There's no doubting that Elon Musk has a unique mind-set that drives his incredible success. Where exactly did he get it?
You might cite nature, believing he simply won the genetic lottery, or you might guess nurture, arguing he must have been brought up in an extraordinary way. Certainly, those factors influence us all. But that's not how Musk and those closest to him tell it. Ask them how Elon Musk learned to be Elon Musk and they'll usually offer the same response -- he read a lot of books.
His mother, for instance, recounted this anecdote from his childhood to The New Yorker: "Elon would accompany me to dinner parties if I didn't have a date. I'd bring him to meet some interesting adults, and he'd hide a book under the table to read if they weren't interesting enough."
"He would go through two books in one day," reports his younger brother.
Even Musk himself has often discussed his voracious reading. When asked how he learned enough about rockets to start SpaceX, for example, he responded simply, "I read a lot of books."
Which isn't to say that simply reading the same books as Musk will turn you into a super-entrepreneur and daring dreamer like him. That would be silly. But if you want to be a little more Musk-like in your thinking, then these titles, all recommended by Musk and helpfully rounded up by Quora users, probably aren't a bad place to start:
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Musk claims this book taught him "the question is harder than the answer."
- Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J.E. Gordon. "It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design," Musk said in an interview.
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin. "He's certainly one of my heroes," Musk told an interviewer about the Founding Father.
- Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
- Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. "I like biographies in general," he told CNN's Richard Quest. "You learn a lot."
- The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. This science fiction classic taught Musk that "civilizations move in cycles," he told the Guardian. "We're obviously in a very upward cycle right now and hopefully that remains the case. But it may not.... 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."
- Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes