Early reviews of a new biography of Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk by former Time Magazine Editor Walter Isaacson, due out Tuesday, reveal a book that provides rare insight on the mercurial business titan and world’s richest man but reportedly leaves the question of whether Musk is ultimately a force for good or evil to the reader.

Musk parlayed his success in early internet companies, first through an effort called Zip2 in the mid ’90s that helped brick-and-mortar businesses create an online presence which led to a digital banking startup (and the first use of the X moniker) which eventually morphed into what would become PayPal. After a brief stint as CEO of PayPal, a role from which he was booted, Musk would walk with some $165 million after eBay bought the digital payment processor for $1.5 billion back in 2002. That was also the year Musk launched SpaceX with the ultimate goal of colonizing Mars.

While Musk was not involved in the founding of the Tesla Motors company, he became part of the startup via a multimillion-dollar investment in 2004. He would become CEO of the company in 2008 and through a series of follow-on investments, eventually accrued a controlling interest in the electric vehicle innovator.

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Musk became the principal owner of social media platform Twitter in 2022 following completion of an on-again, off-again deal that was on the verge of entering into a legal battle before it closed in October 2022 in an agreement valued at $44 billion.

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And, along the way, Musk also founded or co-founded a few other innovation startups including SolarCity in 2006, Starlink in 2014, The Boring Co. in 2016 and NeuraLink in 2016.

For the new book, “Elon Musk,” Isaacson spent two years shadowing the entrepreneur and was able to glean insight from his direct observation of Musk in action in both his private and public worlds.

Some takeaways highlighted in early reviews of “Elon Musk” include:

  • The Wall Street Journal notes Isaacson delves into Musk’s difficult childhood, growing up in South Africa, and the troubled relationship he’s had with his father. Isaacson also touches on Musk’s “chaotic and messy” personal life, including a path that led to his fathering 10 children with three women including the musician known as Grimes and Shivon Zilis, an executive at Musk’s brain implant company, Neuralink.
  • In a moment The New York Times describes as “one of the book’s biggest scoops,” Isaacson wrote an account of Musk secretly directing engineers at his Starlink satellite internet company to turn off Ukraine’s internet coverage to prevent the country’s military from launching a drone attack on Russian forces in Crimea. According to the Times, Isaacson has since posted on X (formerly Twitter) that contrary to what he writes in the book, Musk didn’t shut down coverage but denied a request to extend the network’s range.
  • CNBC highlighted a 2022 meeting in Austin, Texas, when Musk and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates rallied, at Gates’ request, to discuss climate change and philanthropy. According to Isaacson’s book, Musk questioned Gates on philanthropic efforts and claimed only 20 cents of every dollar actually made an impact. He also told Gates that he could do more for climate change by investing in Tesla rather than his other efforts.

In an interview with New York Magazine, Isaacson said that ever since he started the book, he’s heard complaints from friends and colleagues that Musk’s jokes and conspiracy mongering are in fact malignant. And that, based on his comments and social media postings, Musk might actually be a homophobe or an antisemite. But Isaacson told New York Magazine he is guessing there are more people who haven’t made up their minds about Musk and are simply fascinated by him and want to understand more.

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