What is it like to shadow Elon Musk for two years? To sit courtside as he builds a rocket? Or tears apart an engineer? Or couch surfs at the homes of billionaires? And how on earth do you make sense of it all? Walter Isaacson is the biographer of giants: DaVinci, Franklin, Doudna, Jobs...and now Musk, former enfant terrible, rocket launcher, electric car innovator, and Twitter—er, X—disruptor, to put it gently. In this four part series, author Evan Ratliff (Mastermind, Longform Podcast) sits down with Isaacson to draw out the behind-the-scenes stories of this epic biography, and what the writer has learned as an outsider inside Silicon Valley.
Walter Isaacson is the bestselling author of biographies of Jennifer Doudna, Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. He is a professor of history at Tulane and was CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2023. Visit him at Isaacson.Tulane.edu.
Evan Ratliff is an award-winning investigative journalist. He is the author of The Mastermind, and the host of PERSONA and Longform. Evan’s reporting and writing appears in Wired, The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek and other magazines. He was also the cofounder and editor in chief of the narrative publication The Atavist Magazine, which under his editorship was nominated for two Emmy Awards and nine National Magazine Awards and the co-founder of Pop-Up Magazine.
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Episode Four: What is Musk’s Legacy?
Which of Musk’s efforts will mark his legacy? Will it be Starship and his work bringing Americans back into orbit, or will it be X and his amplifications of the worst of humanity? Isaacson wrestles with his time in Silicon Valley, and relays a comparison of Jobs and Musk that’s sure to stay with you.
43 min - 12 dec 2023
Episode Three: Storytelling and Hot Takes
Be a storyteller, not a preacher. That was novelist Walker Percy’s legendary advice to a young Walter Isaacson. One he takes to heart in his work as a journalist at Time and CNN, and as a biographer of creative genius across the centuries—and in trying to capture someone as volatile as Elon Musk. He reflects on the challenges of holding the complexity of a character in his mind—and the minds of readers—in the modern age, when everyone just wants to know if the emerald mines were real.
44 min - 12 dec 2023
Episode Two: Demons
What kind of titan of industry has a giddy mode? Or a demon mode? The two aspects of Musk’s personality are forces that drive his choices and behavior at work—and vectors Isaacson finds critical to understanding how Musk operates. From ripping out servers on Christmas Eve on a whim to buying Twitter against better wisdom, and reaming out staff members left right and center, we stare into the darker parts of Musk as chronicled by Isaacson.
42 min - 12 dec 2023
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