Since his childhood, books have played a crucial role in fueling Musk’s ambitions. It’s said that he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica at age nine and would pore through science fiction novels for more than 10 hours a day.
When asked how he learned about rockets, Musk says, “I read books.” His voracious reading habit was essential to launching his history-making career.
Here are eight books that shaped the revolutionary entrepreneur:
1. “Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down” by J.E. Gordon
When Musk decided he wanted to learn rocket science, he studied textbooks on astrophysics and engineering. While reading advanced texts on physics may not be for everyone, this book offers a lighter take on the science behind SpaceX.
“It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design,” Musk says in an interview with KCRW.
2. “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson
Ben Franklin, author, inventor, scientist and diplomat, is one of Musk’s heroes.
“You can see how [Franklin] was an entrepreneur,” Musk says in an interview with Foundation’s Kevin Rose. “He was an entrepreneur. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.”
3. “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson
Musk says he was influenced by the biography of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, and it’s clear why.
Some of Einstein’s most famous quotes, like “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” and “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new,” speak directly to Musk’s vision for his companies.
4. “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” by Nick Bostrom
Though Musk is a futurist and deeply interested in artificial intelligence, he has shared his worries about potential dangers and ethical concerns associated with the technology.
Bostrom’s book, which deals with the potential challenges presented should computational intelligence surpass human intelligence, is “worth reading” Musk says.
5. “Merchants of Doubt” by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes
Musk recommends this argument by two historians who believe that scientists with political and corporate connections have purposefully muddied the facts around many public health issues, such as the negative effects of smoking.
6. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
This classic novel on survival, competition and greed left its mark on the tech entrepreneur.
“The heroes of the books I read always felt a duty to save the world,” he told the New Yorker.
7. “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” by Peter Thiel
The book, based on notes from a popular class Thiel taught at Stanford University in 2012, focuses on the need for unique thinking among would-be startup founders. Musk says that his Paypal co-founder’s book offers an interesting exploration of the process of building super successful companies.
8. The “Foundation” trilogy by Isaac Asimov
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Musk says Asimov’s books taught him that “civilizations move in cycles,” a lesson that encouraged the entrepreneur to pursue his radical ambitions.
“Given that this is the first time in 4.5 billion years where it’s been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth,” he says, “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.”
Check out how Elon Musk got his start.