Peter Theil Book Recommendations
For many reasons, self-made billionaire Peter Theil and books simply go hand in hand, whether it’s those written about or by him. After all, he is a co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies, and Founders Fund, as well as the first outside investor in Facebook. Each of these companies has played a profound role in revolutionizing digital and social norms during the early 21st century.
Theil’s Founders Fund actively manages noteworthy investments in Stripe, SpaceX, Airbnb, and Affirm, the latter two both went public in the past year. The billion-dollar question is, how does Peter Theil know a promising idea when he encounters one?
“Every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside,” he wrote in his book, Zero to One. “A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”
Be it in relation to his degree from Stanford University or by his own resolve, reading has played a profound role in shaping Peter Theil as a person, and furthermore, this favorite educational activity of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and profitable for that matter – approach he takes to life.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of the world’s wealthiest men to the pinnacle of financial success, we’ve compiled a list of 15 books Peter Theil has read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.
Originals by Adam Grant
Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.
Learn from an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, an analyst who overturned the rule of secrecy at the CIA, a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him, and a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy but saved Seinfeld from the cutting-room floor. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.
Source: “It can sometimes seem as if one must learn everything old before one can try anything new,” Theil ponders in a review of Originals. “Adam Grant does a masterful job showing that is not the case; we are lucky to have him as a guide.”
7 Powers by Hamilton Helmer
7 Powers breaks fresh ground by constructing a comprehensive strategy toolset that is easy for you to learn, communicate and quickly apply. Drawing on his decades of experience as a business strategy advisor, active equity investor, and Stanford University teacher, Hamilton Helmer develops from first principles a practical theory of Strategy rooted in the notion of Power, those conditions which create the potential for persistent differential returns.
Using rich real-world examples, Helmer rigorously characterizes exactly what your business must achieve to create Power. And create Power it must, for without it your business is at risk. Every business faces a do-or-die strategy moment: a crux directional choice made amidst swirling uncertainty. To get this right, you need at your fingertips a real-time strategy compass to discern your true north. 7 Powers is that compass.
Source: “Hamilton Helmer understands that strategy starts with invention. He can’t tell you what to invent, but he can and does show what it takes for a new invention to become a valuable business,” Thiel says.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Who is John Galt? When he says that he will stop the motor of the world, is he a destroyer or a liberator? Why does he have to fight his battles not against his enemies but against those who need him most? Why does he fight his hardest battle against the woman he loves?
You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the amazing men and women in this book. You will discover why a productive genius becomes a worthless playboy…why a great steel industrialist is working for his own destruction…why a composer gives up his career on the night of his triumph…why a beautiful woman who runs a transcontinental railroad falls in love with the man she has sworn to kill.
A modern classic among books Peter Theil recommends and Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism – her groundbreaking philosophy – Atlas Shrugged offers the reader the spectacle of human greatness, depicted with all the poetry and power of one of the twentieth century’s leading artists.
Source: “When I first read [Ayn Rand’s books] in the late 80s, it felt pretty crazy. And in the last decades, it’s in many ways felt much more correct,” Thiel explained in an interview with Dave Rubin.
100 Plus by Sonia Arrison
Humanity is on the cusp of an exciting longevity revolution. The first person to live to 150 years has probably already been born. In 100 Plus, futurist Sonia Arrison takes us on an eye-opening journey to the future at our doorsteps, where science and technology are beginning to radically change life as we know it. The astonishing advances to extend our lives – and good health – are almost here.
In the very near future, fresh organs for transplants will be grown in laboratories, cloned stem cells will bring previously unstoppable diseases to their knees, and living past 100 will be the rule, not the exception. Arrison brings over a decade of experience researching and writing about cutting-edge advances in science and technology to 100 Plus, painting a vivid picture of a future that only recently seemed like science fiction, but now is very real.
Source: “Its message is evergreen: how scientists are directly attacking the problem of aging and death and why we should fight for life instead of accepting decay as inevitable,” Peter Theil told The Wall Street Journal.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by Rene Girard
Girard’s point o departure is what he calls “mimesis,” the conflict that arises when human rivals compete to differentiate themselves from each other, yet succeed only in becoming more and more alike. At certain points in the life of a society, according to Girard, this mimetic conflict erupts into a crisis in which all difference dissolves in indiscriminate violence.
In primitive societies, such crises were resolved by the “scapegoating mechanism,” in which the community, en masse, turned on an unpremeditated victim. The repression of this collective murder and its repetition in ritual sacrifice then formed the foundations of both religion and the restored social order.
The book is not merely, or perhaps not mainly, biblical exegesis, for within its scope fall some of the most vexing problems of social history – the paradox that violence has social efficacy, the function of the scapegoat, and the mechanism of anti-semitism.
Source: “We [followers of Girard], had sort of a sense that we had figured out the truth about the world in a way that nobody else did,” Theil said during a conversation with Eric Weinstein.
The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Edward Shephard Creasy
Undoubtedly the most famous work of military history of the nineteenth century, Edward S. Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World has been read and re-read for close to 150 years. It is not only the authoritative account of each battle that makes Creasy’s work such a classic – it is his command of narrative, his interest in human struggle, his profound deductions as to effects of the battles, and his striving after truth.
Out of 2,300 years, Creasy only found fifteen battles which he called decisive in the highest sense. He chose them not for the number of killed and wounded, nor for their status in myth and lore, but because they fundamentally changed the course of world history.
Source: “Peter [Thiel] would, at one point, pass me a copy of [this book], the book he had read as he’d mulled his options over,” Ryan Holiday noted in Conspiracy.
