Food & Culture

8 Books That Elon Musk Says Changed His Life

Want to be like Elon Musk? Join our obsessively fanatical club. Among his many titles and descriptors, Musk is a certifiable bookworm. And that's basically all the motivation we need to propel ourselves to the nearest Barnes & Noble at Hyperloop speeds.

The starting point of every one of Musk's astounding accomplishments is a voracious appetite for the written word. Since his tough childhood in South Africa, Musk has kept his nose buried in books (and comics). It's said that he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica at age nine, and would immerse himself in sci-fi novels for more than 10 hours a day. According to the billionaire tech mogul himself, the following eight books were standouts in helping to shape and inspire his life and career.

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"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

Musk found himself in a slump in his early teen years after having read too many works by moody philosophers Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Then he found this Douglas Adams gem, and something clicked. "I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean?," Musk told Alison van Diggelen in an interview. "So then I read 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,' which is quite positive, I think. And it highlighted an important point, which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part." (Get the book here.)

"Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson

It only makes sense for one genius to be inspired by an earlier genius, no? This book, which Musk recommends in an interview with Foundation, tells the story of a brilliant man who transforms the world with his intelligence and ambition. Hmm, sounds familiar. (Get the book here.)

"Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down" by J.E. Gordon

Before starting a company like SpaceX, you better know a thing or two about rocket science. One way Musk taught himself the industry is with this read. "It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design," Musk said in an interview with KCRW. (Get the book here.)

"Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants" by John D. Clark

Speaking of rockets, Musk suggests checking out this influential classic book in an interview with MediaBistro: "There is a good book on rocket stuff called 'Ignition!' by John Clark that's a really fun one." This book is reportedly pretty hard to get your hands on (the hardcover will cost you about $300), but the rare text is available online here and here. (Get a physical copy here, though it is a little pricey.)

"Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies" by Nick Bostrom

If anyone knows anything about superintelligence, it's our man Elon. He has been no stranger to the ongoing conversation about AI, and cites this book as helpful reference material for that debate. (His stance, by the way, is that AI is "potentially more deadly than nukes," as you can see in the tweet below. (Get the book here.)

"Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" by Peter Thiel

Taking advice from Musk is one thing, but you can take it up a notch by learning from someone he learned from, too: the co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel. "Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and 'Zero to One' shows how," Musk says. (Get the book here.)

The "Foundation" trilogy by Isaac Asimov, and "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien

These two are paired together for one reason: "The heroes of the books I read always felt a duty to save the world," he told The New Yorker. But his favorite? "In terms of sci-fi books, I think Isaac Asimov is really great. I like the 'Foundation' series, probably one of the all-time best," Musk told KCRW. (Get "Foundation" here and "The Lord of the Rings" here.)

How about a book on Elon Musk himself, huh? Check out his biography by Ashlee Vance, "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future." The audiobook is free with a trial from Audible, too!

An Evening with Elon Musk

Written by Joanie Faletto December 28, 2017