"Insane Mode," Hamish McKenzie, Dutton, 294 pages, $30.
Journalist Hamish McKenzie spent a year working for Tesla, but he makes clear at the outset of his book, “Insane Mode: How Elon Musk’s Tesla Sparked an Electric Revolution to End the Age of Oil,” that this is no insider’s story.
Instead, he seeks to spotlight the company’s strategy in the context of the auto industry’s identity crisis. He interviews auto experts and electric-car CEOs to illuminate how Tesla paved the way for imitators seeking a foothold in the clean-energy game.
McKenzie introduces us to Musk, the mercurial entrepreneur who was bullied in South Africa and later won acclaim as a co-founder of PayPal; that success plumped him with enough capital to launch both Tesla and SpaceX, his aerospace manufacturing and transportation company.
In 2018 Musk’s unpredictable nature and erratic actions were center stage. McKenzie sometimes veers into Tesla cheerleading by stressing the company’s hits over its misses. But the reader also benefits from his exhaustive research, which delivers a fairly nuanced view of how big automakers are trying to keep up with Tesla’s innovations.
McKenzie writes with breeziness and avoids talking down to readers or loading on too much insider detail. He apparently didn’t interview Musk; the quotes in the book come from company releases, news conferences and media reports. If McKenzie had been able to infuse his tale with original Musk comments, the book would have further stood apart from other works on Tesla’s impact.