What makes Elon Musk tick?

How much money is in Elon Musk's wallet?
How much money is in Elon Musk's wallet?

Elon Musk wants to die on Mars ..."just not on impact."

That's according to the final paragraph of a new book about the billionaire who built a commercial rocket company from scratch and upended the auto industry as a high-profile evangelist for electric cars.

The book, "Elon Musk," by tech journalist Ashlee Vance, portrays Musk as a visionary industrialist working to solve the world's biggest problems with the power of technology. But it doesn't sugarcoat his flaws. Musk is also described as being so driven to achieve greatness that he can seem almost inhuman.

Musk, 43, a serial entrepreneur who made a fortune at PayPal and now runs Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX, wants to spend his golden years on the Red Planet.

"If things turn out well, that would be the case," Musk says. "If my wife and I have a bunch of kids, she would probably stay with them on Earth."

This desire to die on another planet says something about Musk's character. His conviction is absolute. He will achieve his goals despite all odds and at any cost. This trait, the book suggests, is what enables him to do the impossible. It's also what makes him difficult to live and work with.

The Terminator: That's how Musk's first wife, Justine Wilson, describes Musk's obsessive personality. He called her incessantly when he was courting her during the time they were students at Queen's University in Ontario.

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"The man does not take no for an answer," she says. "You can't blow him off. I do think of him as the Terminator. He locks his gaze on something and says, 'It shall be mine.'"

While Musk's persistence eventually won her over, the marriage ultimately ended in an acrimonious divorce.

His childhood: The book delves into Musk's early life in South Africa and mentions the complicated relationship he had with his father, Errol Musk, who was very hard on him and his brother.

"It was not absent of good, but it was not a happy childhood," Musk said. "It was like misery."

The book doesn't go into much detail why, but suggests that Musk endured some form of psychological abuse while living with his father after his parents divorced.

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Photographic memory: Musk was a big fan of science fiction and a natural-born tinkerer as a boy. He had a photographic memory and sometimes spent up to 10 hours a day reading. Family members say he would disappear into his own world, deep in thought and impossible to reach.

Musk's bookish nature made him a target for bullies. He described being badly beaten in school and later acknowledged having a nose job to repair the damage.

The good, bad and ugly: Colleagues describe Musk as extremely demanding and intolerant of failure.

One former employee, who remains unnamed, says Musk scolded him for choosing to attend his child's birth over a company event. Musk adamantly denied the claim. Another said Musk suffered from a "complete lack of loyalty or human connection."

Related: Elon Musk wants Apple to get into the car business

Others say there's another side to Musk that most people don't see. This is the Musk that likes to play video games and is a regular at the annual Burning Man festival.

"People don't realize that Elon has this incredible naivete," said Taulah Riley, the English actress, who Musk married and divorced twice. "There are certain times when he is incapable of anything but pure joy. And then other times pure anger."

Becoming a billionaire: After graduating from The University of Pennsylvania with dual degrees in Economics and Physics, Musk moved to Silicon Valley, where his put his talents to work building tech companies.

By the time he was 27, Musk had $22 million in the bank. But he made $165 million when eBay (EBAY) bought PayPal in 2002.

Musk put all of his money into three long-shot startups, SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, a solar power company run by his cousin Lyndon Rive.

In 2008, both Tesla and SpaceX nearly went out of business. But both companies are now thriving. Tesla has a market value of more than $30 billion. Musk himself is worth an estimated $10 billion.

Related: SpaceX Dragon passenger capsule passes key test

SpaceX has long been his pet project. Musk believes that humans must become an "interplanetary species" in order to survive. This conviction is reflected in SpaceX's long-term goal of colonizing Mars.

The Iron Man myth: Musk is often compared to Tony Stark, the billionaire playboy in the Iron Man comic book and movie franchise.

Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Stark in the films, said he met with Musk at SpaceX headquarters during the making of the first film and was blown away.

"My mind is not easily blown, but this place and this guy were amazing," Downey said.

Stark would have been impressed too, according to Downey.

"Elon was someone Tony probably hung out with and partied with," he said. "More likely they went on some weird jungle trek together to drink concoctions with the shamans."

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