What are some of Elon Musk's favorite books?

Posted on June 20, 2022 by Zachary Visconti

When previously asked how he learned to build rockets, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded concisely, simply saying, “read books.” The books Musk recommends range widely in subject matter, and it’s definitely worth noting the titles in his collection to get an inside look at how the leader got where he is today.

Above: Elon Musk in 2014. Photo: Tesla Owners Club Belgium / Wikipedia Commons

“I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents,” Musk once said in an interview with Rolling StoneIt's reported that he read the entirety of the Encyclopedia Britannica by age 9, and would continue to be engrossed in books for more than 10 hours a day throughout his childhood.

Musk’s reading list is long, but he’s been outspoken about a handful of favorites from his reading list over the years, as detailed in a video from Inc.com. Whether or not we go on to read books about building rockets, as Musk did in his studies, there’s also a lot that can be gained from checking out the full range of themes across the following 13 of Elon's favorite books.

Above: A few of Elon Musk's favorite books (YouTube: Inc.)

Some of the most prominent subjects in Musk’s reading list are engineering and structural design — sometimes, quite literally, rocket science. Below are a couple of the books Musk recommends dealing with these kinds of technical themes.

- Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down (J.E. Gordon)

About this book, Musk said, “It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”

- Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants (John D. Clark)

Blinkist also shared a few of Musk’s favorites, noting his hyperfocus on artificial intelligence — which can be seen in his broad tastes for science fiction. Obviously, AI plays a major role in Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving beta systems, and the potential for these systems to learn hangs in a delicate balance with some of the risks posed by its existence.

- The Culture (Iain M. Banks)

Musk says this science fiction series offers a “compelling picture of a grand, semi-utopian galactic future” that’s “hopefully not too optimistic about AI.”

- Our Final Invention (James Barrat)

Another sci-fi book about the dangers of AI, Musk has echoed warnings from this book about how society today should keep an eye on the emerging technology.

- Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control (Stuart Russell)

- Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (Max Tegmark)

- Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Nick Bostrom)

Some of the books on Musk’s reading list explore broader themes more closely, such as philosophy, culture, business or consciousness in general. These include those listed below.

- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Peter Thiel)

On Zero to One, Musk said of his former counterpart at Paypal, “Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how.”

- Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)

- Merchants of Doubt (Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway)

- The Big Picture (Sean M. Carroll)

- Lying (Sam Harris)

- The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)

It probably goes without saying that the books a person reads can have a lot to do with the development of their thoughts and behavior. In Musk’s case, it’s easy to see how some of these titles, topics and general fields of study have helped lead him to success — from which we can hopefully all learn something.


Sources: Inc.com / Blinkist

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