20 Inspirational Books that Elon Musk Recommends Reading

Elon Musk Book Recommendations

elon musk books

Elon Musk, whose personal net worth recently surpassed $200 billion, has maintained a steady love affair with books throughout his entire life. Long before assuming the helm of Tesla, revolutionizing online banking via Paypal, or launching SpaceX rockets into orbit, only to watch them gracefully land themselves back on Earth, a pre-teen Elon was reading countless science fiction novels for up to 10 hours a day.

At 9 years of age, he finished the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and shortly thereafter, completed a six-month BASIC course in just three days. “I didn’t really have a primary nanny or anything,” he remembers. “I just had a housekeeper who was there to make sure I didn’t break anything. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets.”

Fast forward to 2001, when Musk visited Russia in search of a real-life space-faring projectile but deemed the equipment he found there overpriced and wasteful – taking into consideration, the rockets could only be used once.

Left with few alternatives, he settled for building his own NASA-grade spacecraft (just Elon things).

Rocket Science Books

Jim Cantrell, an aerospace consultant, became SpaceX’s first vice president of business development and Musk’s industry mentor as the company started up in 2002. He says that the world’s richest man literally taught himself rocket science by reading textbooks and talking to industry heavyweights.

During a conversation with Business Insider Cantrell revealed how he loaned Musk some good reads pertaining to the subject of rocket science. These works were titled Rocket Propulsion Elements, Aerothermodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion, Fundamentals of Astrodynamics, and International Reference Guide to Space Launch Systems. It may go without saying, but none of them were ever returned to him, and Musk now has his ambitious eyes fixed towards establishing the first human colony on Mars – just the natural progression of events after lending a friend several books, right.

“He would quote passages verbatim from these books. He became very conversant in the material,” Cantrell says, adding that Musk practically memorized the texts. “He is the smartest guy I’ve ever met, period. I know that sounds overblown. But I’ve met plenty of smart people, and I don’t say that lightly. He’s absolutely, frickin’ amazing. I don’t even think he sleeps.”

Reading has clearly played a profound role in shaping Elon Musk 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 the world’s wealthiest man to the pinnacle of financial success, we’ve compiled a list of 20 books that Elon Musk has read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.

We give you, 20 inspirational books that Elon Musk recommends reading.

Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

How will Artificial Intelligence affect crime, war, justice, jobs, society and our very sense of being human? The rise of AI has the potential to transform our future more than any other technology—and there’s nobody better qualified or situated to explore that future than Max Tegmark, an MIT professor who’s helped mainstream research on how to keep AI beneficial.

What sort of future do you want? This book empowers you to join what may be the most important conversation of our time. It doesn’t shy away from the full range of viewpoints or from the most controversial issues—from superintelligence to meaning, consciousness and the ultimate physical limits on life in the cosmos.

Source: In an editorial review on the book, Musk wrote, “This is a compelling guide to the challenges and choices in our quest for a great future of life, intelligence and consciousness – on Earth and beyond.”


Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence asks the questions: What happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us? Nick Bostrom lays the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life.

The human brain has some capabilities that the brains of other animals lack. It is to these distinctive capabilities that our species owes its dominant position. If machine brains surpassed human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become extremely powerful – possibly beyond our control. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on humans than on the species itself, so would the fate of humankind depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence.

But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed Artificial Intelligence, to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation?

This profoundly ambitious and original book breaks down a vast track of difficult intellectual terrain. After an utterly engrossing journey that takes us to the frontiers of thinking about the human condition and the future of intelligent life, we find in Nick Bostrom’s work nothing less than a reconceptualization of the essential task of our time.

Source: “Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes,” Musk tweeted on August 2nd, 2014.


Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers.

Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades.

Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly – some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is “not settled” denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

Source: Elon Musk cited the book when explaining, the “same who tried to deny smoking deaths r denying climate change.”

Acts of Love by Talulah Riley

Bernadette is an expert at hiding the truth.

She has built her career as a journalist on her talent for lulling powerful men into a false sense of security, then exposing them in her ruthless profile pieces.

But in Radley Blake, she may have met her match. Immune to her charms, he seems to see through every layer of her carefully constructed act: right to the truth of who she is inside.

We think we’re looking for love – but what if it’s ourselves we need to find? Talulah Riley’s wonderful first novel is an irresistible will-they-won’t-they tale that asks how it is we can strive for independence, but still believe in destiny…

Source:Congrats to Talulah Riley on her novel, “Acts of Love”! All characters – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional …” Musk tweeted on August 11, 2016.


Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow

Deep learning is a form of machine learning that enables computers to learn from experience and understand the world in terms of a hierarchy of concepts. Because the computer gathers knowledge from experience, there is no need for a human computer operator to formally specify all the knowledge that the computer needs.

