book review

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Elon Musk" by Ashlee Vance. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Are you looking for an Elon Musk book review? What are the book’s strengths and weaknesses? How was the book critically received?

In the book Elon Musk, author Ashlee Vance uses a conversational approach to telling the life story of Elon Musk. He discusses Musk’s passions, business ventures, and management style while weaving in details about his personality and personal life throughout the story.

Here’s our Elon Musk book review.

Elon Musk Book Review

In the book Elon Musk, journalist Ashlee Vance explores the life and career of Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla, Inc., and founder of (now part of PayPal). Vance argues that Musk is one of the most influential innovators of this generation because he’s driven by big goals and personal passions, not trends or get-rich-quick schemes. 

Vance describes Musk’s life and businesses in three major industries: technology, space, and clean energy. He explains the challenges that Musk faced to build some of today’s most successful and innovative companies. Along the way, he discusses Musk’s traits and management methods that helped his companies succeed, such as having a desire to learn, focusing on the future, and working with exceptional people. 

About the Author

Ashlee Vance is a business and technology writer who has reported for The New York Times and The Economist. He has covered a range of topics in technology, such as robots and programming languages. Vance also hosts Bloomberg’s video series Hello World, which explores the newest creations in technology and the people behind them.

Connect with Ashlee Vance:

The Book’s Publication

Elon Musk was published by HarperCollins in 2015. The biography is Vance’s second book. In 2007, Vance published a history of Silicon Valley called Geek Silicon Valley.

Elon Musk book reviewers say this is the first biography that Musk agreed to help with. After Musk initially declined to cooperate for Vance’s biography of him, Vance went on to interview over 200 people who knew Musk or who had worked for his companies. Vance believes he impressed Musk with his determination, convincing Musk to change his mind. When Musk asked Vance to let him add footnotes to any of Vance’s points he disagreed with, Vance declined, wanting to preserve his journalistic integrity. 

Over the course of several months, Vance spent almost 50 hours talking with Musk. He also interviewed another 100 people close to Musk to get a more complete understanding of him.

Historical Context

Since the beginning of his career, Musk has always generated public interest for his big ideas and willingness to take risks. People have long said he might be the next Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison, believing he’d revitalize Silicon Valley and inspire a resurging interest in innovation even when, in the early 2000s, companies and investors in Silicon Valley shifted away from disruptive innovations, focusing instead on social media apps and getting people to click on ads. 

Musk also garnered public interest for his role as inspiration for the Iron Man movie. He even made a cameo in the movie. This introduced him to the general public. He also appeared in other popular TV shows, like The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons

By 2012, Musk had reached billionaire status. In 2010 and 2013, he was one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. In 2015, when the book was published, Musk had recently unveiled new batteries from Tesla with enough storage for excess solar energy that homeowners could feel confident using power at night or on cloudy days. He has also recently announced his plans for SpaceX’s Starlink, a collection of satellites that provide Internet access to most of Earth. 

Intellectual Context

Musk’s obsession with innovation isn’t a new phenomenon. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, technology and the innovators behind these technologies flourished. The lightbulb, Morse code, the printing press, the car, medicines, and the internet were all major technological advancements during this time. Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates are celebrated for their ideas and inventions. 

Vance argues that Musk is an influential innovator of this generation. While innovators create new ideas and products, someone can also be an innovator for developing new or improved methods for existing technologies. Musk may not have invented the idea of the rocket or electric car, but he created new methods that advanced these products.

The Book’s Impact

Elon Musk book reviews were positive and Elon Musk became a New York Times bestseller. “The Wall Street Journal,” Amazon, Audible, and NPR all named it as one of the best books of 2015.

Critical Reception

While most Elon Musk book reviewers praised Vance’s thoroughness and objectivity, critics noted that he had a tendency to idolize Musk, calling him a “genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted.” Others thought Musk’s leadership style was abusive and noted that Vance didn’t thoroughly explore this idea.

Commentary on the Book’s Approach and Organization

Elon Musk book reviews claim that Vance takes a conversational approach to telling Musk’s story. Throughout the book, Vance interweaves details about Musk’s personal life and descriptions of people close to him. Although the book contains some vulgar language, this is mainly from Musk’s (as well as other interviewees’) fondness for cursing, rather than Vance’s. 

The book is split into 11 chapters with three appendices. The first chapter gives a present-day snapshot of Musk’s life and how Vance’s persistence convinced Musk to help with the biography. The next two chapters discuss Musk’s early life in South Africa and Canada. 

Then there is a chapter dedicated to how Musk started each of his companies. The final four chapters describe the success of those companies and general musings on why Musk succeeded. SpaceX and Tesla have two chapters each—a chapter discussing how Musk started each company and a chapter describing the success of each company as of 2015. 

Elon Musk book reviewers say that this organization makes it seem like Musk worked on each new business venture sequentially when in reality, he often worked on multiple projects at the same time. 

Elon Musk: Book Review, Context, & Critical Reception

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Ashlee Vance's "Elon Musk" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Elon Musk summary :

  • A look into Elon Musk’s childhood and early companies
  • Musk's roles in SpaceX and Tesla, and later, in SolarCity
  • The traits and management methods that helped Musk succeed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *