On Musk with Walter Isaacson

On Musk with Walter Isaacson

What is it like to shadow Elon Musk for two years? To sit courtside as he builds a rocket? Or tears apart an engineer? Or couch surfs at the homes of billionaires? And how on earth do you make sense of it all? Walter Isaacson is the biographer of giants: DaVinci, Franklin, Doudna, Jobs...and now Musk, former enfante terrible, rocket launcher, electric car innovator, and Twitter—er, X—disruptor, to put it gently. In this four part series, author Evan Ratliff (Mastermind, Longform Podcast) sits down with Isaacson to draw out the behind-the-scenes stories of this epic biography, and what the writer has learned as an outsider inside Silicon Valley.

Episodes

December 5, 2023 3 mins

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Space travel, electric vehicles, future-powering batteries—the ability to push technology forward and to bring it into the world in a real way is without a doubt the best of Elon Musk. In his 600 page biography, Walter Isaacson chronicles a man with superlative engineering skills, but who “doesn’t have a fingertip feel for social emotional networks.” On this first of four episodes, Isaacson shares the aspects of Musk that gave mean...

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December 12, 2023 42 mins

What kind of titan of industry has a "giddy mode"? Or a "demon mode"? The two aspects of Musk’s personality are forces that drive his choices and behavior at work—and vectors Isaacson finds critical to understanding how Musk operates. From ripping out servers on Christmas Eve on a whim to buying Twitter against better wisdom, and reaming out staff members left right and center, we stare into the darker parts of Musk as chronicled b...

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December 12, 2023 44 mins

Be a storyteller, not a preacher. That was novelist Walker Percy’s legendary advice to a young Walter Isaacson. One he takes to heart in his work as a journalist at Time and CNN, and as a biographer of creative genius across the centuries—and in trying to capture someone as volatile as Elon Musk. He reflects on the challenges of holding the complexity of a character in his mind—and the minds of readers—in the modern age, when every...

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December 12, 2023 43 mins

Which of Musk’s efforts will mark his legacy? Will it be Starship and his work bringing Americans back into orbit, or will it be X and his amplifications of the worst of humanity? Isaacson wrestles with his time in Silicon Valley, and relays a comparison of Jobs and Musk that’s sure to stay with you. 

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