Elon Musk on cover of Newsweek magazine

Book review: ‘Elon Musk: Risking it All’ by Michael Vlismas

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Accomplished account of the tech giant’s life to date that draws on a wealth of anecdotes from his formative years.

It’s a safe bet that there will be barely a single reader of E&T who has not heard the name of arguably the most famous person in the world of technology today. But let’s imagine for a minute that there is; asking the question that journalist Michael Vlismas has set out to answer - who is Elon Musk?

The short response is readily available on virtually any newsfeed you care to consult, for the co-founder and CEO of Tesla – depending on how you measure it, probably the richest human on Earth – can’t be accused of staying out of the limelight.

The longer answer comes in the form of ‘Elon Musk: Risking it All’ (Icon Books (£14.99, ISBN 9781776191857), which depicts the entrepreneur as a boundary-pushing tech-cult billionaire. He’s also a trigger-happy tweeter with a ‘will he/won’t he?’ starring lead in the switchback ride of whether he’ll end up owning Twitter.

Writing a biography of Musk presents the author with something of a unique challenge in that however late you dare to put the terminal full point on your typescript, by the time your book hits the shops it’s going to be out of date. If we take it as axiomatic that Vlismas’s offering is already old news, what can there be left to say about his offering that could persuade even Musk’s most loyal fans to go out and buy it?

It turns out that there’s quite a lot going for a book that is a quintessential example of a dying journalistic art: the opportunistic potboiler. No doubt the manuscript was simmering along nicely until Musk hit the top of the news cycle with the Twitter takeover soap opera. But then the publishers saw their chance to time the market and pushed out a remarkably accomplished volume of highly polished journalism against the clock. A great read it is too.

Of course, there’s not much new to be discovered within the covers of ‘Elon Musk: Risking it All’. But that’s hardly the point, because a cash-in product – even one as good as this – has higher priorities than quenching the reader’s thirst. And yet, Vlismas is to be congratulated on digging out a plentiful array of decent anecdotal material about Musk gleaned from interviews with family friends, teachers and those who knew the man in his formative years in South Africa. This fresh material is the result of an access-all-areas pass provided courtesy of the author being Musk’s ‘closest childhood friend.’

If their friendship still exists, there’s no reason to suppose that ‘Risking it All’ will do it much damage. This is because what we have on our hands is a harmless trawl through the known facts, a few ‘This is Your Life’ moments and some well-handled analysis of open-source material. Not exactly classic biography, but terrific journalism nonetheless.

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