While Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Elon Musk does include embarrassing anecdotes about the Tesla founder and X owner, it too often avoids tough topics like Musk’s estrangement from his trans daughter and claims of racial discrimination at his Tesla plant, according to reviewers who’ve read the book.
“It’s the book Musk would have written himself,” LA Times columnist Brian Merchant wrote.
Isaacson has previously written bestselling biographies of Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein. Merchant argues in his review that the author’s same “great man” approach toward the tech entrepreneur is entirely too soft, despite revelations such as the existence of Musk’s third child with singer Grimes.
For example, Musk’s antisemitic grandfather, who relocated the family to South Africa while apartheid was still the law, is referred to as having “quirky conservative views.” According to Merchant, Isaacson missed the opportunity to examine Musk’s own antisemitic beliefs. Musk’s Twitter takeover has led to dramatically increased hate speech on the social media platform and he currently blames the Jewish Anti-Defamation League for X’s advertiser exodus.
The book, titled “Elon Musk,” also fails to question Musk’s decisions at Tesla and SpaceX and with other proposed tech innovations. “Isaacson mostly accepts Musk’s confident prognostications as gospel,” Merchant wrote.
In The Washington Post, Will Oremus agreed that the author failed to apply a “sophisticated critical lens” to his subject.
“The larger concern is whether Isaacson’s heavy reliance on Musk as a primary source throughout his reporting kept him too close to his subject. Swaths of the book are told largely through Musk’s eyes and those of his confidants. And the majority of tales about his exploits cast him as the genius protagonist even as they expose his self-destructive tendencies or his capacity for cruelty,” Oremus wrote.
In The New York Times, reviewer Jennifer Szalai also felt Isaacson took it too easy on Musk. After the X owner’s rant against the “woke-mind virus,” which is preventing civilization from becoming “multiplanetary,” she wrote, “It would have been nice if Isaacson had pushed him to answer a basic question: What on earth does any of it even mean?”
Despite the assertion that Isaacson’s bio is too flattering, others, like tech journalist and Recode co-founder Kara Swisher, wrote that Musk comes off as “a petty jerk” in the book. Swisher previously called Musk “a professional adult toddler.”