elon offered what I think he claims is, like, maybe 50% above when he first started purchasing and, like, whatever, 30% above when it was announced that he'd purchased, he actually only offered I think it was like, 18% above what the price was at the time that he made the actual offer to acquire the entire company. Which I'm sure it's true that the price had gone up on rumors that Elon might do this, the fact that he was buying a lot. But that's actually a relatively low premium to offer in an LBO. Typically you see at least like a 25% premium, often 30%. So, like 18%. And he called it best and final offer. I think it wasn't necessarily that clear that Elon really wanted to do it, that it may have been a little bit of calling the bluff on everything else that was going on. But then the market turned around because again, what they don't really call out is that the twitter board was immediately pushing for poison pills and ways to block elon from doing this. They kind of like skipped over that part once the whole market collapsed, and now it was more like a 50% or more premium on the price. That was when the board then shifted gear into like, okay, well, we're going to force elon to actually close on this deal. And that was where he started to try to come up with are there ways he could get it for cheaper, are there ways he can back out? And I think what he realized is that, yeah, the delaware chancellor court is not where you want to try and back out of a business deal. And he had signed a pretty cut and dry contract that none of the claims that he was making remotely really justified pulling out of the deal. And so he was going to lose and at the very minimum, he was going to have to pay the billions of dollars sort of breakup fee, but probably he was going to actually be forced into actually purchasing. So he did go ahead and not go through the court case. I also thought it was interesting because while they dismiss it out of hand, there was a claim made in the book, again, kind of offhand by, I forget who it was. It was like some famous musician was supposed to go stay with Grimes and elon, and then Elon was kind of like being, know, annoying and she didn't like him and they didn't really spend any time together. And then grimes left, and so they were supposed to make music together and know, she went off and was taking care of elon. That artist then claimed that elon was on acid, I think, and that was why he bought twitter, which again, there's no reason to believe that's particularly true, but I thought it given all the stories we're hearing about him, I wouldn't.

David Kopec

Put it past that's. A great summary. I'm wondering if the two of you can vote. Do you think he bought twitter for his personal vanity or because he really believed in free speech or the most unlikely of the three, he actually thought it would be a good business. So which one was it for each of you? What did you come away with in the book?

Kevin Hudak

I really think that it was personal vanity followed by freedom of speech followed by he actually thought it would be a good business. Although he did say to a number of his trusted friends, colleagues, as reported by Isaacson, that he did see a fundamental opportunity to increase the value of twitter quite substantially. So he was saying that, but I still do think it was more personal vanity followed by freedom of speech followed by the actual business model.

David Short

I think the business model had nothing to do with it. But once he realized he had had an albatross and he paid dramatically more than he should have, then he felt compelled to do all the cost cutting, et cetera, to make it make sense. I think he believes that it was entirely about free speech. I think he is certain of that in his own head. But then we saw what he actually did with the company once we bought it, which is clear that is like, everything entirely going to be based off of his own capricious whims. And so once he was in charge of it, he immediately does interesting things for free speech, but also very quickly does atrocious things for free speech, like banning the Elon Jet Twitter account just months after he'd said, I would never ban this thing, even though it's doxxing my own location. And to be honest, I totally understand him doing that. I can see it. If my own child had gotten into some physical altercation with a stalker, I can totally believe taking a rational action against free speech, against whatever. It's my company and it is his company. He absolutely has a right to do whatever he wants with it. But if the idea was that I'm going to buy this thing because free speech needs a platform, and then you ban someone for doxing your location even though it was actually a couple of days before the thing with little X happened. And then I think much worse than banning the Elon Jet thing because whatever, to some degree, I can kind of understand the banning the doxing concept, although, again, completely baseless. He never considered that was something he should do until it was his own child that he was worried about. But then he banned all the journalists who had linked to the Elon Jet account and he claimed that was because they were effectively doxxing him as well, which wasn't true, because he had already shut down the Elon chat account and so they were actually linking to a blank Twitter page. So he banned all the journalists because he was annoyed at them and that he didn't like just it's straightforward. Maybe it wasn't what he thought. Maybe he thought that they were doxxing him in a way he didn't realize what was going on exactly. But again, you're the leader of a $40 billion company or whatever it's actually worth now. You shouldn't be that capricious about the things that you're doing. I do think that he does care about free speech. I do think that that probably is the primary component and the reason that he wanted to do it. But ultimately he cares about the free speech that he cares about. He doesn't actually care about true free speech. And it's been clear from the actions that he's taken afterwards that once it's something that he feels like he's uncomfortable with, he's going to take action quickly, although he is ultimately willing to back down a lot of those things. So he is willing to learn, but he's clearly not the free speech absolutist that he claims to be.

