With a net worth of over USD 186 billion and six companies under his name, including Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk is one of the richest people in the world. Musk, who is always in the headlines owing to his wealth or tweets, takes out time to read too. And during many interviews, he has shared his favourites and recommended books that have inspired him. Some of the prominent ones are by Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov.
In fact, as per various reports, he often says, “I read books” whenever asked about how he learned to build rockets.
According to Esquire, he not only reads but devours them as shared by Jim Cantrell, entrepreneur and an aerospace consultant who worked with Musk at SpaceX. Regarding Musk’s proposal on building a rocket, he said, “I looked at it and said, I’ll be damned — that’s why he’s been borrowing all my books. He’d been borrowing all my college textbooks on rocketry and propulsion.”
Musk’s book choices and suggestions provide a glimpse of his intellect, an attribute that has earned him a lot of admiration. So, take a look at some of the books recommended by Elon Musk to know how he gets these innovative and creative ideas.
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Add these books recommended by Elon Musk to your reading list
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This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia India
Jump To / Table of Contents
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
- Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark
- Our Final Invention by James Barrat
- Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J.E. Gordon
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- The 'Foundation' trilogy by Isaac Asimov
- Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark
The fantasy fiction, set around the imaginary Middle-earth, follows the epic journey of Frodo and the leader of the Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf the Wizard. They are on their quest to protect their world from the evil Dark Lord, Sauron, who seeks to restore his lost power and subjugate every one, using the powerful ring that was once created by him.
Musk’s take on the book — In an interview with The New Yorker, Musk said that as an “undersized and picked upon smart-aleck,” he turned to reading fantasy and science fiction. He added, “The heroes of the books I read, The Lord of the Rings and the Foundation series, always felt a duty to save the world.”
(Image Credit: The Lord of the Rings/Amazon)
This New York Times bestseller by Nick Bostrom, published by Oxford University Press, introduces people to a scenario where machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence. Through the book, Bostrom has created a framework for comprehending the future of mankind and tried emphasising sentient life based on analytical reasoning.
Bostrom, a professor at Oxford University, heads the Future of Humanity Institute as its founding director. Born in Sweden, he has training in theoretical physics, computational neuroscience, logic and artificial intelligence.
Musk’s take on the book — Musk once tweeted, “Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”
(Image Credit: Superintelligence/Amazon)
The 1967 Hugo Award-winning novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, is the pinnacle of contemporary science fiction which is laden with politics, empathy, passion, innovative technical speculation and a strong quest for human liberation. It is a tale of revolution that depicts how the old lunar penal colony rebels against the lunar authority, which rules over it from the earth.
The book is written by renowned science fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein who is often regarded as one of the most significant writers of the 20th century. He has received the first Grand Master Award from Science Fiction Writers of America for his lifetime accomplishment with four of his novels winning Hugo Awards for Best Novel and three of them winning Retrospective Hugo Awards, fifty years after publication.
Musk’s take on the book — As per Business Insider, during an interview at MIT’s Aero/Astro Centennial, the founder of SpaceX said that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is Heinlein’s best work.
(Image Credit: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress/Amazon)
This book revolves around the pursuit to find a rocket propellant that can be used to launch a man into space. It talks about the creation of explosive fuels potent enough to overcome gravity’s unrelenting constraints.
Clark closely worked and researched rocket fuels in the 1960s and 1970s, and his book provides a history of it as well as an explanation regarding the way it works.
Musk’s take on the book — As per a TOI report, Musk has acknowledged the book by saying “There is a good book on rocket stuff called Ignition! by John Clark that’s a really fun one,” in one of his interviews.
(Image Credit: Ignition/Amazon)
Through Our Final Invention, James Barrat examines the risks associated with sophisticated AI. Touted as the Huffington Post Definitive Tech Book of 2013, the book questions the coexistence of both humans as well as beings with artificial intelligence. The non-fiction book predominantly explores whether humans can live with beings whose intelligence is superior to their own, and will these beings let us do that.
Barrat is a renowned documentary filmmaker who has been associated with National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, and other broadcasters in the US and Europe. He is widely known for his docu-series such as Nova (1974), Great Castles of Europe (1993) and Treasure Seekers (1999).
