For anyone interested in technology, entrepreneurship or the price of greatness, Ashlee Vance’s new book, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” is a tremendous look into arguably the world’s most important entrepreneur.
Vance paints an unforgettable picture of Musk’s unique personality, insatiable drive and ability to thrive through hardship. The book bursts with telling anecdotes and quotes that illuminate who Musk is. Here are some that stood out:
1. “I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze on to something and says, ‘It shall be mine.’ Bit by bit, he won me over.” — Justine Musk, Elon’s ex-wife
2. “We’re all hanging out in this cabana at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Elon is there reading some obscure Soviet rocket manual that was all moldy and looked like it had been bought on eBay.” — Kevin Hartz, an early PayPal investor, describing an outing in Las Vegas that was intended as a time to celebrate the company’s success.
3. “He’s kind of homeless, which I think is sort of funny. He’ll e-mail and say, ‘I don’t know where to stay tonight. Can I come over?’ I haven’t given him a key or anything yet.” — Google chief executive Larry Page on Elon Musk, who owns a home in Los Angeles but doesn’t have a place in Silicon Valley, which he visits weekly for his work at Tesla.
4. “Elon said ‘I will spend my last dollar on these companies. If we have to move into Justine’s parents’ basement, we’ll do it.’ ” — Antonio Gracias recalling a dinner with Musk during the 2008 financial crisis.
5. “I believe the second sentence out of his mouth was, ‘I think a lot about electric cars.’ And then he turned to me and said, ‘Do you think about electric cars?’ ” — Christie Nicholson, the daughter of an adviser to Elon Musk, recalling first meeting Musk at a party. As a college student he was already hooked on electric cars.
6. “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail.” — Elon Musk explaining himself to a potential investor.
Update, May 12: Since publication of this article Musk has said he has never called himself a samurai.
7. “That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.” — an anonymous Tesla employee recalling an e-mail from Musk after missing an event to witness the birth of his child.
Update, May 12: Musk has since called this inaccurate and said he would never tell someone to miss a child’s birth for a meeting.
8. “That’s my lesson for taking a vacation: vacation will kill you.” — Elon Musk, who nearly died in 2000 from a malaria infection following a trip to Brazil and South Africa.
9. “I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. That’s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to 10 — how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours? That’s kind of the minimum? I don’t know.” — Elon Musk
10. “Like why did you go steal Tesla’s E? Like you’re some sort of fascist army marching across the alphabet, some sort of Sesame Street robber?” — Elon Musk, recalling his complaint to Ford’s then chief executive Alan Mulally, about blocking Tesla from using the name Model E.
11. “They got my best [expletive] friend to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. And that [expletive] hurt. For some reason they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That’s what made growing up difficult. For a number of years there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the [expletive] out of me, and then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well.” — Elon Musk, who said he was hospitalized after one beating and couldn’t return to school for a week. He was living with his father, who was said to delight in being hard on his sons.
12. “He goes into his brain, and then you just see he is in another world. He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something.” — Elon Musk’s mother describing how as a child Elon sometimes seemed to drift off into trances. He wouldn’t respond when spoken to and would have a distant look in his eyes. Musk’s parents and physicians thought maybe he was deaf and removed his adenoid glands thinking that would improve his hearing. It made no difference.
13. “Everybody around here has slides in their lobbies. I’m actually wondering about putting in a roller coaster — like a functional roller coaster at the factory in Fremont. You’d get in, and it would take you around [the] factory but also up and down. Who else has a roller coaster? … It would probably be really expensive, but I like the idea of it.” — Elon Musk
14. “I wanted him to meet me behind security so he couldn’t pack a gun.” — Jim Cantrell, describing his first meeting with Elon Musk. Cantrell was once accused of espionage by Russians, so he was fearful when he received a call from a stranger with an accent asking to help him with a space program. They met in an airport, hit it off, and would later travel to Russia hoping to buy rockets.
15. “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.” — Ryan Popple recalling Musk’s retort when an employee complained in Tesla’s early days that they were working too hard.
16. “One night he told me, ‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.’ ” — Nicholson
17. “My family fears that the Russians will assassinate me.” — Elon Musk
18. “We all worked 20 hours a day, and he worked 23 hours.” — Julie Ankenbrandt on working with Musk at the start-up X.com, which would later merge with Confinity and lead to what we know as PayPal.
19. “I remember him saying, ‘Being with me was choosing the hard path.’ I didn’t quite understand at the time, but I do now. It’s quite hard, quite the crazy ride.” — Talulah Riley, who has twice been divorced from Musk.
20. “I remember thinking it was a lot of drama, and that if I was going to put up with it, we might as well be married. I told him he should just propose to me.” — Justine Musk recalling an argument with Elon while walking near the X.com offices. After calming down he proposed on the sidewalk.
21. “I’d seen him before, but did worry that maybe he could have an off day. Still, I thought, he would maybe hit one gonad but not both.” — Elon Musk, discussing how he held balloons in his hands and between his legs at one of his birthday parties, and let a knife thrower pop the balloons.
22. “We’ve grown [expletive] soft.” — Elon Musk, after Vance noted that hundreds of people were working at Tesla’s headquarters on a Saturday.