Kevin Hudak

Two quick points on the Twitter takeover, too, almost revising my earlier comment about the ranking. There one, remember he founded X, right? And X.com to revolutionize online payments and really revolutionize the banking and currency system. He started saying to justify the Twitter acquisition, that via Twitter he could almost achieve some of X's original objectives. And you're seeing that when he's validating folks and giving them the blue checks based on their credit card information. On one hand, it's to make sure they're not a bot, but on the other, at some point he'd like to start monetizing Twitter more and kind of moving it more towards X. The second point I wanted to make, and maybe this might be an original thought, I was listening to an interview with Michi Okaku, the famed cosmologist and astrophysicist at City University of New York, and he was talking about the type one, type two, type three civilizations, right? A type one civilization masters all of the energy on its own planet. Type two is building Dyson spheres to master the energy of its solar system. But what Michio Kaku mentioned was social media. And by the way, we on Earth as humans are well below type one right now in his ranking. But he did say that social media and the Internet is a type one civilization way of communicating, right, by breaking those barriers down. And I think it would have been interesting if Elon had put that spin on the acquisition of Twitter. If we want to be multi planetary, if we want to move towards a type one or a type two civilization, social media and largely Twitter would be part of that, right? That global information sharing and just the breadth of knowledge that could be on Twitter minus the shit posts and memes.

David Kopec

I thought that was a great summary by both of you and I'm going to come down on the side of personal vanity. I think it's clear to me between the lines, the whole playground theory that David Short brought up is kind of one of the core explanations here of why he enjoys X so much. While we're speaking of X, by the way, listeners can follow us on X. We're at Business Books Co. And I'll put a link to that in the show Notes next controversy I want to get into, was he a true founder of Tesla? Now there's a whole documentary about this. There was a lawsuit about this. Legally, there already was an entity. So he didn't found the first Tesla legal entity, but he was there almost from the beginning. Should he be considered the core founder or do the other folks deserve more of the credit?

Kevin Hudak

So I won't make a claim around the deserving to be a core founder what it was. The official incorporation was by Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarpening. Through a number of connections, references, elon was introduced to them, and he invested $6.5 million in Tesla becoming its chairman. Musk then activated some of his connections. I believe he brought in JB Straubble as CTO, but the momentum and a center of gravity in the company, as it does in Elon companies, really moved towards Musk and his relationship, his partnership with JB Straubl, you started seeing some rifts. Tarpenting was more interested on the financial side. Eberhard was more of an operational guy. But on the operations, product development, the design, the supply chain, Everhard just kept disappointing Elon. The rift that formed between the more practical Everhard and Musk was really intense. And ultimately Everhard was actually asked to leave by Musk, and they really canned him during a meeting that Eberhard wasn't even at. But despite that, they continued some relationship. At one point, they were going through a lot of fights around who actually were the founders. And because of this, Musk ultimately reserved tons of animus towards. Eberhard says that he is one of the most hated characters in the story of his life, and it did take a lawsuit to essentially ensure that really all four of them are listed as official co founders of Tesla. And it went through the press as well. They weren't mentioning Elon in press releases. He then threatened to fire the prestigious PR firm they were using. There was all sorts of back and forth around that question that you have COPEC around the founding and who the founders are.

David Short

I think that from a traditional startup definition of a founder, he probably isn't, really. But I think it's absolutely true that Elon made Tesla the company that it is. So I don't, you know, investors that come in and then take such an incredible role quite early in a company's history be considered founders. I don't mean founder whatever. I guess it's whatever in the eye of the beholder type thing. It means different things to different people. Clearly, Tesla had existed for an extended period of time without him, but it was basically a garage kind of situation, and Elon turned it into a real he's. He's certainly, I think, accurately credited with its success. Whether you should technically be a founder, I don't know.

David Kopec

I mean, if you're the founder of something that doesn't really do anything, which seems to be what the legal entity was at when Musk joined it, does that really matter? So, for example, when Jobs and Waz founded Apple, they were already making the Apple one and selling it by the time that they got serious investors. So I don't really see what those two I forgot the names off the top of my head did at the very beginning was significant enough that they should be considered founders of the entity that we know today as Tesla. Only from a completely technical, legal sense. Were they important as founders? In my opinion, at least from the.

Kevin Hudak

Story, it seems like the big idea was the bundling of the batteries, if I'm not mistaken. Right, sure. And the idea of really making electric vehicles more accessible, more sexy, et cetera. And it seemed like, though, Eberhard was just like we say that Elon sometimes shoots himself in the foot. He has a rule as part of the algorithm that if you don't have to restore 10% or 20% of what you deleted, then you didn't delete enough. But it does seem like Eberhard was actually missing a few key things, right. Jacking up the costs by going with so many varied supply chain providers. I really do think that without Elon, tesla just wouldn't exist today, or at least would fall very well short of being one of America's largest car producers, the globe's largest car producers. I mean, Elon brought some really great ideas there. And remember, there were elements of that assembly line when he had to add three or else or add one line or else the company would go under. I mean, I just didn't seem like Everhard was the person to get that done, and Elon was.

