Walter Isaacson, whose biography of Elon Musk is set to be released Tuesday, described the tech mogul’s “demon mode,” wild mood swings and scarring childhood, in a series of interviews previewing the book launch.
Isaacson described moments and key lessons he learned from the two years he spent shadowing Musk and talking to more than 100 people in Musk’s personal and professional orbit.
Isaacson said in an interview Monday on the “Today” show on NBC that it wasn’t difficult for him to convince Musk to let him write the biography.
“He thinks of himself as an epic hero on the world stage,” Isaacson said. “So it wasn’t that hard to get him to agree.”
“I think he wanted a biography. I just said I got to be with you at all times, I got to watch you, and you have no control over the book,” he added, noting, too, that Musk often embraces the principle of transparency.
Isaacson described Musk as a man who is always “looking for some drama” but also looking to challenge himself to do more.
“I can’t save a success. I’ve always put chips back on the table,” Isaacson recalled Musk telling him before Musk bought Twitter. At the time, he was the richest person in the world and had found tremendous success with Tesla and SpaceX.
But Isaacson noted Musk sometimes exhibits volatile behavior and said Musk’s emotionally abusive childhood continues to leave scars.
“Musk was a socially awkward kid, scrawny beaten up all the time on the playground by the bullies. But the scars from that were nothing compared to having to stand in front of his father, sometimes for more than an hour, silently, while his father took the side of the people who beat him up, the bullies and things,” Isaacson said.
“And throughout his life, those demons are dancing around in his head, and sometimes, as his mother Maye says, the danger for Elon is that he becomes his father, and Elon can turn dark too and get very tough on people,” Isaacson said on ”Today” and making a similar point in an interview in The Atlantic.
Musk’s occasional girlfriend — Claire Boucher, a musician known by her professional name Grimes — described the moments when Musk grows increasingly angry as his “demon mode,” Isaacson said.
“He has many personalities, and sometimes you’re around a really, you know, half-joking guy or a guy playing, you know, engineering mode, in which he’s really good. But there’s times he goes into what Claire Boucher, his occasional girlfriend known as Grimes, calls, “demon mode,” and that’s when he gets dark,” Isaacson said.
Isaacson noted that Musk has not been officially diagnosed but sometimes “talks about bipolar” to describe his symptoms. He also had been on a wide range of prescription medications, Isaacson said.
“He hasn’t been officially diagnosed, he says, but he talks about bipolar. He takes a lot of prescription medicines at times. He can be variable in his moods, and sometimes has a Jekyll and Hyde quality, where he will go into a dark, depressed mood and say some things, sometimes things that his father said to him, and then a few hours later, you ask him about it. And it’s like he almost has no memory.”
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