Many business leaders have credited books with providing the knowledge that helped them become successful. Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink and The Boring Company, said “I read books” when asked how he learned to build rockets. As an enterprising teenager, he read both Wealth of Nations and Das Kapital, concluding that “Monopolies are [the] true enemy of people. Competing to serve is good. Adam Smith FTW obv.” Elon Musk’s favorites include fantasy and sci-fi novels, biographies, and books on artificial intelligence. These books taught him a lot about creative thinking, leadership, and the world. Here are some of the titles that Elon Musk recommends:
By Peter Thiel
The author of this book is a close friend of Musk’s and they founded PayPal together. Musk said, “Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how.” Musk, although a billionaire, has always put advancing society above making money. Even his favorite business book is centered on improving the world around him. The main subject of Thiel’s work is how companies can affect change in the world.
By Sam Harris
Elon Musk is also a friend of philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris. Musk tweeted, “Read Lying, the new book by my friend Sam Harris. Excellent cover art and lots of good reasons not to lie!”
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Elon read a lot of fantasy and science-fiction novels as a child. He once quoted a line from J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy on Twitter and he even said “LotR is my favorite book ever.” Musk stated that he was inspired by the hero’s determination to save the world – another nod to his fascination with the advancement of humanity.
By Isaac Asimov
Musk has referred to this science fiction trilogy as one of his favorite childhood reads. It is easy to see that this trilogy may have inspired Elon’s early fascination with space exploration and colonization. The plot centers around the settling of other planets, the fall of an intergalactic society, and the cyclical lifespan of empires.
By Frank Herbert
The Dune universe, set in the distant future of humanity, has a history that stretches thousands of years and covers considerable changes in political, social, and religious structure as well as technology. Musk called the Dune series “brilliant.” He likes that the author “advocates placing limits on machine intelligence.”
By Douglas Adams
Musk enjoyed reading this light-hearted sci-fi adventure novel as a teenager and he even said the spacecraft in The Hitchhiker’s Guide is his favorite sci-fi spacecraft.
By John Green
Musk once tweeted, “Must admit to liking The Fault in Our Stars too. Sad, romantic and beautifully named.”
By Ayn Rand
Musk stated that this classic novel is “Very appealing if you’re a sophomore in college. It’s a counterpoint to communism and useful as such, but should be tempered with kindness.”
By J.E. Gordon
With Musk’s interest in building things – both in space as well as terrestrial projects like tunnels – the autodidact began self-educating himself on all things engineering. One of the books that helped him was this primer on industrial and structural design.
By John D. Clark
“There is a good book on rocket stuff by John Clark that’s a really fun one,” said Musk. Ignition! is the story of the search for a rocket propellant which could be trusted to take humans into space. This was a hazardous enterprise carried out by rival labs, with no guarantee of success or safety. Clark was an American chemist and writer active in the development of rocket fuels back in the 1950s-1970s, and the book is both an account of the growth of the field and an explainer of how the science works.
By Walter Isaacson
Musk’s reading list isn’t without biographies, including this Walter Isaacson book on Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, an innovative inventor, is one of Musk’s personal heroes.
By Walter Isaacson
Musk loves to read about and learn from great innovators and inventors of the past. Elon is said to be a huge fan of biographer Walter Isaacson due to the inspirational way he tells the life stories of his subjects – including this book on Albert Einstein.
By W. Bernard Carlson
Nikola Tesla was the first person who invented the AC induction motor. Since Tesla cars run on AC, Elon Musk credited Tesla by naming his electric car company after him. If you want to learn more about Tesla’s life and work, Musk recommends this biography.
By Nick Bostrom
Elon Musk has been very vocal in the media about his opinion on artificial intelligence and the impact that AI technology will have on the future of humanity. He recommends this book, which considers questions about the future of intelligent life in a world where machines might become smarter than people.
By Max Tegmark
Life 3.0 is another title recommended by Musk that focuses on the subject of artificial intelligence. This book pays special attention to the positive aspects of AI and how it can create a better future. The author is an MIT professor who cofounded the Future of Life institute and advises researchers on how to keep AI beneficial.
By James Barrat
And finally, Musk said in a 2014 tweet that this book, which examines the risks of AI, is also worth reading. Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI and how it may impact human life.
I believe you can learn a lot about what someone values by looking at their bookshelf. Elon Musk’s top book selections all direct back to the overarching theme of his work and life: how to move the human race forward by doing the most good, and no harm.
Have you read a book that Elon Musk recommended? Let us know in the comment section below.