10 Books That Have Inspired Elon Musk


Elon Musk is the SpaceX and Tesla CEO, and is well-known around the world. This tech mogul had a tough childhood, often on the receiving end of vicious bullying in school and a harsh upbringing. One such beating landed him in hospital after he was pushed down a concrete stairwell. In such unforgiving surroundings, he found solace in books.

The written word offers a getaway from reality, nourishes your imagination, and ultimately opens up your mind to new ideas and possibilities. Almost all successful people are avid readers, and it isn’t just for the informational value. Texts give you a unique perspective on life, love, family, science, and everything around you.

Predictably, successful people thrive from exploiting unique opportunities. Such freedom of thought remains stifled by mainstream content. Some of the titles Elon Musk finds inspiring are timeless classics, while some are relatively new releases. We will explore the most notable titles that he found inspiring over time.

‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R Tolkien

Elon Musk was born to a South African father and a Canadian mother in 1971. He grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, before moving to Canada at 17. The harshness of his early childhood years sparked an interest in fantasy and science fiction.

One of the most famous, if not the most famous title in this category is The Lord of the Rings. The book tells the story of Frodo Baggins and his quest to save the world from the evil Lord Sauron at Mount Doom. This masterpiece tells of a captivating adventure by a noble hobbit as he takes evil head-on. On the way he faces fear, doubt, betrayal, and he triumphs.

It is easy to see why the book would captivate the mind of a young boy who is constantly bullied and left feeling left out. The idea of hope and the eventual victory against the odds is a priceless motivator.

‘Benjamin Franklin: An American Life’ by Walter Isaacson

In Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson delves into the life of one of the most well-known American figures in history. This writer, who also wrote Steve Jobs and Einstein, captures the life and character of America’s most famous founder.

When we talk of the founding fathers, the first name in mind is Benjamin Franklin. This brilliant mind rose from being an apprentice to America’s favorite writer, inventor, scientist, diplomat, businessman, and one of the country’s best ever leaders. The book follows Franklin’s journey from Boston, Philadelphia, London, Paris, and back home to Boston.

Benjamin Franklin was a driving force and offered his wisdom in the realization of the Declaration of Independence. This brilliant mind also played an active role in America’s alliance with France, a treaty that effectively ended the revolution. The establishment of a near-perfect Constitution would have remained a tricky proposition without the participation of minds like Franklin’s.

An examination of one of America’s favorite leaders and hands-down one of history’s brilliant minds is bound to be an inspiration to everyone.

‘Einstein: His Life and Universe’ by Walter Isaacson

Einstein: His Life and Universe is the second book by Walter Isaacson that inspired Elon Musk. The author articulately pens this Einstein biography and examines many questions that people had concerning the most famous scientist of all time.

Isaacson helps us understand how Einstein’s mind worked, as well as what made him a genius. Among the subjects covered in this book is the scientist’s rebellious nature and the birth of his scientific imagination. The text follows Einstein’s journey from his days as a desk clerk who couldn’t secure a teaching job, to the man whose mind unraveled the cosmos to humanity.

In this book, we get a closer look at how the dislike for conventional wisdom spurred what was considered an ordinary mind to unprecedented heights in science.

A closer examination of Elon Musk’s own modus operandi draws some stark similarities. Elon has through the years worked to sail into uncharted waters in space exploration and bring humankind a new level of consciousness and knowledge.

‘Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future’ by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel is an excellent entrepreneur, a businessman, venture capitalist, investor, and hedge fund manager. It is safe to say that he knows a thing or two about building a better future by capitalizing on what many people don’t know.

This particular book explores how one can wade into unexplored territory and create something entirely unique. Charting into new frontiers demands that one learn to think independently and continually seek to establish new things.

Zero to One traverses embracing unfamiliarity and harnessing the creative power of innovation in new fields of interest. Peter Thiel effectively pushes the reader to ask the pertinent questions that ultimately help you find value in unexpected places.

Elon Musk speaks of how the book contains essential information that shows Thiel’s tools for success with multiple companies.

‘Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies’ by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies examines the potential outcomes if AI exceeds human intelligence. In delving into this topic, Bostrom effectively lays a foundation on the possible outcomes in the human-machine relationship.

Human dominance comes from the unique abilities of our brains in comparison to other animals. This superiority bears a level of dependency by other species such as gorillas. Bostrom keenly examines the potential effects of machine brains developing superintelligence, and the sort of dependencies on AI by humans that would subsequently develop.

In this unique publication, the author explores possibilities and risks in equal measure. Bostrom anchors all reasoning on dependencies and human survival should such an imbalance come about.

“Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” – Elon Musk, Twitter

‘Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness’ by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele

The life of Howard Hughes inspired the movie The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness examines the soul beneath the image the world sees. Hughes was a businessman, investor, film director, engineer, a philanthropist, and a one-of-a-kind pilot.

