Science Book a Day Interviews Ashlee Vance


Special thanks to Ashlee Vance for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Ashlee Vance is an award winning feature writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. Previously, he worked as a reporter for The New York Times, The Economist and The Register. – From Ashlee’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for writing Elon Musk?

I’ve been based in Silicon Valley for 15 years and was a Musk cynic for most of that time. He’d always struck me as the guy promising the world and not delivering on any of his promises. I’d also pegged him as your standard, run of the mill technoutopian. My impressions started to change in 2012. SpaceX docked with the space station, Tesla came out with the Model S and SolarCity went public. Musk had come through in spectacular fashion across three different industries. This prompted me to do a cover story on Musk for Businessweek in mid-2012. I ended up finding a guy who had one of the more amazing life stories and factories that blew me away. I knew then that this would be my next book.

#2 – How did you do the research for your book? Were you able to get time with Elon? What aspects of Elon were you focusing in your book?

I spent about two and half years doing research for the book. The bulk of it was by conducting 300 or so interviews with former employees, current employees, family and friends. While Musk did not initially cooperate with the book, he ultimately agreed to do interviews about 18 months into the project. We did a series of long interviews, and I also got access to the higher ups at all of his companies.

#3 – There is so much spoken/written about Elon Musk. He is often compared to Steve Jobs. Did you find much written about him was true? Is the comparison to Steve Jobs valid?

I think Musk’s technical chops run much deeper than those of Jobs. He’s also taken on more in terms of the amount of time he puts into the companies and how different they are. That said, there’s a lot that they share, including placing the highest possible demands on their employees, a blunt style and their attention to detail.

#4 – What was the most surprising thing you found out about Elon?

Witnessing how intense Elon is firsthand was a revelation. You hear stories about his work ethic, about how ferocious he can be in meetings, about how hard he can be on people. The closer you get to all of this the more you are blown away by this man.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

I’m considered another book, absolutely, but am not 100 percent sure what it will be yet. We’re also trying to work up a movie around the Musk book, so that’s exciting.

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