Musk’s take on the book — The AI enthusiast and OpenAI co-founder, Musk’s tweet about the book reads — “While on the subject of AI risk, Our Final Invention by Barrat is also worth reading.’’ Also, the book is listed among the best five books that everyone should read about the future, as recommended by Musk.
(Image Credit: Our Final Invention/Amazon)
It is a brief explanation of the fundamental forces that hold together the common and necessary objects on earth, including various structures and individuals, flying machines and eggshells. Gordon has added chapters like ‘How to Build a Worm’ and ‘The Benefit of Being a Beam,’ that offer funny insights into both human as well as natural development.
A former professor at the University of Reading, Gordon is well known for his work in the field of plastics, crystals and innovative materials.
Musk’s take on the book — As per various media reports, in an interview with California-based radio station, KCRW, Musk had said that James Edward Gordon is known as one of the founders of materials science and biomechanics, and Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down is one of his most popular books. “It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”
(Image Credit: Structures/Amazon)
Through this intriguing full-length biography of one of the most remarkable founders of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin, bestselling author Walter Isaacson narrates the contributions of this great personality. It is also a narrative about his life in different places, including Boston, Philadelphia, London and Paris.
The book follows the runaway apprentice, who over the span of eighty-four years, evolved into one of America’s best writers. He donned many hats, including that of an inventor, media mogul, scientist, diplomat and business strategist as well as a great political leader.
Musk’s take on the book — While speaking to Kevin Rose for Foundation 20, a platform for non-profit organisations tackling climate change, Musk says, Franklin’s biography is where “you can see how he was an entrepreneur, he started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.” He also said, “Franklin’s pretty awesome.”
(Image Credit: Benjamin Franklin/Amazon)
One of British author Douglas Adams’ humorous science fiction books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, was published in 1979. It is a sarcastic take on modern society with its protagonist Arthur Dent bringing out the woes of a helpless and ordinary Englishman, who finds himself lost in an absurd and unpredictable environment.
Musk’s take on the book — During an interview with Business Insider, when Musk was asked about his favourite spaceship from science fiction stories, he replied, “I’d have to say that would be the one in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘ that’s powered by the improbability drive.” In fact, the book inspires Musk so much that he engraved the words “Don’t Panic!” on the centre screen of his Tesla roadster before sending it through SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to Mars’ orbit.
(Image Credit: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy/Amazon)
Recipient of the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series, the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov is a science fiction series based on the collapse of a Galactic Empire (which has thrived for twelve thousand years) and the beginning of a dark era. The novel follows Hari Seldon, a genius visionary, who forecasts the future using statistics and probability.
Seldon brings together the brightest minds in the galaxy on a desolate planet in deep space. He then embarks on a mission to preserve human knowledge and launch a new society centred on technology, but there are enemies around who pose a threat that needs to be tackled.
One of the most brilliant authors of both fiction and non-fiction, Isaac Asimov won the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Award. He founded robot ethics as well.
Musk’s take on the book — In an interview with The Guardian, Musk shares that the books have influenced him a lot. He himself poses a question related to technology in this regard and answers it by saying, “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.”
He adds, “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.”
(Image Credit: The Foundation Trilogy/Amazon)
This New York Times bestseller by Max Tegmark focuses on artificial intelligence and outlines how it can affect everyday life with respect to society, justice, war, crime, jobs and so on. The book also addresses the steps that can be taken to increase the favourable outcome of the possibilities related to AI.
Tegmark has written over 200 technical papers on subjects ranging from cosmology to artificial intelligence. He also collaborated with Musk to start the first-ever grants programme for AI safety research while being the president of the Future of Life Institute.
Musk’s take on the book — A tweet about the book by Musk reads, “Worth reading Life 3.0 by @Tegmark. AI will be the best or worst thing ever for humanity, so let’s get it right.”
(Image Credit: Life 3.0/Amazon)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: 'The Lord of the Rings', 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', 'Benjamin Franklin: An American Life', 'Structures. Or, Why Things Don't Fall Down', and 'Superintelligence' are some books recommended by Musk.
Answer: One of the books that has inspired Musk a lot is Benjamin Franklin's biography. He admitted this in an interview with Kevin Rose for Foundations 20.
Answer: Yes, Musk reads two books every day according to his brother.