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12 Books That Influenced Elon Musk

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Elon Musk is one of the greatest entrepreneurs the world has ever seen. A widely successful man who was smart enough to get into a Physics PhD program at Stanford University and then dropped out because it didn’t seem that relevant to him. He is not only one of the smartest alive but also a persistent hard working man.

When asked about how he has learnt to build rockets. He has a simple answer: “I read books”.

In Elon Musk’s Bookshelf there are 12 books that shaped his character and make him wildly successful today. Surprisingly, science fiction and fantasy novels make up much of Tesla and Space X CEO’s reading list. Following are some of the books that influenced Elon Musk, inspiring him as a child and giving him heroes as a young adult.

1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

During his upbringing in South Africa, Musk reported that he experienced tremendous looniness that he aimed to overcome by reading science fiction and fantasy novels. The books he read shaped his vision to save the world through the influence of the heroes portrayed on them.

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Musk reported in an interview that he suffered a major existential crisis between the ages of 12 and 15. However, he could not overcome it until he stumble upon The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, which taught him that the hardest part was to properly phrase the question but that once this was done the answer was easy.

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3. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson

Musk was deeply inspired by Benjamin Franklin, a man who started from nothing and who was a runaway kid. Elon experienced a pretty similar story, growing up in South Africa, going to school in Canada and then transferring to UPEN to finally use an invitation to Stanford’s PhD program to land his feet in Silicon Valley.

4. Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson

Musk learned a lot from Einstein’s biography. A struggling father who couldn’t get a job or doctorate became the man who explained the universe as we know it today. Through his reading, Elon was definitely inspired by a genius who transformed the world through his intelligence and ambition the same way he is doing.

5. Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down, by J.E. Gordon

Musk is an entrepreneur, and as all successful people on the business of entrepreneurship he is a proactive man with an autodidact mindset. The following book helped him get started when he was launching Space X to form the basics he needed to learn about rocket science.

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

Ignition! is another book about rocket science that has the right mix of technical details, descriptions of experiments with spectacular results, background info about the why and how, and about the politics involved. It is a very engaging and uplifting book because Clark captured a lot of the enthusiasm he had for rockets.

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 7. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom

Nick Bostrom explains his view on what would happen if computational intelligence surpassed human intelligence. Musk is a man of great curiosity who runs three extremely successful companies and who once tweeted “We need to be careful with  artificial intelligence”

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

“Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how” Musk once said in an interview. From the man he shared his first major breakthrough with when PayPal went public. Peter Thiel is one of the most successful man in the Valley and his book on How to build the future is just great.

9. Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness, by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele

A biography of the eccentric filmmaker and aviation tycoon who famously got a little nutty at the end of his life. But it’s easy to see why Musk would be attracted to Hughes, who worked in multiple industries and pushed the boundaries of flying.

10. Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Orestes and Erik M. Conway

Musk recommend Merchants of Doubt in a conference back in 2013 when he also summarized the book as “Same who tried to deny smoking deaths r denying climate change.”

11. The Foundation trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

Musk interest in space exploration roots from his early days reading science fiction. This is what he says the book taught him “The lessons of history would suggest that civilizations move in cycles. You can track that back quite far — the Babylonians, the Sumerians, followed by the Egyptians, the Romans, China. We’re obviously in a very upward cycle right now and hopefully that remains the case. But it may not. There could be some series of events that cause that technology level to decline. Given that this is the first time in 4.5 billion years where it’s been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth, it seems like we’d be wise to act while the window was open and not count on the fact it will be open a long time.”

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12. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

This award-winning science-fiction novel, originally published in 1966, paints the picture of a dystopia not too far in the future. It’s exactly the kind of vivid fantasy world that would satisfy an active imagination like Musk’s.

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Featured photo credit: Elon Musk via esteve.co

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