Discourses on Livy by Niccolo Machiavelli
A timeless classic among books Peter Theil recommends, Discourses on Livy is the founding document of modern republicanism, and Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov have provided the definitive English translation of this classic work. Faithful to the original Italian text, properly attentive to Machiavelli’s idiom and subtlety of thought, it is eminently readable.
With a substantial introduction, extensive explanatory notes, a glossary of keywords, and an annotated index, the Discourses reveals Machiavelli’s radical vision of a new science of politics, a vision of “new modes and orders” that continue to shape the modern ethos.
Source: “Something in these pages planted itself deep into [Peter Thiel’s] mind when he first read it long ago,” Holiday recognized in Conspiracy.
Life After Google by George Gilder
The Age of Google, built on big data and machine intelligence, has been an awesome era. But it’s coming to an end. In Life after Google, George Gilder – the peerless visionary of technology and culture – explains why Silicon Valley is suffering a nervous breakdown and what to expect as the post-Google age dawns.
The crisis is not just economic. Even as advances in artificial intelligence induce delusions of omnipotence and transcendence, Silicon Valley has pretty much given up on security. The Internet firewalls supposedly protecting all those passwords and personal information have proved hopelessly permeable.
The crisis cannot be solved within the current computer and network architecture. The future lies with the “cryptocosm” – the new architecture of the blockchain and its derivatives. Enabling cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether, NEO and Hashgraph, it will provide the Internet a secure global payments system, ending the aggregate-and-advertise Age of Google.
Source: One of those few books Peter Theil has written an editorial review on, he says, “Google’s algorithms assume the world’s future is nothing more than the next moment in a random process. George Gilder shows how deep this assumption goes, what motivates people to make it, and why it’s wrong: the future depends on human action.”
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.
Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality – the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth – today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.
Source: “Accurately describes inequality in the past and present of countries like the United States,” Theil examines.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup – practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular ben’s blog.
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.
Source: One of those few books Peter Theil has written an editorial review on, he says, “Every management guide presumes that all great companies follow a formula. But successful startups don’t imitate; they build innovations that can’t be copied. Brian Horowitz knows no recipe guarantees success. He has written the first true guide for protecting a startup from self-sabotage.”
The Decadent Society by Ross Gregory Douthat
Today the Western world seems to be in crisis. But beneath our social media frenzy and reality television politics, the deeper reality is one of drift, repetition, and dead ends. The Decadent Society explains what happens when a rich and powerful society ceases advancing – how the combination of wealth and technological proficiency with economic stagnation, political stalemates, cultural exhaustion, and demographic decline creates a strange kind of “sustainable decadence,” a civilizational languor that could endure for longer than we think.
Correcting both optimists who insist that we’re just growing richer and happier with every passing year and pessimists who expect collapse any moment, Douthat provides an enlightening diagnosis of the modern condition – how we got here, how long our age of frustration might last, and how, whether in renaissance or catastrophe, our decadence might ultimately end.
Source: Peter Theil believes this book “sets the stakes for the most urgent public debate of the 2020s: How do we get back to the future?”
The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson
The Sovereign Individual details strategies necessary for adapting financially to the next phase of Western civilization.
Davidson and Rees-Mogg explore the greatest economic and political transition in centuries – the shift from an industrial to an information-based society. This transition, which they have termed “the fourth stage of human society,” will liberate individuals as never before, irrevocably altering the power of government. This outstanding book will replace false hopes and fictions with new understanding and clarified values.
Source: Peter Theil calls this “one of the books that tremendously influenced me when I started PayPal.”
The New Atlantis by Sir Francis Bacon
The New Atlantis describes a group of sailors who are lost at sea and stumble upon an unknown island called “Bensalem” inhabited by a perfect “utopian” civilization. They are invited to stay and learn about how this society operates.
On the surface, it appears clear that Bacon is attempting to present how society could be if the scientific method and technological development were to be optimized to a high standard. Before Bacon’s time, scientific research was somewhat haphazard and unsophisticated, it was Bacon’s dream that scientists would cooperate and work to certain standards so their work could be understood and added to by other people in their day and generations to come.
Source: “I like the genre of past books written about the future,” Theil once wrote in a Reddit thread also citing this title.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The underground masterpiece of twentieth-century Russian fiction, this classic novel was written during Stalin’s regime and could not be published until many years after its author’s death.
When the devil arrives in 1930s Moscow, consorting with a retinue of odd associates – including a talking black cat, an assassin, and a beautiful naked witch – his antics wreak havoc among the literary elite of the world capital of atheism. Meanwhile, the Master, author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, languishes in despair in a psychiatric hospital, while his devoted lover, Margarita, decides to sell her soul to save him.
As Bulgakov’s dazzlingly exuberant narrative weaves back and forth between Moscow and ancient Jerusalem, studded with scenes ranging from a giddy Satanic ball to the murder of Judas in Gethsemane, Margarita’s enduring love for the Master joins the strands of plot across space and time.
Source: “The devil shows up in Stalinist Russia…and gives everybody what they want, and everything goes haywire,” Theil said while on the Conversations with Tyler podcast.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world. In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego. Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.
A refreshing reality check among books recommended by Peter Theil, Ego Is the Enemy draws on a vast array of stories and examples, from literature to philosophy to history. We meet fascinating figures such as George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichick, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who all reached the highest levels of power and success by conquering their own egos. Their strategies and tactics can be ours as well.
Source: Peter Thiel quoted the author’s book back to him.
If you enjoyed this guide to inspirational books Peter Theil recommends reading, be sure to check out our list of 20 Books Elon Musk Recommends Reading!