Want to know what someone is thinking and how their thought process took shape? No quicker way to solve that mystery than to find out which books they read. When I researched Elon’s life for my book Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World, I also looked into what he reads, which books influenced him, and how. These books and even comics are highlighted in my book with a recurring sidebar called “Bookshelf” to spotlight these titles. But, Reader, I’ve got them right here for you to peruse! Yes!
Elon’s work life often includes book inspired ideas and book inspired Easter Eggs in the products his companies build. “Don’t Panic” blazoned across the screen of his roadster flying into space. That came from a book. His drone ships are named after elements of his favorite books. Reading isn’t just for pleasure with Elon, it is also how he tackles topics that are new to him. When he thought of building rockets, the first thing he did was grab a stack of books.
So, want to read like Elon? Here’s your Elon Musk reading list!
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – This comedy science fiction book is the first in a series. It’s funny, thought-provoking story about what happens when Earth is demolished. Elon delved into this book in middle school while considering the meaning of life.
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein – This three volume science fiction mega hit was one of Elon’s favorites growing up. And you can see why. The story line features a band of heroes who devote themselves to saving the world.
- Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. This sci-fi novel centers on this problem: how to settle Mars.. How did this book inspire Elon? Well, today, settling Mars is one of Elon’s highest priorities. If you like Red Mars, there are two more books in this series.
- Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson – Isaacson is a fantastic biographer. And Elon has said Ben Franklin is one of the people he admires most, in part, because of Franklin’s journey as an entrepreneur. He started out as a runaway and built a business and invented new technology along the way, not to mention his patriotic activities.
- Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson – In this biography on Albert Einstein, Isaacson delves into Einstein’s contributions and the unconventional path he took to accomplishing them. When you look at Elon’s life, he’s also taken the unconventional path in many of his endeavors. No wonder Elon has said he learned a lot from this book.
- The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. Elon included a copy of this book with the Tesla Roadster he launched into space.
- The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks was published in 1988. This sci-fi novel is part of the Culture series. You’ll find lots of SpaceX and Boring Company inspiration here – – for example, high-speed vacuum trains and the names for many of SpaceX’s drone ships!
- Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J.E. Gordon. This was Elon’s go-to to sharpen his understanding of structural design.
- Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat – One of Elon’s key areas of interests is artificial intelligence or A.I. His company Neural Link seeks to connect human and artificial intelligence through neural lace implanted in the brain. Elon has also shared his concerns about the downside to super intelligence.
- Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Elon decided as early as college that one of his three career goals was to advance sustainable energy. Now, years later, he heads EV company Tesla. This book helped inform Elon’s positions on global warming.
- Encyclopedia Britannica – The whole thing. Read it twice. What else are you going to read, when you’ve already read the entire library! That’s what happened when Elon was in middle school.
- Comic Books – As a kid, Elon read every single comic book in the store. And he noticed a couple of themes. Most of them seemed to take place in North America. And they had a similar storyline that inspired Elon, an unlikely hero manages to pull off saving the world. At the time, Elon was small for his age and terribly bullied in school. Inspiration for a meaningful future came from the pages of Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Batman, Green Lantern, and Superman.
Happy Reading! And remember Launch Week is coming. My new book, Black Hole Chasers, about the global team of scientists who came together to take the first picture of a black holes is publishing next week! I have fun giveaways planned, so stick around!
Anna Crowley Redding is the award-winning author of six nonfiction books including Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World. Her next book Black Hole Chasers is out in stores October 5th. Anna began her writing career as an Emmy award-winning journalist. She lives in Maine with her husband and five kids.
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