Walter Isaacson was a gullible writer-upper of Musk's tall tales

Originally published at: Walter Isaacson was a gullible writer-upper of Musk's tall tales | Boing Boing


Musk “loves to tell hilarious lies”…

We’ll let the SEC be the judge of that.


Indulging in “Great Man” history is dodgy enough before one starts relying on the “Great Man” himself as a main source.

What you have to understand, though, is that the point of being in the floating world is that it doesn’t matter what anyone outside it thinks.

That includes other courtiers. Petty sniping from one’s peers is just one of the prices one pays for living at Versailles.


At least some of the humor here comes from the fact that, prior to this, Isaacson was a respectable journalist and biographer, and now he gets to spend the rest of his life knowing history will remember him only as Elon Musk’s chump.


At some point he lost track of the wisdom imparted by the grizzled chief editor to the social-climbing managing editor in the 1994 movie “The Paper”:

Well, the people we cover - we move in their world but it is their world. You can’t live like them, Alicia. You’ll never keep up. Now, if you try and make this job about the money, you’ll be nothing but miserable, 'cause we don’t get the money - never have, never will.


Maybe, but I see no evidence that Musk is an innovator at all, much less a great one. He’s a venture capitalist. The idea that he’s an inventor/engineer/scientist, a real life Tony Stark in other words, is a complete fiction that Musk himself made up. It is, in fact, the only thing he’s actually invented.


In a just world, this would be the end of Isaacson’s career.

In this world, it ensures he’ll have a steady stream of work ghostwriting auto-hagiographies.


Katalin Kariko and Andrew Weissman won the Novel today for developing mRNA viruses. Musk hasn’t saved as many lives, but gets more press. Maybe the scientists are horrible people when you get to know them, but they sound like modest hard working scientists who did something most scientists thought impossible, and not “risk-seeking man-children who resist potty training.”


Drop that “hilarious”.

Musk is astonishingly unfunny and unlikeable, which makes his obvious, desperate need to be seen as funny and likeable all the more pathetic. If he wasn’t an far-right ultrabillionaire piece of shit, I’d pity him. However, he is, so fuck him.


Christ, it’s assholes all the way down…


Walter Isaacson is someone who has made a career out of hero worshiping ‘white dude geniuses’ without really questioning if they were the innovators they pretended or just privileged folks who were in the right place. So… yeah, who the fuck is surprised here?


I listened to a recent podcast of Hard Fork where they interviewed Isaacson about his Musk biography. He described Musk as deeply mercurial and prone to incredible mood swings that govern (or not) his behavior.

The other thing that struck me was this idea that Musk views everything -life, business, relationships, etc. - as an engineering problem to be solved. He muses that that’s why his Twitter purchase has failed so spectacularly because Elon can’t comprehend the “social” aspects of social media and why that’s important.

(One example: he brings up the topic of Musk being obsessed with ‘fixing’ the video streaming features of Twitter and how myopic he is that that’s why users and advertisers have dropped off so severely since the acquisition.)

Interesting interview. It does reinforce the “rich dude worship” criticism but it helps to hear him describe his interactions with Musk in his own voice.


I don’t know how accurate this is. I believe that Musk believes that about himself. He fancies himself an engineer after all. But he’s not an engineer. He doesn’t have an engineering degree, and he’s never done any engineering work. He’s a business executive and venture capitalist. He has a B.A. in Physics and a B.S. in Economics (I was shocked you could even get a B.S. in econ…it’s not a hard science, but whatever). He may view everything in his life as a problem to be solved, but he’s not an engineer and I don’t see any evidence that he takes an engineering approach to problem solving. That would involve testing, data collection, and revising hypotheses. He doesn’t do that. He throws shit at a wall and hopes it sticks.


Oh I absolutely agree with you…just saying that’s what Isaacson observed about him in his 2 years of following him around for his book which included the early days of the Twitter acquisition. Musk certainly fancies himself as an engineering-wannabe and just like other Silicon Valley tech bros thinks life and society is nothing but a series of technical problems that can be solved with money, code and force of will.


It would be interesting, though ultimately not terribly important, to know how the rot set in.

Isaacson doesn’t seem like a garden variety idiot; and his list of publications includes biographies of people who were dead at the time and only amenable to analysis through reconciliation of assorted sources, most of them incomplete if not outright inaccurate in places, without any obvious opportunity for Franklin or Einstein to dangle ‘access’ or other incentives in front of him.

Did he just never have any real resistance to a subject actively trying to play him, and gradually grew into being worth playing? Started out with a greater sense of rigor but learned that it’s easier and more popular to tell a good story for the broader public than to put in the extra work for a narrower circle of peers and colleagues? Always overrated but managed to avoid really embarrassing discontinuities until now?


“likes to tell hilarious lies”

That’s a rather roundabout way of saying that the man’s a sociopath, don’t you think?


I believe he didn’t actually finish that physics degree. IIRC, the Economics B.S. is the only degree he has that’s been verified, and that was basically bought for him.


getting it mixed up with that book about SBF now

1 Like

That may be, I haven’t done a deep dive into his academic history. I just always found it interesting that he (allegedly) got a Bachelor of Arts in Physics and a Bachelor of Science in Economics. Those degrees are typically reversed. Most universities don’t even offer a BS in Economics because it’s not a hard science.


IIRC, he studied at University of Pennsylvania, and some of those Ivy League universities award mostly BAs for undergraduate studies. So I don’t think it’s that impossible as such. :slight_smile: