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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Walter Isaacson, Michael Lewis discuss their newly published books

Authors Walter Isaacson and Michael Lewis visited Tulane last week to kick off the beginning of the New Orleans Book Festival. (Lindsay Ruhl)

Authors Walter Isaacson and Michael Lewis visited Tulane University last week to speak on their newest books on two of the most controversial leaders in technology in the modern era. 

The authors spoke in McAlister Auditorium on Oct. 18 to start off the New Orleans Book Festival, which will bring dozens more authors to campus during its annual gathering in March. Both authors attended the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans.

Lewis published “Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon,” on Oct. 3 about Sam Bankman-Fried, the cryptocurrency giant who is now a criminal defendant accused of fraud. 

Isaacson, a professor at Tulane, published a biography titled “Elon Musk” on Sept. 11, after he spent years shadowing the Tesla CEO, founder of the rocket company SpaceX and newfound owner of X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“It’s a harmonic convergence that these two books have come together,” Lewis said. “They rhyme in so many ways.”

Isaacson has previously written biographies on notable figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin. 

“I wrote it somewhat differently than my other books, which is that it’s just a fast-paced narrative with very short chapters that has the mind of Musk leaping from place to place in this frenzy,” Isaacson said.

Both books followed prominent figures who have made history with technological controversies and actions.

“Your character and mine shared a trait, which is, they don’t have emotional receptors or transmitters very well,” Isaacson said. “Musk talks about being on the autism spectrum; you read the beginning of your book and this guy is doing the same thing, playing video games at all times and doesn’t care who’s around him.”

Lewis focused on the rise and fall of Bankman-Fried, who founded cryptocurrency exchange FTX, became the world’s youngest billionaire then abruptly resigned as CEO as the company collapsed into bankruptcy. He was then arrested and charged with orchestrating one of the largest financial frauds of his generation. 

Lewis described Bankman-Fried as incapable of feeling emotions.

“He didn’t feel love; he didn’t feel pleasure; he didn’t feel pride,” Lewis said. “Yet he writes to one of his girlfriends, the woman who’s now about to put him in jail: ‘You really shouldn’t be with me; no one should be with me. In some ways, I don’t have a soul. My feelings are all fake and manufactured; even my facial expressions are fake and manufactured.’”

Lewis asked Isaacson if Musk had ever changed his behavior in front of Isaacson while he was shadowing him for the book. 

“People kept saying, we were hoping if you were in the room [Musk] would behave better,” Isaacson said. “He never seemed to care that I was there. I learned not to fill his silences because in between meetings, he always takes 10 minutes and just processes. He’d let me sit there, and I would never say anything, and then, occasionally, he would just pour out certain things. But it wasn’t as a performance.”

In the middle of Lewis writing his book, Bankman-Fried was arrested, and the story began to explode.

“At some point, it just started writing itself; the material was just so good,” Lewis said. “I was thinking, I wonder if the reader is going to pick up the aching thoughts [behind] what was going on in this book. One of the things that was going on in this book was that it was essentially a story of artificial intelligence.”

Isaacson compared his and Lewis’ childhoods growing up in New Orleans to the childhood of Musk’s. Isaacson said that he and Lewis “had magical childhoods into the most magical place you could possibly have.” 

“I think that most people I’ve written about have a certain passion that comes from the demons of their childhood and being misfits,” Isaacson said. “Whether it’s Leonardo growing up gay, lefthanded, illegitimate, to Steve Jobs trying to figure out his father, Ben Franklin running away from his apprenticeship in Boston, Einstein growing up Jewish in Germany. So anybody who’s got those demons, that sometimes drives them to be disruptive, passionate people — the way Musk is.”

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