Video: 'Elon Musk' biographer explains the book's complicated motivations

Bestselling biographer Walter Isaacson joined the L.A. Times Book Club on Sunday to discuss the two years he spent shadowing one of his most innovative, unpredictable subjects yet to write “Elon Musk.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with Times columnist Anita Chabria, Isaacson talked about the influence of Musk’s abusive father, the billionaire’s pivotal tech role in the Ukraine war, why he bought Twitter and how Musk’s estrangement from his trans daughter helps explain his current politics.

The former editor of Time magazine, Isaacson has profiled some of history’s greatest game changers, including Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and biochemist Jennifer Doudna.

Isaacson’s new book details Musk’s violent childhood in South Africa, his escape to Canada, his college years at the University of Pennsylvania and then his dramatic, tumultuous rise in Silicon Valley. The author portrays an entrepreneur who thrives on risk, lacks empathy for others and is obsessed with video games, computers, electric cars, rockets, getting to Mars and with books too.

Early on, readers learn that a youthful Elon was heavily influenced by “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the science fiction book by Douglas Adams about denizens of the galaxy trying to figure out the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Isaacson says the novel helped shape Musk’s philosophy.

“Elon Musk” was the September selection of the L.A. Times Book Club, which brings readers and authors together every month for live events.

In October, the book club is reading “Collision of Power: Trump, Bezos, and the Washington Post” by Martin Baron. He returns to Los Angeles Oct. 11 to discuss the book with Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida.

Sign up for the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter for the latest events and book news. You can support the book club and community discussion through the new Los Angeles Times Community Fund.

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