10 BOOKS - ELON MUSK
As we've previously discussed in our profile of Musk, he's an accomplished self-learner, teaching himself the fundamentals of rocket propulsion and spacecraft design before embarking on setting up SpaceX.
Here are ten books that have shaped and influenced the man.
- Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel and Elon Musk worked together in the early days of Paypal. Thiel is now a billionaire investor and social commentator. In Zero to One, he argues the case for startup’s focusing their efforts on creating totally new products or ideas, instead of evolving and improving existing offerings.
He encourages would-be entrepreneurs to ask, “What valuable company is nobody building?”
- Nick Bostrom
Musk is known to be concerned by the development of Artificial Intelligence and its future effect on society. He has commented that he believes it to be one of the greatest possible future threats to humanity. In 2014 he invested in AI company Vicarious, who’s aim is “building a single, unified system that will eventually be generally intelligent like a human.”
Philosopher Bostrom’s book on the subject is an eye opening discourse on AI with researchers and academics working closely with the subject.
- James Barrat
Another on the subject of AI, Musk has noted that Barrat’s book is worth reading, covering the possible future outcomes, advantages and disadvantages of artificial intelligence.
It’s a gloomy outlook according to Barrat.
- Walter Isaacson
Musk moved to America to study at a young age. He has spoken before of his love for America, it’s culture and entrepreneurial spirit. One of the figures who sums up this spirit so well is Benjamin Franklin.
Musk has commented on his admiration for Franklin, saying, "He was an entrepreneur. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid."
- Walter Isaacson
Another on Musk’s bookshelf is this great biography of Einstein by the same author as the previous title. Musk’s admiration for a man with ambition and a higher than average intelligence can be understood, as qualities that both Musk and Einstein share.
Einstein made groundbreaking discoveries by questioning conventional wisdom, using techniques Musk would go on to learn and mimic.
- Douglas Adams
In his early teens, whilst devouring the books at his family home in South Africa, Musk had an existential crisis. After reading Nietzsche and others discussing the meaning of life, he stumbled upon this classic by Douglas Adams.
Musks key takeaway from the book - "If you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part (...) So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask."
- J.E. Gordon
An engineer at heart, Musk has a broad understanding of many specialist areas of engineering including structural, electrical, aeronautical and more. He believes in studying the foundations of a subject before diving keeping into the specifics, as he has said; “it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
Gordon’s overview of structural engineering and design has been recommended by Musk as a good opener on the subject.
- Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Hughes was an entrepreneur, aviator, aerospace engineer and filmmaker. Like Musk, he was obsessed with transport and worked tirelessly to bring his grand ideas to reality.
Hughes companies designed and built planes, and Hughes himself loved to fly them. He flew one of his commissioned designs, the Hughes H-1 Racer, to a recorded land plane airspeed record of 352 mph.
- Isaac Asimov
Musk’s love for space and science fiction is not surprising, given his eventual career path. Isaac Asimov’s trilogy paints a picture of the decline of a huge galactic empire. It draws parallels with other great empires such as the Roman or Greeks.
Musk commented on it, “The lessons of history would suggest that civilisations 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. Given that this is the first time in 4.5bn 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.”
- Robert Heinlein
Heinlein is a giant of science fiction writing. He won the Hugo award four times and this book is considered his best.
It chronicles the revolution of a moon based penal colony against it’s earth based controllers.