Elon, Jimmy, and Al
These were my first 3 books of the year.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
(Not pictured; I’ve lent this book to Randy.)
What a fascinating man.
Difficult childhood and adolescence; entrepreneur, engineer, businessman. Extremely long-term visionary, but I knew that already – What I didn’t know of are his penchant to push people beyond what they think is possible, and his aversion to being told “no” or “this can’t be done” – unless you explain the physics of the problem and have already prepared alternatives or countermeasures. His struggles with personal relationships are also illuminating.
My only issue with the book is that it felt, at times, like “hero worship” – here are Musk’s grand ideas and the grand things his companies are doing. It felt overbearing at times. However, they are doing incredible things, and the writing itself may be further proof of Elon’s effect on people (such as the author). If the aim of a biography is to help you understand a person, then I believe this book has succeeded.
The Wikipedia Revolution by Andrew Lih
This was a much drier read; For long stretches of this book, it read as nothing more than a technical-ish explanation of how Wikipedia (the website) evolved from predecessors long-past into the platform that upended what it meant to be an ‘encyclopedia’. Despite my current occupation as a developer, the more illuminating (and interesting) parts of the book were those that more closely resembled a sociological study of the Wikipedians themselves: How a group (then groups) of strangers willingly invested time and knowledge, at no personal gain, into a behemoth of a project that today contains over 5 million articles in the English language alone – and the conflicts that inevitably surface when such a massive group of passionate people come together.
The Jimmy in the title refers to Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia.
Falling to Earth by Al Worden
Honestly, I wish I had found and read this book right after finishing Space, since it provides a real view of the Apollo program – a great counterweight to the fictional work of Michener, though sharing plenty of the same technology, locations, organizations, and tragedies.
In this book, Al Worden, Command Module Pilot (CMP) of the Apollo 15 mission to the Moon, tells of (SPOILERS):
- His humble roots in rural Michigan, leaving the farm for a higher education, entering West Point, and winding up as a test pilot in the Air Force – all before being accepted into the astronaut program at NASA
- His struggle to balance his personal relationships with his dedication towards chasing his goals and dreams – ultimately, he would sacrifice his first marriage in order to go to the Moon
- The Apollo program, of friends gained and lost, and the mission to the Moon itself (which is profoundly described – his largest takeaway was the need for humanity to work together as one to protect and improve our home, Earth)
- And finally, his fall from grace at NASA, after he is accused (though ultimately vindicated) of possible corruption – I feel very sorry for Al in his episode, as he gets pretty shafted by the entire episode – though I’m also aware that I’m reading of this from his point of view
Overall, it was a great look into the intricacies of the Apollo program and Moon missions at their peak, once you got through the slightly slow start; I would’ve preferred a shorter beginning to the book, and more content on Al’s post-Apollo life. After all, he writes himself that some of his greatest lessons and contributions came after, namely his work with scholarships and his (failed) run for Congress.
Although I quite enjoyed reading about Musk and Worden, I doubt that I will be a non-fiction aficionado any time soon – I started feeling worn out by the end of Falling to Earth. I’ve found that this is where I diverge from my fellow STEM graduates; most of whom (that I’ve met) prefer reading of Buffett, Gates, and Jobs. My own heart yearns for a return to crafted worlds and pretty prose. American Gods by Neil Gaiman is next.