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Issue 1754 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

“Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist.”

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance ★★★★

1754 0039


in Issue 1754

I don’t know about you, but the only bit of innovation I’ve been seeing in recent years are the questionable software updates and Instagram icons that constantly shell my phone, which I try to ignore; until of course the notifications become physically unbearable – and don’t get me started on TikToks. It’s pathetic. This then led me to ponder on Huebner’s famous quote – “innovation is a finite resource.”

So, is this it for mankind? Will our sci-fi fantasies of travelling space with fellow aliens only be just that, a fantasy; or is there someone out there, crazy enough to make this a reality. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Elon Reeve Musk.

Elon Musk is well known for his quixotic business ventures, which include but are not limited to: Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity. Vance’s portrayal of Musk has been accused of being borderline hagiographic, which is true in some respects; however, that comment alone significantly discredits how well put together the book is, and the challenge of writing about a character such as Musk. Some also may argue that the book is more a biography of Tesla and SpaceX, which is also true; however, one can view these intentions differently. We see that Tesla and SpaceX, as companies, describe Elon Musk’s character and ideals almost entirely. They embody him. They represent forward thinking, innovation, risk, technology and the future. Thus, based on Vance’s depiction, and to suit the occasion, I thought I’d give innovation and forward thinking a go and list four ways in which you can be like Elon Reeve Musk in this quasi- book review.


Play against the odds

Musk entered two industries that were once impractical and very high risk – electric cars and rockets. At a time where you were better off walking than driving an electric powered car, it seemed as though this technology hit a dead end in its application in vehicles. However, Musk played against the odds and soon won big. Tesla didn’t invent the electric car but undeniably reinvented it. The same goes for his ventures in SpaceX, where a start-up rocket company was unheard of. Musk’s tenacity and belief that space travel could become much cheaper resulted in him once again, reinventing a once static industry dominated by large companies. Although this sounds awe-inspiring, Vance’s vivid descriptions of Elon’s mental state, failures and near bankruptcy just makes it clear that play against the odds will require one to handle the large potential failures. Musk proved that. “He is just different than the rest of us.”

Work like hell (expect everyone to do the same)

Musk spends every working hour of his time working between his two main companies, and he expects everyone to do the same. With the great task of making humans multiplanetary species, it is understandable to see why Musk is always thinking at 100mph, going as far as to spending his visits to the bathroom like formula 1 pitstops. He’s restless, hungry and expects his employees to share the same mentality. Vance often depicts Elon as ruthless and quite comical, including a time where Musk let one loose on an employee who missed a company event to witness his baby being born. Musk was in genuine rage that the fellow employee didn’t have his ‘priorities in check.’ As absurd as it sounds, Vance tries to grasp and empathise with Musk’s personality. The case that, ‘…he does not dislike them as people…’ they’re just ‘getting in the way’ and do not see the urgency of Musk’s vision.


Musk’s ridiculous work ethic can be explained by his vision and his approach to make this vision come to fruition; be it replacing petrol cars, making space travel cheaper or moving to Mars. These ideas may seem quixotic, however Vance’s depiction of Musk’s outlandish obsession with these technologies from a very young age make sense of, and makes you believe that maybe Musk’s plan for Mars will actually work, no matter how absurd they may sound.

An appetite for knowledge

Running a rocket company and an electric car company on the side requires an amazing mind, and Musk’s appetite and ability to absorb information has often been described as being amazing to witness by mere mortals. An example Vance uses is Musk being engrossed by an old, tattered Soviet rocket manual when he was starting out at SpaceX. The fact that he had no underlying knowledge of rockets didn’t stop Musk. Musk truly believes that any problem, no matter how complicated, can be brought down to the pure fundamentals, and that’s exactly what he did when thinking of what it takes to build a rocket. He started with the raw material costs of building a rocket and realised that rockets were just too overpriced and needlessly superfluous. He saw a new market. It also subtly highlights the fact that Musk takes the initiative. The information is out there; you just need to have the appetite and hunger for it.

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