It’s no secret that one of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s favorite books is Douglas Adams’ satirical novel "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy."
He said he plans to name the first SpaceX spacecraft to Mars "Heart of Gold" after a ship in the novel. He dropped references to the story after his Boring Company hats hit 42,000 sales. He’s even described Adams as his "favorite philosopher." So he’s definitely a big fan.
However, one historian recently accused the billionaire of completely missing the point of the stories — and offered a scathing critique of billionaires using sci-fi novels as a "user's manual."
Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian and writer for The New Yorker, appeared on a recent episode of "The Next Big Idea" podcast where she threw shade on Musk’s "Hitchhiker's" fan status. More specifically, she believes that the novels are an "indictment of systems of profound economic inequality," while the CEO’s wealth, lifestyle, and business models are anything but.
She adds that Adams wrote the novel with an anti-apartheid sticker on his typewriter, and suggested he would take issue with Musk’s treatment of his works. Intriguingly, Lepore might be referencing the scurrilous rumors that the billionaire and his family enriched themselves off of the exploitation of victims of apartheid South Africa.
"Douglas Adams is saying, ‘We shouldn’t send wealthy colonists to other planets to build luxury colonies because that is wrong,’ and writing a satire that displays the many ways in which that is wrong," Lepore said. "That is Musk’s guide for living, yet he is using that guide to justify doing the very thing that the story is opposed to."
Musk wasn’t alone in Lepore’s criticisms either. The historian also levied a broadside against his fellow billionaires including Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has drawn inspiration for his much ballyhooed metaverse from Neal Stephenson’s dystopian novel "Snow Crash," and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who once hired Stephenson as an advisor for his space company Blue Origin.
"Why do these guys keep reading science fiction, which often is a searing social criticism — why are they reading it as a user’s manual?" Lepore said.
READ MORE: A Harvard historian explains what Elon Musk is getting wrong about the future [Fast Company]
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