If you visit Elon Musk's X profile, you'll find that he has more than 150 million followers and has been verified since 3000 BC. It seems bonkers that the CTO and owner of such a massive platform would so whimsically do such a silly thing. But the man himself is a little more than bonkers and as Walter Isaacson in his new biography calls it, 'driven by demons'.
Now, whether Musk is actually driven by demons or not is a silly question, but there's no denying that the founder, CEO and chief engineer of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla, owner and CTO of Twitter (presently X), president of the Musk Foundation, founder of The Boring Company, X Corp., and xAI, co-founder of Neuralink, OpenAI, Zip2 and X.com (part of PayPal) is not your average cool, gentleman innovator. He is a drama magnet who thrives in chaos.
The case of his acquisition of Twitter is a prime example of his hubris. He had been active on that platform for years prior to his acquisition. He was often critical of its rules and regulations, calling it more left-leaning and favouring content which uplifted the political left.
Now, whenever Musk doesn't like the play, he has shown a predilection for owning the playground so he can play by his own rules. The same happened with Twitter. Based on mere whimsy, he went on to buy the platform and when he finally realised the consequence of this decision, he tried to back out of the deal but the water had flown far by that point and there was no coming back and he had to buy it, incurring considerable losses in his other ventures.
If you've had the misfortune of seeing on your social media feeds - Musk inviting Zuckerberg in an arm-wrestling battle to settle their disagreements, and you thought that he might just have gone berserk this one time, you would be wrong. It's not the first time the impetuous tech billionaire invited people to arm-wrestling to settle disagreements, and as Walter Isaacson correctly points out, it's surely the dumbest way imaginable to settle a tech debate.
This self-proclaimed meme-lord who acts like a teenager with the adrenaline rush of a maniac is however the richest man on the planet. A massive proportion of space endeavours is being undertaken by his company, he is driving us towards a future of electrical cars, while also managing arguably the biggest public platform. Musk indeed contains multitudes — both his drive to attain the future of his dreams and the erratic behaviours that drive him are interlinked. One cannot be separated from the other. He's simultaneously a haughty brute and a remarkable visionary.
"Someone once said that every man is trying to live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes, Barack Obama wrote in his memoirs, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady." - Musk is quoted here as he tries to untangle the repercussions his childhood in South Africa has had on him and how his father, Errol Musk's often demonic treatment made him the person he is today.
Isaacson's narrative puts him in the same category as Steve Jobs whose authoritative biography was also written by Isaacson and released just after Jobs' death. Musk still has a seemingly long career ahead and up until this point in Musk's life, it proves that his hubris and his accomplishments come as a package, one tangled with the other.
Lately, Musk is also seen sharing memes and taking digs at what he calls the 'woke agenda'. He hates people's usage of different pronouns and is obsessed with demolishing the 'woke agenda'. All of this doesn't come as a sudden intellectual aversion towards this supposed 'woke agenda' but Musk's loathing of it comes from a personal viewpoint.
"I no longer live with or wish to be related to my biological father in any way, shape or form," his trans daughter Jenna declared to the court. The ensuing fallout with his daughter, her transition and Jenna's aversion to greedy capitalism made their relationship nonexistent and this hit Musk terribly.
He loved Jenna and his fallout with her pained him greatly and since then we have seen more of Musk's attacks on the supposed 'woke agenda', because it severed his relationship with his trans daughter.
The gist of this mammoth, almost 700 pages long book is that Musk is a complicated man, deeply driven by his childhood trauma and a goal to achieve the sci-fi-like future of his dreams in his lifetime.
Ashlee Vance's previous biography of Musk, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (2015), covered almost all of these, but Isaacson's biography is more expansive in all aspects of Musk's life. But the fact is that hardly any usual reader will find this gargantuan slab of a book compelling unless you're deeply interested in Musk and how he functions.
I cannot guarantee you that you'll end up finishing this slab because frankly, it's not compelling, it's the same drama and awful behaviour of Musk being narrated page after page.
Isaacson, in here, more often than not, vainly vacillates between trying to make his cliche prose seem like a cheap thriller and turning to a seemingly more serious character study of Musk which verges on the comical.
It's not that Isaacson isn't critical of Musk, he is, but the caustic remarks he makes on Musk's paroxysm of bizarre behaviours are followed up almost every time with how his fiendish father and his grim childhood in South Africa are the reasons for it all; so much so that at times, it feels like that it's not really Walter Isaacson, the famed biographer of modern mavericks and old geniuses, but it's Freud trying his best to write like a novelist.
Kazi Najmus Sakib studies Linguistics at the University of Dhaka. Reach him on X at @sakib221b.