ABP Speaker David Pogue Gets Inside Elon Musk’s Brain
22 Sep 2023
Whether you think Elon Musk is an incredible genius or an unhinged lunatic, there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, says David Pogue, APB speaker, Nova host and CBS Sunday Morning correspondent. Musk manages to achieve the impossible and has helped change the world.
To get inside Elon Musk’s brain, Pogue interviewed bestselling author Walter Isaacson—who just released a new 688-page biography on the man—for Sunday Morning and his Unsung Science podcast. Isaacson spent more than two years with the owner of Tesla, SpaceX, Starlink and the social-media site X—once known as Twitter. The author had a front-row seat for all the meltdowns and meetings and how Musk thinks.
"There's no single Elon Musk,” Isaacson says. “He has many personalities—almost multiple personalities. And you can watch him go from being very giddy and funny to being deeply in engineering mode. And then, suddenly the dark cloud happens. It's almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Isaacson believes that Musk’s penchant for drama—a theme that has run throughout his life— and his many personalities can be credited to an unhappy childhood, which included traumatic bullying, and to his abusive father, Errol.
"It has left deep scars on him, the way his father treated him," Isaacson says.
When he was 12, Musk was paid $500 to publish the code of a simple video game he had written, Pogue says. He started college in Canada and then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. After college, he started and sold two software companies, one of which turned into PayPal. With his share of the sale, he founded SpaceX. About two years after that, he started Tesla.
But that was just the beginning, Pogue says. Musk also runs a brain implant company, a tunneling operation, a solar roof division, a robot division, a new artificial intelligence company and Starlink—a constellation of 5,000 satellites that can bring high-speed internet to the entire planet, including remote regions and disaster areas.
So besides the drama, what drives Musk? He’s uncomfortable when everything is running smoothly. “There was a wonderful moment at the beginning of 2022 when everything is going really well … And I'm thinking, Alright, you must really be able to now sit back and you know, smell the flowers, savor success. And he says, ‘No, it's unsettling to me.’ And that's when he started secretly buying up shares of Twitter.”
With all of his incredible accomplishments and almost an equal amount of controversy, what will Musk’s legacy be? “He brought us into the era of electric vehicles when GM and Ford had given up," Isaacson says. "He said, 'Yes, we can shoot astronauts into orbit,' when NASA had decommissioned the space shuttle. So, a hundred years from now, we'll still be baffled in some ways about how dark he could be, but we'll say, 'Yeah, yeah. He put his finger on the surface of history, and the ripples came out.'"