The hierarchy of concepts allows the computer to learn complicated concepts by building them out of simpler ones; a graph of these hierarchies would be many layers deep. This book introduces a broad range of topics in deep learning.

Source: One of the few books Elon Musk has written an official review on, he remarked, “Written by three experts in the field, Deep Learning is the only comprehensive book on the subject.”


Screw Business As Usual by Richard Branson

Richard Branson, one of the world’s most famous and admired business leaders, argues that it’s time to turn capitalism upside down – to shift our values from an exclusive focus on profit to also caring for people, communities, and the planet.

As he writes, “My message is a simple one: business as usual isn’t working. In fact, it’s ‘business as usual’ that’s wrecking our planet. Resources are being used up; the air, the sea, the land—are all heavily polluted. The poor are getting poorer. Many are dying of starvation or because they can’t afford a dollar a day for life-saving medicine…Prophesying doom and gloom is simply not my style…I think business can help fix things and create a more prosperous world for everyone. I happen to believe in business because I believe that business can be a force for good. By that I mean doing good is good for business.”

Screw Business as Usual shows how easy it is for both businesses and individuals to embark on a whole new way of doing things, solving major problems and turning our work into something we both love and are proud of.

Source: A fan of his fellow billionaire’s books, Elon Musk once tweeted, “[I] Liked “Screw Business as Usual” a lot. This approach should be taken to heart by all, as it really is the smart move.”


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.

Atlas Shrugged, a modern classic and Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism – her groundbreaking philosophy – 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: “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,” Musk says.


The Complete Story of Civilization by Will Durant

The Complete Story of Civilization by Will Durant represents the most comprehensive attempt in our times to embrace the vast panorama of man’s history and culture. This eleven-volume set includes Volume One: Our Oriental Heritage; Volume Two: The Life of Greece; Volume Three: Caesar and Christ; Volume Four: The Age of Faith; Volume Five: The Renaissance; Volume Six: The Reformation; Volume Seven: The Age of Reason Begins; Volume Eight: The Age of Louis XIV; Volume Nine: The Age of Voltaire; Volume Ten: Rousseau and Revolution; Volume Eleven: The Age of Napoleon.

Source: “Read The Story of Civilization by Will & Ariel Durant,” Musk tweeted in 2020, while also adding that the Age of Napoleon is his favorite volume so far. “The first books are a little dry. Gets much better when Ariel is co-author.”

Dune by Frank Herbert

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

Source: With regards to Frank Herbert’s books, Elon Musk exclaims, “[the] Dune series by Herbert [is] also brilliant. He advocates placing limits on machine intelligence.”


Foundation by Isaac Asimov

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future – to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save humankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire – both scientists and scholars – and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

The Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are among the most influential in the history of science fiction, celebrated for their unique blend of breathtaking action, daring ideas, and extensive worldbuilding. In Foundation, Asimov has written a timely and timeless novel of the best – and worst – that lies in humanity, and the power of even a few courageous souls to shine a light in a universe of darkness.

Source: “[The] Foundation Series & Zeroth Law are fundamental to [the] creation of SpaceX,” Musk has said.


Catherine the Great by Robert Massie

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution.

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies – all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.

Source: Constantly learning from biographical books, Elon Musk tweeted around Christmas time in 2011, “[I] am reading Robert Massie’s book on Catherine the Great. Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking … did she really f* a horse?”


Structures by J.E. Gordon

For anyone who has ever wondered why suspension bridges don’t collapse under eight lanes of traffic, how dams hold back – or give way under – thousands of gallons of water, or what principles guide the design of a skyscraper, a bias-cut dress, or a kangaroo, this book will ease your anxiety and answer your questions.

Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down is an informal explanation of the basic forces that hold together the ordinary and essential things of this world – from buildings and bodies to flying aircraft and eggshells. In a style that combines wit, a masterful command of his subject, and an encyclopedic range of reference, Gordon includes such chapters as “How to Design a Worm” and “The Advantage of Being a Beam,” offering humorous insights in human and natural creation.

Architects and engineers will appreciate the clear and cogent explanations of the concepts of stress, shear, torsion, fracture, and compression. If you’re building a house, a sailboat, or a catapult, here is a handy tool for understanding the mechanics of joinery, floors, ceilings, hulls, masts – or flying buttresses.

Without jargon or oversimplification, Structures opens up the marvels of technology to anyone interested in the foundations of our everyday lives.

Source: In an interview with Design and Architecture, Elon Musk noted, “there’s a good book on structural design called Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down. It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”


Zero to One by Peter Thiel

The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One, legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things.

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.