Howard became a millionaire at 18 after the death of his father. He subsequently set his eyes on Hollywood in 1925. In 1938, he flew around the globe in the then record time of three days, 19 hours, and 17 minutes. He was a man of many feats, and an eccentric who once bought a Vegas hotel that tried to kick him out.

Hughes was a man of many talents, and he enjoyed significant success in each of them. Often, the men who excel in many fields remain enigmas in the eyes of the world. With books like these, one gets a peek behind the curtain and gets an idea of who the man behind the mask is.

The mind of such a man remains a fascination for many. In a CNN interview, Elon Musk brands it a ‘cautionary tale.’

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams

In an interview with “CBS Sunday Morning”, Musk discusses the profound impact that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has had on him. At 12 or 15 years, he had an existential crisis, pushing him to read books that demystified the meaning of life. At that point, everything seemed pointless to him. This Douglas Adams book brought more positivity to the topic compared to similar works by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

In reading the book Elon Musk speaks of how he came to the realization that to understand the universe, it all starts with knowing which questions to ask. He speaks of how we should work with what comes closest to giving us the answers we need. Through all this, he understood that it would be good if humankind expanded the existing knowledge of the universe.

This inspiration to know more about the known universe is a clear indicator of where his rocket science interest started.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

This book series inspired Elon Musk as a kid. He says that it pushed him to develop a keen interest the business of space exploration. The author brings to life a world that has descended into chaos and barbarism. The Old Empire’s implosion necessitates the establishment of a new age for humankind.

Leading the noble venture is Hari Sheldon and his team of psychologists. Together, this team must create a new world, courtesy of the Foundation that’s dedicated to science and technology. This inspired beginning shall, in turn, herald the birth of a new empire.

The second book, Foundation and Empire, addresses the struggle for power in a largely lawless universe. At this point, the human race is at the threshold of enlightened life. All dreams could however fail as barbarism and disorder threaten the growth of the new world. In this text, the challenges we face today take center stage.

In his third and final book of the trilogy, Second Foundation, Adams brings about the theme of manipulation. A rogue mutant strain corrupts the mind of men, bends their wills, directs their thoughts, and reshapes their desires. Inevitably, this results in the destruction of the universe.

A close examination of the aspects of human nature explored in these books reveals that order, chaos, rebirth, and life as we know it rests on order, justice, and virtue. Without these, the human race has little chance of survival, even with interstellar travel.

‘Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down’ by J.E. Gordon

Engineering is often overridden with a myriad of confusing terminology and complex concepts. In Structures: Or Why Thing Don’t Fall Down, however, Gordon peels all that back and brings out its basic principles in a well-articulated, witty text.

In this book, the reader gets a vivid idea of why suspension bridges hold all that weight and how dams handle an insane amount of water. Gordon simplifies the complicated engineering that enable the construction of skyscrapers. This incredible piece helps the reader understand how all major structures stand, and the engineering behind it all.

The book offers informal enlightenment and a greater understanding of the forces that hold together our world. Gordon covers buildings, eggshells, and aircraft among other essential structures in our world. The author masterfully explains how everything works without oversimplification or the incorporation of unnecessary jargon.

On KCRW’s Design and Architecure Show Musk stated, “It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”

‘Our Final Invention’ by James Barrat

Elon Musk has a keen interest on AI and its effect if current development trends persist. There’s an unrivaled effort by governments and corporations to develop human-level intelligent, as reflected by the billions of dollars in investment each year. It is possible that within a decade, AI could match and surpass human intelligence.

Once AI develops to such levels, it will have a need and reason for survival, same as humankind. This level of technology presents a unique challenge altogether. Our rival now becomes a more powerful, more cunning, alien force. Barrat intricately examines tech visionaries, advanced AI systems, and industry watchdogs in outlining the risk in humankind’s relentless pursuit for advanced AI.

The question remains; can we peacefully coexist with advanced AI, especially when such intelligence exceeds and dwarfs our own?
Elon Musk remains interested on the possibility of AI exceeding human intelligence, and the opportunities and risks in such a world.


Elon Musk is no doubt an avid reader. His list of inspirational books indicates a preference for titles that explore the unknown and unconventional. Among these titles are books on technology and AI, and the changes to the world that may come about should AI capabilities exceed human intelligence.

These books also explore the lives of iconic historical figures such as Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Howard Hughes. To be great, one must have an understanding of how these people lived, how their minds worked, and what made them great.

It is imperative that we make careful picks when deciding what to read, because ultimately, what we read molds our minds and mentalities a great deal. For Elon Musk, these are exceptional titles, and they played a role in him becoming the man he is today. Grab a copy of the ones you haven’t already read yet and feed your mind with the same content that inspired Elon.



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