David Kopec

Yeah, I agree. I think actually all three of us agree that he's the key person, and regardless of if he's technically a founder or not, he's the founder in all but technicality. So let's go into just a little bit about his politics. I don't want to get into the specifics, but Elon has always claimed that he's a moderate, he's a centrist kind of guy. He says he voted for Obama. Of course, he gave Obama some famous tours of a couple of his factories. Today he's kind of seen as this far right guy. What's your sense from reading the book? Is he a moderate like he says he is, or is he kind of on the far right, as he's accused of being?

Kevin Hudak

Yeah, so I think on the political spectrum, I would place him as a bit leaning. Right?

David Short

For sure.

Kevin Hudak

Although he has been open minded, he's supported Democrat inspired policies in the past. I'd say economically he has a bit more of a libertarian streak and then culturally a bit more leaning right. When it comes to his very, very fervent anti woke attitude. Remember, he went through the Twitter offices after the acquisition and was sort of commenting on all of the quote unquote woke materials, memorabilia and merchandise they had. And so I do think he has a personal animosity towards the woke agenda, which I would kind of label as more of a right wing descriptor for know when you also look at it, if he's met Donald Trump a few times, right? And at first he was more confused by Donald Trump or just sort of intrigued by this guy, but then as he met him more, trump would know some more ridiculous things to him, or at least Musk thought they were ridiculous. He started saying that he was almost like the king of the con men. I don't remember the exact words that Isaacson uses through Elon, but he certainly had a large disrespect for Donald Trump. And I'd also say that it's interesting to note that what I would say is one of Elon's big pains that comes through in Isaacson's narrative is the lack of a relationship with his daughter Jana, who, you know, when it comes down to it, whenever he's accused of anti trans attitudes, he'll sort of fall back almost on that, well, I have a trans friend type excuse with reference to his daughter, but I certainly think that he wishes that he could put that relationship back together.

David Short

I really think he's basically just a libertarian and a troll. I think fundamentally his politics are generally libertarian. He wants the government to leave him alone and that includes on social issues and it includes military for the most part. But then he also just really believes and I'm going to butcher the phrase or whatever, but the funniest outcome is the most likely that whole corollary to I forget what the concept is, but he just likes to say things that he thinks are funny and that are going to enrage, you know, the woke mob that Kevin is referencing a little bit. And I think he just finds that funny. And so he likes to say things that are considered inappropriate. He likes to break barriers and say what other people would say you're not allowed to say. But I don't think he really is a Republican or a Democrat. I think, yeah, he mostly wants the government to leave him alone. He wants them to let him run his businesses. He thinks that his businesses are actually the things that are doing things that are really going to change the world and that governments generally kind of fail at those types of things. And he certainly had a bunch of experiences with government bureaucracy and whatnot that back up the things that he feels annoyed about. But yeah, I don't think he really has an allegiance to any politician or any political party. I think he mostly cares about his own businesses and himself and then he'll say things that upset a lot of people because he thinks it's funny.

Kevin Hudak

One thing that he and I certainly agree about is I remember an anecdote from Isaacson when he was sitting in one of the early Tesla models and it had the Highway Traffic and Safety Board yellow sticker for airbags and he just said, we have to take this off. It is terrible, it is ugly and I can't tell you how many of those I have in my cars that get dingy and that ruin the entire Ambiance. And remember after that they went through an entirely new piece of tech installed in those Teslas that deactivate the passenger airbags when there's no one sitting there.

David Kopec

So David said he's a libertarian. Kevin, you kind of hem and hawd, and you're a former political consultant, if I'm not mistaken. You have a whole former career in that world. So put him on the spectrum. Is he far right or what?

Kevin Hudak

I wouldn't say he's far right. I think that he like I said, if you divide it up between economic and social issues, he's very different. I think that he would probably, if he were to run for something, which I don't think he ever would do, he would most be aligned with the Republican Party. But I think that to Dave short's point, he would run as an independent, just troll folks. And I think that he would potentially gain a lot of support doing that.

David Short

I think he will run for president of Mars.

David Kopec

Okay, on that note, let's move on from controversies to elon. On a personal level. I think in this book we did actually get a really good sense of what he's like as a business leader, what it would be like to sit in a meeting with him, how he talks to his employees, what his expectations are of his subordinates. Let's talk about him as a friend. What about him as a father, what about him as a husband? What was the sense you got of elon musk, the man in elon musk, the book?