Source: In one of his rarely given editorial reviews on books, Elon Musk remarked, “Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how,”


Lying by Sam Harris

As it was in Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and Othello, so it is in life. Most forms of private vice and public evil are kindled and sustained by lies. Acts of adultery and other personal betrayals, financial fraud, government corruption – even murder and genocide – generally require an additional moral defect: a willingness to lie.

In Lying, best-selling author and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie. He focuses on “white” lies – those lies we tell for the purpose of sparing people discomfort – for these are the lies that most often tempt us. And they tend to be the only lies that good people tell while imagining that they are being good in the process.

Source: “Read “Lying”, the new book by my friend Sam Harris. Excellent cover art and lots of good reasons not to lie!” Musk has tweeted.

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us, the one who seems made of flesh rather than marble. In a sweeping narrative that follows Franklin’s life from Boston to Philadelphia to London and Paris and back, Walter Isaacson chronicles the adventures of the runaway apprentice who became, over the course of his eighty-four-year life, America’s best writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical and ingenious political leaders.

He explores the wit behind Poor Richard’s Almanac and the wisdom behind the Declaration of Independence, the new nation’s alliance with France, the treaty that ended the Revolution, and the compromises that created a near-perfect Constitution.

In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin’s amazing life, showing how he helped to forge the American national identity and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.

Source: Musk said in 2011, “[I] am reading a great biography of Ben Franklin by Isaacson. Highly recommended.”


Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

This widely acclaimed biography of Stalin and his entourage during the terrifying decades of his supreme power transforms our understanding of Stalin as Soviet dictator, Marxist leader, and Russian tsar.

Based on groundbreaking research, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals the fear and betrayal, privilege and debauchery, family life and murderous cruelty of this secret world. Written with bracing narrative verve, this feat of scholarly research has become a classic of modern history writing. Showing how Stalin’s triumphs and crimes were the product of his fanatical Marxism and his gifted but flawed character, this is an intimate portrait of a man as complicated and human as he was brutal and chilling.

Source: Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar was one of the few books Elon Musk found so dark he had to stop reading it.


Howard Hughes by Donald Barlett

Howard Hughes has always fascinated the public with his mixture of secrecy, dashing lifestyle, and reclusiveness. This is the book that breaks through the image to get at the man. Originally published under the title Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes.

Source: Having noticed some startling similarities between his own story and the life of Howard Hughes, Elon Musk calls this read “a cautionary tale.”


The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon. It traces Western civilization from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium in the fifteenth century. Volume I was published in 1776 and went through six printings.

Source: Musk mentions “[The author]’s famous book” in an interview with the Good Time Club.


The Big Picture by Sean Carrol

Already internationally acclaimed for his elegant, lucid writing on the most challenging notions in modern physics, Sean Carroll is emerging as one of the greatest humanist thinkers of his generation as he brings his extraordinary intellect to bear not only on Higgs bosons and extra dimensions but now also on our deepest personal questions: Where are we? Who are we? Are our emotions, our beliefs, and our hopes and dreams ultimately meaningless out there in the void? Do human purpose and meaning fit into a scientific worldview?

In short chapters filled with intriguing historical anecdotes, personal asides, and rigorous exposition, readers learn the difference between how the world works at the quantum level, the cosmic level, and the human level-  and then how each connects to the other. Carroll’s presentation of the principles that have guided the scientific revolution from Darwin and Einstein to the origins of life, consciousness, and the universe is dazzlingly unique.

Carroll shows how an avalanche of discoveries in the past few hundred years has changed our world and what really matters to us. Our lives are dwarfed like never before by the immensity of space and time, but they are redeemed by our capacity to comprehend it and give it meaning.

Source: Pertaining to the authors’ books, Elon Musk has commented, “Highly recommend anything by Sean Carroll.”


The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

The Wealth of Nations was published 9 March 1776, during the Scottish Enlightenment and the Scottish Agricultural Revolution. It influenced a number of authors and economists, as well as governments and organizations.

For example, Alexander Hamilton was influenced in part by The Wealth of Nations to write his Report on Manufactures, in which he argued against many of Smith’s policies. Interestingly, Hamilton based much of this report on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and it was, in part, Colbert’s ideas that Smith responded to with The Wealth of Nations.

Many other authors were influenced by the book and used it as a starting point in their own work, including Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and, later, Ludwig von Mises. The Russian national poet Aleksandr Pushkin refers to The Wealth of Nations in his 1833 verse-novel Eugene Onegin.

Source: “Read Das Kapital when I was 14, incl cross-checking English translation of original German. Adam Smith FTW obv. Ironically, future automation will naturally lead to greater equality of consumption. Monopolies are true enemy of people. Competing to serve is good,” Musk says. “That is why it is critical to support competition. Excess profits draw in competitors who then drive down prices.”


 

If you enjoyed this guide to books Elon Musk recommends reading, be sure to check out or list of 20 Books That Jeff Bezos Recommends Reading!