Review: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

 

 

I cringed many times as I read through this book – there are parts which are more of a hagiography than a biography. It was expected as some of the reviews pointed out that book is written by a fan boy. However, by the end of the book, I came to a different conclusion. Vance is playing to the galleries. Elon Musk is an awe inspiring figure for many. Vance is looking to sell his book to the same crowd. So, he paints the picture that his audience wants – with some warts.

However, there is sufficient information in the book that can allow a reader to draw her own conclusions. I particularly love the appendices. Vance needs to be credited for leaving Musk’s statements as they were.

This book does a good job of painting a picture of how Musk is – Driven, analytical, hard working, brusque etc. It also does a good job of unearthing details of his childhood which had a bearing on how he came to be.

However, it does a poor job of telling us how he made SpaceX and Tesla to their current positions. There are hints throughout: hard work and hard drive, working from basic physics up, setting up clear targets, focus on what to do with setbacks rather than allocating blame, hiring and retaining great talent etc. But that is not the main narrative. The narrative is that of the person rather than his amazing work. In that, this book is a bit disappointing. It still doesn’t explain well enough why Musk succeeded where others failed. It doesn’t come anywhere near explaining how he did it two times – simultaneously!

Review: Dare to Run

Dare to RunDare to Run by Amit Sheth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love books which share the author’s experiences authentically. Dare to run is a compilation of essays that Amit wrote in his journey from a novice runner who couldn’t run beyond a few meters to an ultramarathoner who finished the 89KM long Comrades that happens over a hilly terrain.

As a runner, I could identify with and feel strongly about several episodes. The self doubt that comes up in the first few days of running; the pain and shame of not finishing, the joy of crossing the finish line – Amit describes them all so well. The bit about crossing the Comarades 2010 finish line with the Indian flag was particularly moving and brought tears to my eyes.

Amit also shares his thoughts that came to him as he ran his long runs and races. It essentially underlines that running a marathon is a personal journey and struggle. Amit’s philosophical musings are his personal ways of looking at the struggle and he shares very generously. Amit also talks about how long distance running changes one’s life – social life changes, food habits change, priorities change. This again is true for many runners and this is the first time I’ve seen a runner’s account of this aspect.

Somehow, some of the parts do not gel into the book. For example there is more description of Dublin rather than the Dublin marathon. It stands out as there is hardly any link between the run and description of the place. The same disconnect is not felt for the essay on Florence marathon because the description of David etc gels in with the run and becomes a Runner’s experience which is what I expect from a book with a title like “Dare to run”. For the other bits, I’d turn elsewhere. For this reason, I’d give only 4 stars and not 5.

Overall: Good read for long distance runners anywhere and particularly in India. I also think that its an important book. As marathons in particular and sports in general bring in more participation in India, there is acute need for personal stories like these which inspire us. I hope that the recent commonwealth games winners also publish their stories.

Review: Keep off the Grass

Keep off the GrassKeep off the Grass by Karan Bajaj

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Its quite well written. A line about books, from the book itself, describes the content the best – “someone, somewhere thinks exactly like you – and articulates it better”. In terms of style, the prose flows well and easy to read. I think Karan has done a great job in his first book.

I loved the book also because Karan has based several of the characters in the book on the real people who were our classmates at IIM B. In fact, the name of one of them is not even disguised! Also some of the incidents are borrowed from actual history as well. I smiled to myself many times just because I could remember or imagine the actual people saying stuff that they say in the book.

On the whole, it was a personal trip for me. So, I’m not sure that someone else would have the same experience as I did and would probably rate the book a tad lower.

Wholeheartedly recommended to all PGP 2002 folks – particularly those who were in section B. Well worth a read to others as well.

Guy Kawasaki’s new Book: Enchantment

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and ActionsEnchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full Disclosure: Guy sent me a free review copy but I would still say the same things even if I had paid for it. I did feel obligated to read the book and write a review before the book hits the stores. I’m glad that I pushed it up on my reading list.

In short, its great book and everyone who deals with people in one way or the other should read it. Which, I guess, means pretty much everyone. Guy has put together advice taken from several great sources: books, blogs, people he knows and his personal experience and put it together in a very accessible way. Just the sheer wealth of insights/advice collated together makes this book worthwhile. Furthermore, Guy has put it together in the usual Guy Kawasaki way: conversational and bullet pointed. Thus, it makes for easy reading. I also noticed that the Contents page is presented as a checklist which incidentally is one technique that Guy advocates in the book.

The strong point of the book is its weak point too. The advice sounds quite simple and easy to use. On the positive side, its easy to start using it the next day. On the negative side, if one falters, there isn’t much to incorporate the feedback as the matter is condensed into crispy bullets. For deeper understanding and better chances of success, one is better off reading the books and other sources that Guy refers to. I think Guy does realise that and he has done his job through extensive attribution and Bibliography. The rest is up to the reader.

There are parts where the research looks thin. For example, I don’t know in which Indian language Tata means Grandfather and I’ve traveled/lived fairly all over the country. It just makes one a bit more skeptical of other parts of the book. But given that Guy’s been here only twice, I’m inclined to overlook it.

Overall: Great compendium of great advice. Well put together. Saves a lot of effort in reading a lot more material written in a far more tedious way. Don’t stop at this book though and get into the books that Guy refers to.

Review: The Grand Design

The Grand DesignThe Grand Design by Stephen W. Hawking

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book makes for a very easy reading in spite of the topic involved. The authors do not get into any maths or more complex arguments. Also there are a no of pictures/illustrations which smoothen the reader’s flow and provide welcome breaks. Thus, its easy to understand.

The key takeaway is the concept of model-dependent reality. Its a concept more out of a psychology or Buddhism/Hinduism or existentialism rather than hard core physics. The M Theory is not really described in any detail or with rigor. Counterarguments and supporting data is also missing though the authors claim that the theory is testable. Thus, it would be more interesting to see if other physicists adopt the idea of model-dependent reality and come up with other theories rather than to see how they respond to M Theory.

On the whole a very readable book. Well worth the read just for its description of works of Einstein and Feynman. The authors have to be congratulated for conveying the core ideas with such simplicity and brevity.

Also inspired me to re-look at the daunting task of reading the Road to Reality by Roger Penrose  🙂