David Short

I think that he describes himself as having asperger's, and I think that he shows that quite a bit in the stories that we hear of his interpersonal relationships. I think he has a lot of difficulty knowing exactly what is the appropriate way to act in certain kinds of situations. I think he doesn't always care about social norms, and he certainly avoids them in a lot of ways, and I think that ultimately makes him an incredibly difficult person to be around. But he does seem to know an incredibly loving father in a lot of ways. He spends sounds like a lot of time with his children, although he has so many children that I guess it's probably hard to spend a lot of time with every one of them. But at least the youngest children, while Isaacson was around, he was spending a whole lot of time with, frankly, to probably a degree that many parents might feel was inappropriate. The kid is on a roof at 11:00 at night and getting whisked away in planes at 01:00 in the morning, and there's a lot of late night adventures with x that are maybe not what people think of as the best way to raise a child, but I think elon does really care about his children. Obviously, he's had difficulties with his relationships, but he seems to have surprisingly decent relationships with a lot of the women that he's had children with in the past, even despite multiple divorces, in some cases remarriages with the same woman after divorces, and even with grimes, according to the book, they decided to have another child. While they were breaking up. So they decided they weren't going to be together romantically, but that they felt good about the way that they were parenting together and decided to have an additional child even though they didn't think that they would stick together romantically. So he obviously has the resources to have all the children that he is having. So it's a very against the norm version of a family, but he seems to be as involved as he can be with his children in terms of his friendships. It also seems like he has a lot of difficulties there. He's just a hard person to be with and he's not going to be around a lot. And he's going to do what Elon is going to do and it's not necessarily going to be the thing that you think is the most important thing or that you told him there was something important. He may at the very last minute decide not to do it. But he has managed to maintain some of these relationships for very long periods of time, and oftentimes it is through kind of a combined professional and personal relationship. He certainly seems like he would be a very difficult boss to have. So, I mean, I know you were asking specifically about personal, but I do want to go into that a little bit here. There are a number of stories that they tell where he just really goes off at people, screams at them, calls them idiots, et cetera, that it would be incredibly frustrating to go through, I'm sure. And many of the employees that Isaacson saw go through these things didn't end up staying there even though they were incredibly highly valued. Uh, it's he's definitely a difficult person. I think we haven't really gone into it that much, but there is this sort of like dark side to Elon that they refer to quite a lot. That he goes through these periods of it seems like to me as whatever, armchair psychiatrist, some kind of manic depressive periods. He goes through these he's incredibly productive, working through the nights, solving all these problems, and then he goes into these very dark spells where the world is against him. He hates everything. He doesn't know where the sun is ever going to come from again. And so being around him in those dark periods is very difficult. And it sounds know the way that the people around him have grown to deal with that is know, leave him alone in those periods or find ways to find the right way to drive him into other. But yeah, certainly sounds like he would be very difficult to deal with personally.

Kevin Hudak

And just real quick, Dave Short I thought that was a great encapsulation of everything, but when you mentioned dark, elon or demon, I'm remembering when I saw the Grimes relationship, just as an outside observer, I sort of thought that was one of the more ridiculous ones with the children's names with their behavior. But really, of all of his partners or wives profiled in the book, I thought Grimes really captured and had an understanding of the dark Elon phenomenon the best, and seemed to understand him a lot better than the others. I'd also just add that it seems like he has a very good relationship with his brother Kimball. They had a few fallouts where they didn't speak for months at a time, but they would always seemingly come back together. Kimball was sort of the voice of his better angels sometimes. And I also mentioned, I believe it's Kimball's wife Christiana, who seems to almost be like a den mother in that know, constantly trying to reconnect Elon with Jenna and basically keeping the family together. So I thought that Isaacson provided a really nice lens for us to view the family relationships throughout the know. Every now and then you'd have a chapter in between chapters of Tech Madness and Company Madness, where it would be a warm family moment. I thought that was very good of him to do that.

David Kopec

So I agree that he came across as having a very good relationship with Grimes even when they weren't together, and also with Tallulah Riley, who he was with for a number of years, and even with his first wife, Justine, who a lot of the other family didn't like. Elon and her seemed to get along for quite a while. But I should point out that right around the time the book came out, actually, Grimes sued Musk for custody of the children, and now they're in some kind of big court battle between the two of them over child custody. And another thing I want to point out is that while he has ten children with his various wives and girlfriends, he also has, I think it's either one or two children with the head of Neuralink. And I thought that was a very interesting relationship captured in the book, because it claims in the book that the relationship is purely platonic and they're just really, really good friends. And that when she was thinking about, well, I want to have children, but I don't have a significant other, who else would I want to have as a sperm donor than Elon Musk? And it seems like they've handled that according to the book in a very professional way. But at the same time, I mean, there's all kinds of conflicts of interest there to be having a child, even if it's platonic, with somebody who's the head of one of your companies. And I thought the book could have explored that a little bit more.

