Eight interesting details from Elon Musk's biography written by Walter Isaacson

Eight interesting details from Elon Musk's biography written by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson's new biography of Elon Musk has made headlines for its now-disputed account of how Musk thwarted a Ukrainian drone attack by pulling the plug on the Starlink satellite internet service that directs the drones. Both Musk and Isaacson now say the service was already limited in a way that prevented the attack.

But the 688-page tome, in which Isaacson spent two years tracking Musk, also fills in some other details about Musk's life and career that have received less attention. Here are some of the questions the book about the billionaire Tesla and SpaceX CEO answers, or at least sheds light on — and which Musk has not disputed, at least not yet.

Did Musk's father own an emerald mine?

Musk's image as a self-made innovator who worked his way into the riches of Silicon Valley has been challenged at times by reports that his father, Errol Musk, was the wealthy owner of an emerald mine in South Africa.

Musk has repeatedly denied this claim. But Isaacson reports that Errol Musk once traded a small private jet for a share of emeralds from three “small” black market mines in Zambia. Errol Musk sold the emeralds to jewelers, collecting about $210,000, but the mines went bankrupt in the 1980s, and little of the money reached Elon or his brothers. Elon Musk's parents have already invested some money in his first startups, but not in a decisive amount.

Book review: Elon Musk has his demons. Walter Isaacson does his best to dissect them.

Why did Musk make Tesla buy SolarCity?

In 2016, Tesla shareholders were concerned about Musk's plan to acquire SolarCity, a debt-laden solar panel company run by his cousins ​​and in which Musk had a large personal stake. Musk floated the idea of ​​a futuristic “solar roof” to help justify purchasing the company.

While Musk initially believed in the idea, the company struggled to implement his vision. That became an issue for Musk in 2021, when Tesla shareholders sued him over the SolarCity acquisition. Isaacson notes that Musk made the solar roof his top priority — until he won the lawsuit, after which “his enthusiasm for solving the problem subsided.”

Is Musk building a “glass house” in Texas?

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Musk denied reports in the Wall Street Journal that he is building a glass house in Texas and that Tesla might pay for it. But Isaacson reports what may be a nugget of truth in the claim: Musk bought a horse ranch across the river from the Tesla Gigafactory in Texas, and began working with architect Norman Foster, who designed Apple's future headquarters in Cupertino, California, on plans to build . house there. At one point, Musk suggested that it should resemble a “piece of glass” emerging from the water, accessible from the shore via a tunnel. But Isaacson says Musk later described it as “more of an art project than a home” and chose to “postpone its construction.” The book does not address allegations that Musk or anyone else at Tesla may have misused company funds to obtain glass for the chassis.

How many descendants does Elon Musk have and with whom?

Isaacson's book reveals that Musk and his girlfriend Grimes sometimes secretly She gave birth to a third child in June 2022, named Tecno Mechanicus Mask, or Tao for short. Tao is Musk's third child with Grimes, bringing the number of Musk's known children to 11. Two of them are twins he fathered with one of his employees, Neuralink CEO Shivon Zillis, as Insider first reported last year. The couple kept this information from Grimes, who considered Zillis a friend. Isaacson reported that Zelis' pregnancy was via in vitro fertilization, with Musk being the sperm donor. “Because Neuralink is a privately held company, it is unclear how the evolving rules surrounding workplace relationships apply,” he writes.

Musk justified his large brood size by warning of a “depopulation crisis” as educated women are having fewer children. Ziles tells Isaacson that Musk “really wants smart people to have kids,” a position that could be described as a form of eugenics.

Why did Musk buy Twitter?

Isaacson's book portrays Musk's decision to buy Twitter, now known as X, as reckless and driven more by his own psychological demons than logic. At various points, it was suggested that Musk wanted to “own the playground” after being bullied at school; And that Musk's life was going very smoothly at that time and that he wanted to enter into a new crisis; He made the decision to buy the company outright rather than just join its board of directors while he was in a “manic mood” as he spent an all-night visit to the Hawaiian island owned by Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison.

Musk expressed his regret over the move on several occasions, according to the book. In a November meeting with Tesla's design team that was working on the company's idea of ​​self-driving “robot taxis,” a “tired and depressed” Musk said of the Twitter takeover: “I don't know why I did it. The judge basically said I “I have to buy Twitter or else, and now I'm like, 'Okay, (expletive).”

Why did Twitter ruin Ron DeSantis' presidential ad?

In the final days of 2022, after Musk laid off most of Twitter's employees, the site began to completely crash for many users. It continued to suffer from glitches and occasional interruptions over the next several months, and in May, a high-profile Twitter Spaces interview involving Musk and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis was derailed by frequent crashes.

Isaacson's book points to Musk himself as the culprit. Despite employee warnings, Musk insisted on moving an entire set of servers from a data center in Sacramento to a center in Oregon to save money. When they didn't do that over the Christmas holiday, Musk and a large group of friends and family decided to drive to Sacramento and start moving shelves themselves.

They were able to move the servers to Portland, Oregon, but Twitter “destabilized” it for months afterward, and the collapse over DeSantis' announcement was one result. “Looking back, the whole Sacramento shutdown was a mistake,” Musk admitted to Isaacson in March.

Why did Barry Weiss stop contributing to the Twitter Files?

Musk hired journalists Bari Weiss and Matt Taibbi to comb the company's internal records for evidence that Twitter had gone too far in suppressing conservative speech. When they tweeted their findings in December 2022, Musk encouraged them. But he publicly parted ways with Vice after she criticized him for blocking other journalists, including The Washington Post's Drew Harwell, a move she found inconsistent with Musk's claims that he is “an absolute supporter of free speech.”

Isaacson fills in the backstory. Weiss angered Musk in one of their first meetings when he asked him how Tesla's business interests in China affected the way he ran Twitter. “Musk was upset,” Isaacson writes. When she insisted, Musk said Twitter would indeed have to be careful about the words it uses regarding China, because Tesla's business could be threatened. He said that China's suppression of the Uyghurs has two aspects.

Then, when Weiss was working on her Twitter profiling program that focused on how the company suppressed some users' tweets without telling them, she found that Musk had done it himself for an account that tracked the whereabouts of his private plane. Weiss found it “hypocritical” and spoke out when Musk blocked the account and began suspending journalists who reported on the ban. Musk immediately cut off her access to her Twitter files.

Why did Musk go to the World Cup in Qatar?

Musk is not known to be a football fan, so there was a surprise when he was photographed at the World Cup final in Qatar last December alongside former President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a number of Qatari leaders. Isaacson reveals this Musk has agreed to appear in the World Cup final as part of a deal with a Qatar-based investment fund to help finance its purchase of Twitter for up to $375 million.

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