Walter Isaacson was granted extraordinary access to Elon Musk while writing his biography of the tech founder — he was at Musk’s side “for two or three years.” As a result, Isaacson got to know Musk well. In an interview with CBS News, Isaacson revealed that you can “watch him go from being very giddy and funny, to being deeply in engineering mode. And then, suddenly the dark cloud happens. It’s almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
The root of Musk’s multi-sided personality appears to lie in his childhood. His father, Errol, was admittedly hard on Musk, and Isaacson said, “It has left deep scars on him, the way his father treated him. When he was bullied on the schoolyard, when his face was pounded into the concrete steps, and his father took the side of the person who beat him up instead of Elon. Errol Musk said, ‘I raised him to be tough.'”
The result is a complicated and divisive man. The father of 11 children with three women, Musk is estranged from his daughter Vivian, who changed her last name to her mother’s in 2022. Rather than shoulder any of the fault for their lack of a relationship, Musk has blamed schools. As he told the Financial Times, “It’s full-on communism … and a general sentiment that if you’re rich, you’re evil.”
Musk continued, “[The relationship] may change, but I have very good relationships with all the others [children]. Can’t win them all.”
On that note, on Friday the singer Grimes, with whom Musk has three children, posted and then deleted a tweet in which she asked Isaacson to “tell Elon to let me see my son or plz respond to my lawyer.”
Isaacson also discussed how Tesla’s CEO has boasted of his lack of empathy. Musk isn’t someone who believes that the ability to understand and experience the feelings of another person is a trait that should be valued and adopted by those who work closely with others. Isaacson explained that Musk believes empathy will “only slow things down.”
The author said, “He’d say to me, ‘Yeah, I don’t have as much empathy. I’m not like you, I don’t want the person in front of me just to love me. I gotta get this mission done.'”
It’s worth noting that a lack of empathy can be associated with narcissistic personality disorder.
Isaacson also revealed that Musk’s lack of empathy extends to the conditions under which his employees work. The biographer explained, “You know, there are people who really try to avoid eye contact, because he can be brutal. He can get really mad. He can unload on people.”
The author also noted that Musk has more to focus on than Tesla and X (formerly Twitter). He heads brain implant company Neuralink, tunneling company The Boring Project and artificial intelligence company xAI, to name a few.
One of Musk’s other companies is Starlink, a group of 5,000 satellites that can provide internet to the entire Earth. The company was embroiled in the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia due to its use for military communications, and Musk decided against providing Ukraine with internet through the brand. Of his grasp on global power, Isaacson said, “He loves drama. He loves being the epic hero. I think it is a little bit dangerous, because he loves it too much.”
Perhaps, therein lies a summation of Elon Musk in a nutshell. “A little bit dangerous… because he loves it too much.”
Isaacson’s book will be available on Tuesday.
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