Posted on July 30, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Elon Musk runs electric vehicle industry leader Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] and the aerospace juggernaut SpaceX simultaneously. Oh... and he also happens to be Chairman of America's largest solar provider, SolarCity (likely to soon become part of Tesla). Needless to say, he's a busy man. Nevertheless, after his press conference this week at the Tesla Gigafactory, Bloomberg noted that, "Musk still takes time to read. Currently he's making his way through a book called, Twelve Against the Gods by William Bolitho, published in 1929. Bolitho, a South African journalist, wrote about 12 famous 'adventurers' — from Alexander the Great to President Woodrow Wilson — who fought against the conventions of their times, for better or worse."
Above: Tesla CEO Elon Musk (Source: Technews)
How did Musk learn so much, so quickly in order to run multiple successful yet radically different businesses? Musk told NPR that he's read “thousands and thousands” of books. Could this be his secret to learning at light speed? Kimbal, Elon Musk's brother looks back on their childhood together and reveals, "He would go through two books in one day." In Musk's biography, author Ashlee Vance writes, "As a child, he loved to read. From very early in his life, he was always spotted with a book in his hands. Sometimes, while his family went shopping, they used to discover that Elon had gone missing. Almost always, they found him in the nearest bookstore, sitting on the floor and reading a book."
Above: What Elon Musk is reading and why (Youtube: CarsWeLove1 via CNN)
Interviewed on Bloomberg, Musk explains, "I was this little bookwormy kid... So I just like, read a lot of books... I read everything I could get my hands on from when I woke up to when I went to sleep. At one point I ran out of books and started reading the Encyclopedia." His mother described Elon as the "genius boy... after he read an entire Encyclopedia Brittanica around age 8, she said. Though Elon found school 'boring,' he was always reading — even in the car — and could retain most of what he read. He also devoured anything associated with space and astronomy as a kid."
Above: Musk engrossed in reading (Source: Giant Freakin' Robot)
So... how did Elon Musk, not professionally trained, actually learn enough about rockets to run SpaceX? Jim Cantrell, one of the founding members of SpaceX explains, "He'd been borrowing all my college textbooks on rocketry and propulsion. You know, whenever anybody asks Elon how he learned to build rockets, he says, 'I read books.'" In fact, Kevin Hartz, an early PayPal investor, describes an outing in Las Vegas that was intended as a time to celebrate the company’s success, "We’re all hanging out in this cabana at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Elon is there reading some obscure Soviet rocket manual that was all moldy and looked like it had been bought on eBay."
Above: Musk reveals some books that informed his point of view (Source: Every Elon Musk Video via NPR)
Okay, so maybe reading books is a secret to Musk's remarkable ability to learn (and absorb) massive amounts of information. Could Elon, perhaps, give us a shortcut — a succinct reading list that could help us common folk? It turns out that Business Insider* combed through years of interviews with Musk to find out which works have inspired him most. Check out the infographic below for the Elon Musk "short list" of books you need to read right now...
*Source: Business Insider