We don’t review many books here at Techaeris, but every once in awhile one comes across our desks that definitely has a technology interest and angle. There’s no question that Elon Musk is one of the most interesting entrepreneurs we’ve seen in years. I’m sure we’re not the only ones, but around here we’ve joked about Musk being a “real-life Tony Stark.” His ideas and companies are definitely driving forward technology in new and innovative ways with the goal of changing the world we live in. Edited by Jessica Easto, our Rocket Man: Elon Musk In His Own Words review takes a look at a compilation of quotes from the man himself over the years.
Following a short introduction by Easto, the book itself features over 200 Elon Musk quotes, split into 10 sections over 117 pages. The sections make it easy to browse through quotes in a specific industry or topic. Quotes cover topics ranging from business, learning and logic, and life lessons to innovation, technology, and thoughts of the future. Industry topics include quotes on Tesla and SpaceX (of course), as well as thoughts on engineering, design, manufacturing, environmentalism, and sustainable energy.
The quotes contained within the book are a carefully curated selection from interviews, public appearances, online postings, company blog posts, shareholder meetings, and more. The vast variety of quotes most definitely paints a pretty complete picture of Elon Musk through his businesses and public life.
Covering quotes up to late 2016, some of my favourite quotes from the book (reprinted with permission) included:
“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic—being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. . . . So engineering is, for all intents and purposes, magic, and who wouldn’t want to be a magician?” —Forbes, March 26, 2012
“We’re already a cyborg. You have a digital version of yourself or partial version of yourself online in the form of your e-mails and your social media and all the things that you do. And you have, basically, superpowers with your computer and your phone and the applications that are there. You have more power than the president of the United States had 20 years ago. You can answer any question; you can videoconference with anyone anywhere; you can send a message to millions of people instantly. You just do incredible things.” —Code Conference, June 1, 2016
“What a lot of people don’t appreciate is that technology does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of really strong engineering talent is applied to the problem…. There are many examples in history where civilizations have reached a certain technology level and then have fallen well below that and then recovered only millennia later.” —International Astronautical Congress, September 27, 2016
After the selection of quotes, there are another sixteen pages devoted to Elon Musk’s many milestones — some of which may definitely surprise you (I had no idea his mother was Canadian). I found myself reading over this section first to get a better idea of the man behind SpaceX and Tesla, and as it turns out quite a number of other ideas as well. Some I’d heard of in passing, but forgotten about, and others were entirely new altogether.
Jessica Easto, the editor, also provides some further insight into the book with a Q&A.
Q&A with Jessica Easto, editor of
Rocket Man: Elon Musk In His Own Words
What most surprised you about Elon Musk in the course of your research?
I didn’t know much about Elon Musk before I started this project, so a lot of things surprised me. I knew he owned an electric car company and a space company, but I didn’t realize how much he had advanced certain technologies (electric vehicles, batteries, etc.) and manufacturing (both in the automotive and rocketry sectors) in the past ten or so years. We likely wouldn’t have many of these significant advancements if Musk had not been working on them, which is wild to think about. I’m not surprised by his work ethic or drive or anything like that—many successful people have those qualities. I’m surprised by his efficacy—the results he has been able to produce in a relatively short period of time.
What is it that makes Elon Musk so unique in the entrepreneurial landscape?
I think there are a few things that set him apart. First, he seems more mission-driven than a lot of other entrepreneurs. His goals are straightforward: 1) accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and 2) make life multiplanetary. Those mission statements haven’t changed over the years. He has a plan, and he hasn’t really strayed from that plan—almost everything he does is directly related to achieving one of those two goals, and he has put his personal fortune on the line more than once to assure that he doesn’t fail. It’s impossible not to respect his conviction. Second, he is interested in manufacturing, building physical objects, and improving related technologies. During my research, I’ve gathered that this makes him a kind of an odd duck in Silicon Valley. But the way both the Tesla and SpaceX teams have manufactured their respective products is, in large part, what distinguishes them in their fields. Third, he’s mind-blowingly ambitious. All entrepreneurs are ambitious, of course, or they wouldn’t be entrepreneurs. But not all entrepreneurs decide to compete directly with some of the biggest corporations inside some of the most mammoth, complicated industries—especially when they don’t (initially) have expertise in the field.
How can individuals take Elon Musk’s insights and apply them to their own lives?
I think if readers take anything away from this book, it should be to strive to be as logical and self-reflective as they can be. Musk seems to be very unemotional when it comes to solving problems—he always talks about the physics “first-principles” approach to thinking. It seems like he tries to focus on the facts, even when the truth is hard to bear, like admitting being “wrong” or that a project is failing and a different course of action must be taken. This kind of approach to problem solving sounds easy, but I think it’s hard for many of us to cut through to the truth and confront our own shortcomings and biases.
What piece of insight or advice in this book did you find to be most valuable?
Musk often stresses that he doesn’t think everyone needs to “change the world”; instead, he thinks people should strive to contribute something “useful,” even if it’s a small thing, which I think is good advice. From what I understand, he deems something useful if it improves someone’s quality of life—and he includes art, writing, and other beautiful things in that category. It’s a great way to think about a goal or contextualize a project.
With a list price of $10.95USD, Rocket Man: Elon Musk In His Own Words can currently be purchased from Amazon for less than $8, definitely a great price for this compilation of thought-provoking insights. Elon Musk is a true visionary, and this book offers a great glimpse into his thoughts and views.