David Short

Yeah, that's a good point, COPEC. They go into that a bit. And Isaacson does even raise sort of some mean. And the point that he makes is that it's actually a private company, so it technically doesn't have some of the same actual legal requirements around potential reporting of the relationship, et cetera. But yeah, she kept it a complete secret that the twins she was having were, in fact, Elon's. The way Isaacson tells it, it was not her idea. It was, you know, he said that she should have kids. Once she decided she was going to have kids and she was thinking about getting a donor, he offered to be the donor. And so, yeah, that is certainly, again, not the norm. I saw some statistic that at this rate, elon will have like 100 plus children if he continues. But yeah, certainly is strange. And he did not tell Grimes about any of that. So they were having their second child via a surrogate in the same hospital where Siobhan was know, going through tests related to the bearing of the twins as mean, it's literally seems like something out of a soap opera.

David Kopec

Just another example of when you're the world's richest man, the rules just don't seem to apply to you, and you can kind of do whatever you want. So we talked about a lot of great anecdotes from the book. I'm wondering which were the most captivating for the two of you as you were reading. Like Kevin likes to say, what were those cinematic moments for you throughout Elon Musk?

Kevin Hudak

Yeah, so I think one, the 2008 crisis for Elon Musk, it was almost his anis. Horrible. As Queen Elizabeth would have said. It was a year of immense struggle following the Amber Heard relationship tesla's supply chain Roadster issue, the SpaceX tests from Liftoff, resulting in those three, quote, rapid, unscheduled disassemblies.

David Kopec

Right.

Kevin Hudak

We saw one dimension of that terrible year for Musk in Liftoff, but seeing all three of those big inflection points coming together in the Isaacson book was really quite something. It's not just one anecdote or vignette from that time period, but it really puts you in his shoes almost as well. I mean, some of the captivating moments we mentioned before the server caper, right? They're the shooting himself in the foot moments. But some of those moments I thought were really cool. Like when Elon was playing with a Model S toy and he took it apart and looked inside of it, and he saw that the toy companies were just diecast molding, the entire underbelly or the chassis of the car. He asked his engineers, why can't we just do this? And they redesigned or created from scratch diecast machines that could actually put that together and ended up saving money, processing time, et cetera. On the cinematic moments, I love that you mentioned that know, obviously I'm a big fan of those moments. I thought that the idea of Musk and the, you know, war room with the three Musketeers that Isaacson speaks about deciding the fate of the employees in one conference room while all the employees were a few floors up or a few rooms over doing their big Halloween party, right. Some of the friendlies that they had, or even some of the targets they had would come into the conference room with their Halloween costumes still on. And I totally could look at that and I saw the Diehard office Christmas party, right? And you have the war room versus the folks that are celebrating. And I thought also the visuals around some of the settings, like the Zip two office near Dingy, Jack in the Box, the Starship launch, which ended up being an explosion party with the Goliath Starship vehicles standing behind them as they had a picnic, right? May and Elon and Grimes and X as well, or even the idyllic suburban splendor Austin neighborhood that they created from scratch or bought up that Musk kind of now lives in as his primary know, the way that Isaacson describes them, it's very visual. That neighborhood sounded like something out of that Jesse Eisenberg movie Vivarium, right? So very cinematic, very captivating at times, and also very down of the business. I mean, some things in that second half of the book read more like a transcript of meetings, but still interspersed were some of those cool cinematic moments like I like.

David Short

So I think Kevin listed a lot of them. And so I don't know that I have any that weren't among the list, but the two that jump out to me the most, as I guess, honestly, where you could tell a movie out of because to be honest, I think there's probably like ten movies you could have from this book. It's very detailed, it's a lot of incredible stories, a lot of drama, a lot of billions made and lost and all that. So I think it really does come down to one is that crazy year where both SpaceX and Tesla were both simultaneously about to go bankrupt. So, yeah, Kevin kind of went into some of the details there. I think that whole scenario of everything's blowing up, the world is blowing up, my companies are blowing, my my rockets are literally blowing up, and if this one last rocket blows up, Tesla's gone. And I forget what the thing was exactly with Tesla, but, oh, it was like they had to get up to 5000 vehicles a week or whatever it was, or Tesla was gone also. And so all of those things, like, happening simultaneously in the same year is just crazy. But that all came from long before Isaacson had been around. So I think in terms of this book, what I really learned the most about was the acquisition of Twitter. And so seeing that from the beginning, where he first starts making purchases, dealing with lawyers, talking to the board, talking to Parag, all the way through the acquisition, and then to Kevin's point, the three Musketeers. And I guess occasionally there was a fourth Musketeer being pulled in to review all the code and make the decisions on who's going to be cut. Seeing all of that from such a unique perspective inside, as Isaacson was, was really fascinating. I think probably will be a movie at some point.

