1 min read

Studying Elon

The two-sided genius.

Walter Isaacson is the preeminent author of great people biographies. His vivid stories have introduced millions to DaVinci, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and others. His latest book tells a similarly remarkable story of how a skinny kid in apartheid South Africa became the world's richest man. That kid's name is Elon Musk.

A historian at Tulane, Isaacson's books are deeply researched. His new book is no different. Isaacson was given full access to executive meetings, late-night calls, dinner with his kids, and the rest of Elon's world for nearly two years. He explains what he learned and what surprised him in Lunch with the FT.

Highlights include:

Agreeing to work together

He just said “OK!” Then he asked me if I minded if he told other people [about the book] and, of course, I said no.” Then, a few minutes later, Isaacson met up with friends who told him that Musk had dispatched a tweet — even during the phone call — announcing that Isaacson would be his biographer. Isaacson was shocked. “It was the first example [I saw] of him being totally impetuous.”

Disliking stability

He doesn’t like things when they are going well. He is addicted to drama ... When I heard that [Twitter], I knew I would have a rough ride [as his biographer]. I thought it was insane — Musk doesn’t have empathy and so Twitter was not a good fit for him.

Musk's controversial role in Ukraine

I have these [messages] in real time as he is turning off Starlink around Crimea because there was a secret drone attack

Demon mode

In front of me he would go into multiple Elon Musk personalities. There are times he gets really dark and he goes into what Grimes [the Canadian singer who is Musk’s on-off girlfriend] calls "demon mode." He will become angry ... But then when he snaps out he will hardly remember what he did in demon mode and turns from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde.