A Genius For Our Time

By | July 9, 2015 at 1:24 am | No comments | Book Review, Columns

By Heidi Simmons

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Elon Musk

by Ashlee Vance

Biography

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Ever wonder where the Benjamin Franklins, Albert Einsteins or Steve Jobs are today?  Are we not desperate for moral men and women with vision, inspiration and plans to improve life for our species, to find answers to our biggest dilemmas?

In Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Ecco, 400 pages) it takes more than genius to bring big ideas to fruition.  It takes a lot of money, business acumen and a touch of madness to save the human race.

When entrepreneur, inventor and futurist Elon Musk decided to cooperate on this biography with author Vance, he asked the technology writer and journalist if he thought he was insane.  Vance admits he wasn’t sure how to answer Musk’s question.

Thus starts the biography about a genius of our time and perhaps a savior of the human race.

Musk is a man with a mission.  “If we can solve sustainable energy and be well on our way to becoming a multiplanetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet – to cope with a worst-case scenario happening and extinguishing human consciousness — then I think that would be really good.”

If you don’t know of Musk, it’s time.  He, and many others, believe we are making earth uninhabitable for humans.  So Musk is serious about human beings colonizing Mars.  He has done the math and has a realistic plan.  Impossible?  Insane?  Think again.

Musk is the mind of SpaceX.  His company is sending rockets into space that will soon carry humans.   He has built the company from the ground up, not relying on the technology of the past or Russian engineering.  He has brought rocket science into the modern age and he has done it with a fierce tenacity.  He is doing it for less money, employing thousands and making everything in America eliminating all foreign dependence.

As CEO of Tesla Motors, Musk’s Model S electric car can travel 300 miles on a single charge and be recharged for free across the state at power stations supplied by SolarCity, his solar panel manufacturing company.  Every business quarter, an equivalent of 400,000 gallons of fossil fuel doesn’t pollute.  And that’s just a start.  New factories are under construction to mass-produce batteries and an affordable Tesla vehicle.

Musk has poured his heart, soul and wealth into sustaining SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity because he believes in the technology “to the extent that they are the right things to pursue for the betterment of mankind.”

If these technologies are not enough to float your boat, Musk has also started work on the Hyperloop – a high-speed train that will be able to carry you (and your car) to Las Vegas in 10 minutes.  Forget the Bullet Train from LA to San Francisco that will cost billions to build and take twice as long as a plane ride.  If Musk has his way, the Hyperloop will get you to San Fran in 30 minutes – with your car.  Further, the Hyperloop will run on renewable clean energy at a fraction of the cost.

This biography mainly tells the story of Musk’s business prowess, his unstoppable nature and grandiose (but real) ideas.  With degrees in physics and economics he is both scientist and entrepreneur who knows how to get things done.

The author includes Musk’s family origins starting in the United States, moving to Canada and then to South Africa.  His ancestry is an insight into Musk’s thinking, genius and intensity.   But accounts of Musk’s private life are minimal.

A divorced father of five, Musk’s journey thus far is about the evolution and maturity of a visionary entrepreneur who refuses to let fools, nay-sayers and parasites dictate or derail his mission.

It was a surprise to discover that Musk did not come up with PayPal – the online financial service — but merged his company Zip2 and X.com with Confinity’s PayPal. PayPal sold to eBay for $1.5 billion making Musk rich enough to pursue his dreams.

Nikola Tesla is an absolute hero of mine.  So when I first heard of Tesla Motors, I was instantly in love with Musk and his company.  Turns out, it was not Musk who gave the electric car company its name, but founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning.  Musk came in as an investor taking over to ensure its future.  Musk indeed has everything to do with the look and development of the top award-winning vehicle ever by “Motor Trend,” “Consumer Affairs” and Auto Club of America.

This is an exciting book and a great read.   For a biography, Vance tells it like a suspense-thriller as Musk fights off takeovers and bankruptcy and challenges the status quo of government contracts.  It’s better than a sci-fi novel as Musk explains how to generate sustainable global energy and terra form Mars.  (Even the footnotes and appendices are interesting and fun to read.)  The amazing technology he is developing and manufacturing will not only benefit us now, but in our interplanetary future as well.

Musk is an intriguing character.  He just turned 44 and has already changed the world.   And perhaps even saved the human race from destroying itself and the amazing creatures with whom we share this beautiful planet.  By definition, Musk is indeed a hero.  He may not always be likable as he demands the best and requires total dedication of time and energy.  He believes there is no time to waste.

Some day, I hope to have SolarCity panels on my roof and a Tesla Model X in my garage charging at my Tesla Powerwall.  Madman or not, I’m all in with Musk.   Schedule my flight to Mars.

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