Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Index

Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

By Ashlee Vance (2015, Harper)

The biography of the man who created Tesla, SpaceX, and his Quest for a Fantastic Future.



Read July 31st to August 16th, 2016, in Hardcover  
    This look at a pioneer’s life was very insightful. I can’t say that I’d like to work for the guy, but on the other hand, I’d love to be involved in what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the writing style for the book wasn’t up to holding my interest, even with such an interesting story.

Spoiler review:

How many times can somebody say the same thing? This author manages to do it many times over, and in different contexts, but it’s always the same message: Musk is an extraordinary person, inspires either extreme loyalty or extreme hatred by his employees and relations. But he gets things done because of it.

The time spent in Africa and Canada were interesting as history, but they were presented rather dry. It seems that I felt the same through each chapter, in that it didn’t hold my interest, though the subject matter was very interesting. I guess it’s all about writing style. The author focuses on Musk’s troubles in getting any business started, and how that affects his strategies later on in life. He is presented as being one of the first to think of using on-line shopping and delivery, as well as mapquest-type software. With the internet in its infancy, I can’t believe anybody would use this kind of service. At that time, I was just starting to learn about the internet, and how to use the bulletin boards and search engines. But it was difficult, and extremely slow, even with a university network connection. But Musk persisted, and with Al Gore’s initiative in the US to bring the internet across the country, he succeeded as a pioneer that helped make the web what it is today –at least in terms of shopping and web-based applications and security.

I was born around the same time as Musk, and I did a lot of the same things that he did, and had a lot of the same interests. But I’m not an innovator or an entrepreneur. I wrote Basic code to create games on my first computer, saving it on a tape deck that was very difficult to use, but still amazing to a young teen in that amazing age of technology transition. But I never took things apart to put them back together, I don’t have a photographic memory, and I never read a set of encyclopedias. That seems to be where we diverged. I took the easy route, and he took the hard one. He was driven to create something that would change the world.

Weeks after reading this book, I’ve become a huge fan of Tesla, though SpaceX is closer to my heart. But electric cars are so practical, and can give so much freedom. The more I think about what Musk did with that company, the more impressed I am. I’d love to work for a company like either of them, but on the other hand, I think I’d hate it. I suppose I’d rise to the challenge, but it’s quite daunting.

This is the man who has brought us spaceflight for a fraction of the cost of government-run agencies, though some of their savings has been due to shortcuts that may now be questionable, after the recent explosion during the rocket fueling. People have been talking for almost a hundred years about the stuff he’s now building. Rockets that can carry people to space for a cheap price. Electric cars. I love the reveal of the recharging stations. We even have one near where I work. But I wonder what happens if it doesn’t get enough juice to recharge itself. Our winters are pretty overcast, and last a long time. Currently, if a gas station has run out of gas, there’s always another one nearby. I know that there are some places (like India) where gas producers/deliveries city-wide go on strike, and the cities ground to a halt, but I wouldn’t want to count on a single recharging station when there are a lot of electric cars waiting around to be recharged. Still, with the growth of the industry, the number of recharging stations should grow. I think it’s amazing.

As for the man, he’s driven, and he’s blunt. Could he have made the companies that he has being any other way? I don’t know. Do nice guys get to do things like that? I don’t know. It would be great, and give us the best of both worlds. The author give us enough information to get to know Musk, as well, but I felt like I had to pull it out of what was written. And why is Musk’s first wife called by her first name, but his second wife always by her last name?

This book did what it intended, though, I think. It got me interested in all three of Musk’s companies, and a new way of doing things.



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