My review of Walter Isaacson's "Elon Musk"
The Information Sept. 16, 2023 6:00 AM PDT
Walter Isaacson is the exotic bird of American letters, a charming and convivial bon vivant and raconteur, the life of many a dinner party, a studious biographer and a generous mentor. He blurbed both of my books, a kindness he’s bestowed on many authors, and he has been nothing but kind and gracious to me over the years. Unfortunately, these admirable and lovely attributes go a long way to explaining what Isaacson has become with his 670-page groaner on the life and times of Elon Musk: an elegant stenographer.
“Elon Musk,” released this week to countless book reviews, podcast segments and an onstage appearance at New York’s 92nd Street Y (alongside another newly controversial scribe, Michael Lewis), has an as-told-to, cinéma vérité feel. Isaacson interviewed 129 people—he lists them on pages 619 to 622—but one person’s voice reigns supreme: Musk’s.
Over and over, Isaacson faithfully records what the Tesla-SpaceX-Neuralink-Boring Company-X chief tells him, sprinkles in the observations of those around him and leaves it at that. He provides little analysis, next to no investigative research and positively zero condemnation for his subject’s behavior, no matter how odious it may be. It’s as if Isaacson were saying to his readers: “You decide what to think of this guy based on the account of his life he told me. My work is done here.”
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