A look at aerospace/automotive mogul Elon Musk.
It could be said that Bloomberg Businessweek writer Vance (Geek Silicon Valley: The Inside Guide to Palo Alto, Stanford, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Santa Clara, 2007) has provided a much-needed portrait of an Internet-age hero, but that would depend on whether one’s idea of a hero is, say, a Doctors Without Borders physician or the self-made founder of Tesla and SpaceX. Musk’s ultimate ambition is to someday “die on Mars,” a hypothetical event that some of his more outspoken critics may not root against. After enduring a South African childhood marked by divorce and beatings at school, Musk moved to Canada and, from there, the United States, where he earned a degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He left his Stanford doctorate program after two years to participate in the wave of Silicon Valley startups, helming a couple of half-realized but promising business ventures, both of which he sold for millions (one was an early incarnation of PayPal). Soon, Musk’s ambitions became too big for the narrow Silicon Valley framework. He took his money and invested not only in a rocket-building company (SpaceX), but also a boutique electric car manufacturer (Tesla), among other side ventures. After years of frustration, Tesla and SpaceX became profitable companies almost simultaneously, and Musk was worth billions of dollars and beset with new aspirations to make human beings an “interplanetary” species. Though Vance doesn’t spend the entire book praising his subject—he does provide peeks at a man who sometimes rules his techie fiefdom by fear and treats his significant others like employees—the author undermines journalistic objectivity by excusing Musk’s tyrannical behavior as the prerogative of a Nietzschean superman working to save humanity.
Despite Vance’s best efforts, Musk comes off as another megalomaniacal hypercapitalist whose stock in trade is luxury goods and services for luxury clients.