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

A brand new biography of Elon Musk portrays the billionaire entrepreneur as a posh, tortured determine whose brilliance is usually overshadowed by his incapability to narrate on a human degree to the individuals round him — his wives, his youngsters and people on whom he relied to assist construct the house exploration and electrical automotive companies that made him the wealthiest man on Earth.

Mr. Musk’s life thus far — his tough childhood in South Africa, his stormy romantic relationships, his success as a visionary who created SpaceX and Tesla, and his impetuous resolution to purchase Twitter — is detailed by means of scores of interviews together with his household, mates, enterprise associates and Mr. Musk himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mr. Musk’s resolution to start out X.AI got here partly out of considerations about underpopulation. (He’s the daddy of 10 youngsters.) “The quantity of human intelligence, he famous, was leveling off as a result of individuals weren’t having sufficient youngsters. In the meantime, the quantity of laptop intelligence was going up exponentially,” Mr. Isaacson writes. Mr. Musk believed that “in some unspecified time in the future, organic brainpower could be dwarfed by digital brainpower.”

  • Mr. Musk’s gave X.AI’s early workers three objectives: Create an A.I. chatbot able to writing code, an A.I. chatbot educated to be politically impartial and a synthetic intelligence that would motive and pursue fact. “You need to have the ability to give it massive duties, reminiscent of ‘Construct a greater rocket engine,’” Mr. Musk instructed Mr. Isaacson.

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

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

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

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

  • The corporate’s early struggles contributed to an extended, tough interval for Mr. Musk, one which took a bodily and psychological toll, he instructed Mr. Isaacson in a 2021 interview. “You may’t be in a continuing battle for survival, at all times in adrenaline mode, and never have it damage you,” Mr. Musk mentioned. However he additionally acknowledged that he had discovered goal underneath stress: “When you find yourself now not in a survive-or-die mode, it’s not that straightforward to get motivated on daily basis.”

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

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

Mr. Musk created SpaceX to assist humanity change into a multi-planetary species. The corporate’s success thus far is a credit score to his willingness to simply accept dangers, generally efficiently and generally not.

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

  • To realize interplanetary flight sooner or later, SpaceX wanted to discover a solution to generate profits within the current. So in 2015, Mr. Musk introduced Starlink, in search of to faucet into the profitable market of offering web service, on this case by means of a constellation of low-orbit satellites. The service has change into an important lifeline to individuals in conflict zones and helped the Ukrainian army defend towards Russian invasion. However Mr. Musk has additionally been criticized for not permitting Ukraine to make use of the service to launch a drone assault on a Russian naval base final 12 months, fearing that it might have provoked a significant escalation within the conflict. “We didn’t need to be part of that,” Mr. Musk mentioned.

  • In 2021, SpaceX for the primary time efficiently despatched a crew into orbit with no skilled astronaut aboard. Afterward, Mr. Musk mirrored on the position that he and his firm had performed in advancing house exploration. “Constructing mass-market electrical automobiles was inevitable,” he mentioned. “It might have occurred with out me. However changing into a space-faring civilization shouldn’t be inevitable.” He added, “This flight was a terrific instance of how progress requires human company.”

SARAH NIR contributed reporting.

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