David Kopec

I would like to see an indie movie based on a bunch of the smaller moments in the book. I actually loved getting a sense of what it's like to be the richest man in the world and also be a dad. And I thought there were some really sweet moments, specifically with his son X, who's about three years old, so is about the same age as my son, so I could relate to it a little bit. But not that I have a life like Elon Musk, but that he just loved being with him. Elon just loved taking him to meetings, taking him to work, going on the plane with him. I love that. And I also loved some of the moments in the relationships, like staying up all night with one of his girlfriends, playing a video game, even though he's got this huge business meeting the next day. Right. He just comes across as really human in a lot of those smaller moments and it's just like amped up the drama and the specialness of it when, you know, this guy is this important, this busy and this wealthy.

Kevin Hudak

I just like the fact COPEC that with X. Even Elon Musk is self aware enough to say he might be a bit too bold for a, you know, like when he's walking towards the fire pit, things like that. And so I think it's sweet that Elon is able to say maybe he doesn't need to be in the summer camp with the Lord of the Flies Ethos, and instead I'm going to take care of him. And I thought that was all very sweet.

David Kopec

Okay, let's think about the book as a whole. Now, what did you like about the book best?

Kevin Hudak

So I actually really liked one element that I didn't see touched on in other reviews was sort of the asynchronicity in some of the narrative, particularly in the first half of the book. Right. So, like, we'd hear about a crazy day on the Tesla side and a few chapters later, when discussing a SpaceX meeting, isaacson would then interject and say, well, this was the day. He had earlier received news about the next self driving experiment failure. We have to remember that at this point Musk was heading six companies, right? Isaacson mentions at his know Steve Jobs had two companies, Apple and Pixar. It really puts you in Musk's shoes, his brains almost right over the days I was reading the book, I really did feel like I was in his life almost at those moments because of that asynchronicity jumping from one thing to another, adding that near manic shifting in narrative. It really gave us a good lens for the experience of being Elon Musk. And I can't say that I liked all of that, particularly in some of those dark Elon moments, but it was something different for a biography, at least of those that I've read.

David Short

For me, it was really the later half of the book and just the access and detail that Isaacson had. So I just felt like I really learned a lot about what had happened with the Twitter acquisition that I hadn't seen anywhere else. So, yeah, that was the part that I enjoyed the most.

David Kopec

I enjoyed a lot of things about the book. One is, of course, this Walter Isaacson. It's very well written, so it's an enjoyable read. It's well put together. Like Kevin said, Isaacson makes the different stories weave together well. The other thing I really liked about it is, unlike a lot of business biographies, it really gives you a sense of the person as we've discussed, both on a personal level as well as on a business level. I can't tell you how many business biographies I've read, and I've read a lot that I really don't know at the end of the book what's this guy's management style, what's it like to actually work for this person. And you really do get that sense in Elon Musk and you really get the sense what it might be like to know him. And you can't really ask for more from a biographer. Unfortunately, a lot of biographies miss that. Let's talk about what we didn't like, what was bad for the two of you.

Kevin Hudak

So there was really not much that I disliked about the biography as a whole. Right. Like, some of the behaviors by Elon, some of the decisions he was making, I certainly sort of disagreed with or thought were maybe a little abhorrent in the moment. But in terms of the structure, not too much. That, you know, I think that the first half and the second half we've already mentioned were quite discordant in part because of the two years of crazy access that Isaacson was able to get. Those two years fill 300 plus pages right. Where the earlier 48 or so years are the first half. One reviewer I saw who's Virginia Postural said that the first two thirds of the book are like a, quote, epic romance like The Lord of the Rings or the Arthurian legends portraying the hero and his comrades overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles through daring, determination, cleverness and skill, all in the pursuit of noble goals. And that really echoed with me, and I really enjoyed the first half of the book as a result of that. The second half of the book, like I said, I know Short said that he really enjoyed that, and I did, too. But it definitely got too much into almost transcriptions of these meetings with the reader left to judge what's going on. I missed some of the earlier editorializing and the foreshadowing that Isaacson injected into that first half. And then the second half goes the way it does and then Isaacson's editorializing really only returns for the final few pages. And so I really wanted a bit more narrative flow in that second half.

David Short

So I sort of touched on this before, but to be like, I think you can read the Eric Berger book, the Jimmy Sony book, and the Ashley Vance books and you can get everything in the first half. I'm sure there are some details that are in there that weren't there. But to be honest, there was very little that I got was that was what I disliked about it was I've I've read a lot about Elon, and I just didn't get that much know hundreds of pages of so like that just felt like a little bit of wasted for for me personally, because I had read about so much about this stuff in the past. I would have rather just had what Isaacson actually learned that was unique and something that he had true access to as opposed to summaries of books that I've already read. But there are going to be many more readers who have not read those other things. So I'm not saying that they shouldn't have done this. Obviously if you're going to do a biography, you're going to tell the whole story, or at least that's the way Walter Isaacson has historically done it recently. So it's not surprising that's the approach that he took. But for me, it was just like I didn't get that much from those first few hundred pages.

David Kopec

Yeah. So for me, I did think that lack of balance between the first half and the second half was a problem. I actually thought some of the chapters in the first half should have been more detailed. Like PayPal is like a huge event that really launches Elon. I mean, you could say zip two did, but I mean, in terms of being part of the PayPal mafia and making all those connections, et cetera, et cetera. And I actually thought there should have been more. Of course you can read the Jimmy Sony book, but this is supposed to be this epic one volume biography of this person who's done so much in their life. And we're getting basically a chapter or two for PayPal. And PayPal is like a huge thing on its own. And then we're getting so much detail in the second half, and it's almost too much detail. Like Kevin said, we didn't maybe need as much insight into some individual meetings. So I thought there was a real unevenness there. I also thought that there was too much of a connection between the biographer and the subject. He really did seem to be a fan and that's fine. And I've read before biographers say that it's impossible to be a biographer of somebody and not at least like something about them. So it's okay to be a fan, but it shouldn't quite come across that much throughout the book. And it also comes across through the lack of fact checking. And that's something a lot of other reviewers of the book have pointed out. But there seem to only be a few sources for a lot of the anecdotes in the book, and experienced biographer like Isaacson should have done a little bit more background research, I think, at some of the critical junctures. And I think David alluded to some of that earlier on in our discussion. Okay. Anything else you want to talk about related to the book?

Kevin Hudak

Yeah, so I just wanted to know, short went into this a little bit with his employee relationships and what it's like to work for Elon. There were almost a few instances that it sort of even pissed me off and hit me on a more gut level. Right. So I think some of his relationships with employees were very captivating and enriching. Some of it was new information for me that distressed me. So. Imagine Hans Koenib'sman at SpaceX. He was a hero and protagonist of Eric Berger's book Liftoff that we read. And here we see his kind of conclusion to his relationship with Elon, where he's eased out of his role as director of Reliability for SpaceX just for raising some protests over a plan to go ahead with a launch despite FAA or whatever weather requirements not being fulfilled. His story ends at the Starship test explosion party, where he doesn't even bother going to say hi to Elon since he knows he has so little empathy and Elon hates the past. This really added a bit of a dark or sad tone to all the stories of Quaj that we had read in Mean. Even looking at Everhardt at Tesla, obviously there were issues with his leadership, but Elon essentially, quote in Everhard's words, had a meeting without me to vote me off the island. He basically treated Everhard like Elon had been treated during his ouster from Mean. Elon knows what that like, right? Voted off while on a honeymoon or a foreign trip. And he did the same thing there. When you look at Yol Roth or Yoel Roth, he was Twitter's content moderation kind of censorship guru. Elon actually got along with him for a bit, and there seemed to be some respect there. But obviously Roth quits for personal safety reasons. He says, Elon, we don't all have security details. It seemed like Elon was at first chill with his departure and then just went completely salted earth during the release of the Twitter files. So I just thought more than just trying to create hardcore office cultures, whether you agree or disagree with that, I just saw this as hypocrisy and just a little bit of cruelty from Elon.

David Short

I think the thing I want to say is that while I've been very critical of Isaacson and frankly of Elon quite a bit throughout this, I am incredibly impressed by Elon's actual output. So he has really driven, even if he didn't truly found four companies to be over a billion, you know, hundreds and hundreds. And I think at one point it was over a trillion I'm not sure if it is right now. And he's tackled really hard actual engineering problems. So he didn't make an app that a bunch of people downloaded or whatever, and that created whatever time on the website so you could sell ads against it or whatever. He made cars and rockets and that's just like a really impressive thing to have done. He disrupted really entrenched and powerful industries, and I think this did give a cool insight into it. So while can certainly be critical of him as a person, I'm sure he's incredibly difficult to work with. We talked about it quite a bit. He's certainly had as a wild interpersonal life, he has just done incredible things. And I want it to be abundantly clear that I am very impressed by him, even if that doesn't mean that he's perfect by any means.

