Penguin Random House acquires rights to ‘Elon Musk’ by Walter Isaacson, which will publish in 28 countries, starting Sept. 12; German-language rights secured by C. Bertelsmann, a Penguin Random House Verlagsgruppe publisher

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May 31, 2023 (press release) –

“It’s like trying to take notes while drinking from a fire hose,” said author Walter Isaacson last year in an interview with the “New York Times” about his work on a biography about the self-made billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Isaacson has a lot of experience in the genre, with his biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs in particular making him famous around the world. Isaacson has now completed his work entitled “Elon Musk”; it will initially be published in 28 countries, starting September 12. The German-language rights were secured by C. Bertelsmann, a Penguin Random House Verlagsgruppe publisher. In the Spanish-speaking world, Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, or more precisely the publisher Debate, will publish the biography on September 14.

“Elon Musk,” writes the publisher, “is the astonishingly intimate story of the most fascinating and controversial innovator of our era—a rule-breaking visionary who helped to lead the world into the era of electric vehicles, private space exploration, and artificial intelligence. And of course it will also cover Musk’s purchase of Twitter. For two years, Isaacson shadowed Musk, attended his meetings, walked his factories with him, and spent hours interviewing him, his family, friends, coworkers, and adversaries. The result is the revealing inside story, filled with amazing tales of triumphs and turmoil, that addresses the question: are the demons that drive Musk also what it takes to drive innovation and progress?

When Elon Musk was a kid in South Africa, he was regularly beaten by bullies. One day a group pushed him down some concrete steps and kicked him until his face was a swollen ball of flesh. He was in the hospital for a week. But the physical scars were minor compared to the emotional ones inflicted by his father, an engineer, rogue, and charismatic fantasist. When Elon came home from the hospital, his father gave him a dressing-down. “I had to stand there for an hour while he yelled at me, called me an idiot and told me I was just worthless.”

His father’s impact on his psyche would linger. Musk developed into a tough yet vulnerable man-child, prone to abrupt mood swings, with an exceedingly high tolerance for risk, a craving for drama, an epic sense of mission, and a maniacal intensity that was callous and at times destructive. At the beginning of 2022—after a year marked by SpaceX launching thirty-one rockets into orbit, Tesla selling a million cars, and him becoming the richest man on earth—Musk spoke ruefully about his compulsion to stir up dramas. “I need to shift my mindset away from being in crisis mode, which it has been for about fourteen years now, or arguably most of my life,” he said. It was a wistful comment, not a New Year’s resolution. Even as he said it, he was secretly buying up shares of Twitter, the world’s ultimate playground. Over the years, whenever he was in a dark place, his mind went back to being bullied on the playground. Now he had the chance to own the playground.

Walter Isaacson has authored biographies of Jennifer Doudna, Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. He is former CEO of the Aspen Institute, former president of CNN, and former editor of “Time.” He is currently a professor of history at Tulane University. In 2023, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

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