Kevin Hudak

And I would certainly echo that. Short. One thing I was going to say as part of my recommendation is I did not know nearly as much about Elon Musk going into this and I actually probably had a slightly poorer opinion of him know, even when I read some of the hypocrisy about Conemisman and others I came away from this with a higher opinion of him. Not approval of him per se, but a much vaster respect for what he's doing, just like you said, and an understanding of what drives him. The ability to understand why someone does what they do gives you so much more respect and admiration for an individual, and if not the individual, the outcomes they're producing. And so I completely agree with you there. Short I thought that was a great point.

David Kopec

I'd agree with both of you. I mean, you don't have to approve of somebody's politics or some of their behavior to recognize the amazing accomplishments that they have. And so when people put him down on that line, they're really just ignorant. I mean, I admire a lot everything that he's accomplished in his life. I think he deserves a lot of accolades for that. But at the same time, some of the behavior that I found in the book was a little bit troubling. That said, oftentimes the people who accomplished a ton in life are the ones who break the rules and do some things that everyone doesn't agree with. I think that's been a theme of a lot of the kind of epic biographies that we've read for this podcast. Okay, David, this is especially a question for you because you've read the Ashley Vance book. Do you think this is the best book on Elon Musk?

Kevin Hudak

I do.

David Short

I think if I were only going to read one book, this is the book that I would read. But I will say I think Liftoff and Founders are targeted, and I think they do do a better job of addressing just those specific things they're trying to tackle. So if you want to learn about PayPal, I think you should read Think. If you want to learn about the early days of SpaceX, I think you should read Liftoff. If you want to learn everything about Elon, I would choose Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson over the book.

David Kopec

Yeah. Okay. And our big final question. Do the two of you recommend this book? And if so, who should read it?

Kevin Hudak

Yeah, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I mean, Elon and his six plus companies are just absolutely ubiquitous. Many of them are doing incredible things for the future of humanity. Like I said, I'd recommend this book to anyone to understand better the man, his family, his friends, and his coworkers who are dominating so much of the present. And if they're right, and I think on a number of counts they are, they're going to help make humanity a multiplanetary species, if not their own works today, at least some of that inspiration and that drive affecting future scientists, future entrepreneurs, and future business leaders.

David Short

I would recommend it if you are interested in Elon Musk. I would recommend it, especially if you're interested in the Twitter acquisition, because I think that's where the most new information I already sort of went into detail on that, and then I would maybe caution a little bit if you didn't love the book. You know, I think this goes into even more detail about the family relationships and things like that, and so I found that really interesting. But it is not just about Elon's business. It is really about him as a whole person. And so if you're looking for tips on how to become the next richest person in the world or whatever, I don't think that's what this book is trying to be at. You know, look elsewhere for that.

Kevin Hudak

This is by far not self help or in some cases, a how to on creating and managing businesses. I completely get you there, short.

David Kopec

I would absolutely recommend this book. It's entertaining, it's well written, and Elon Musk is arguably the most influential person in the world right now. So I think it's important that everybody understand him. So I think everyone should actually read this book. Who has the time to put in for 700 pages? And if you don't have the time for 700 pages, I think the Vance book is about half of that, and it's pretty good. Okay, next month we're going to be reading a book by Sam Zell called am I Being Too Subtle? David, tell us a bit about this book.

David Short

Yeah, I'm excited to read this. Sam Zell was an American billionaire real estate investor, and he really tells the story of his brash approach to business. So he's known for being very blunt and irreverent, and I think it should be fun and informative, and we'll get to learn about the real estate business.

David Kopec

Great. Thanks for that, David. And thanks to both of you for this epic episode. An epic book like this really deserved it. If our listeners want to get in touch with you, how can they get in touch with you? And if you have anything to plug, let us know.

David Short

You can follow me on X at David G short.

Kevin Hudak

You can find me on X at Hoodak's basement. H-U-D-A-K-S. Basement.

David Kopec

And you can find me on X at Dave Kopek D-A-V-E-K-O-P-E-C. Don't forget to subscribe to us on your podcast player of choice. If you enjoy the show, leave us a rating and we'll see you next month.

Love him or hate him, Elon Musk is perhaps the most accomplished and influential leader in today's business landscape. Dive into the definitive biography, Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson, on our latest episode. Spanning 700 pages, this epic authorized account lays bare the polarizing man behind the innovations, exposing both triumphs and flaws. We dissect the biography's strengths and weaknesses, and discuss how it sheds light on the controversies encircling Musk. What insights does the book offer about Musk's persona, both personally and as a manager? Join us for an immersive exploration into Isaacson's detailed narrative, as we share our thoughts on the best book about this multifaceted personality.

Show Notes

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Edited by Giacomo Guatteri

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