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A look inside Elon Musk’s reading list

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Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, is worshiped by the internet community, unlike most billionaires out there. Musk is a workaholic. In an interview with The Guardian, he mentioned he works 120 hour a week. However, even with this packed schedule, Musk makes sure to squeeze in some time to read books.

Human Resources selects some of his favourite books. In light of this eclectic selection, it’s worth considering reading across genres for inspiration and insights, instead of sticking to a reading list confined to HR-related self-help books.


Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
Goodreads rating: 3.99/5
Synopsis: Benjamin Franklin’s life, from a runaway apprentice to the United States’ renowned political leader, writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat and business strategist, over the course of his 84 years on Earth. Walter Isaacson, the bestselling author of Einstein and Steve Jobs shows how Franklin helped define the American national character and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.

What Musk said about the book: “You can see how he was an entrepreneur. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid. Franklin’s pretty awesome.” (in an interview with Foundation)


Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J.E. Gordon
Goodreads rating: 4.14/5
Synopsis:  An informal explanation of the basic forces that hold together the ordinary and essential things of this world from buildings and bodies to flying aircraft and eggshells.
What Musk said about the book: “It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.” (in an interview with KCRW, a southern California radio station)

“The reason I ended up being the chief engineer or chief designer was not because I wanted to — it’s because I couldn’t hire anyone. Nobody good would join.” (Musk on colonising Mars in an interview in 2017)

Note: When Musk started SpaceX, he was coming from a coding background. But he took it upon himself to learn the fundamentals of rocket science. This is one of the books that helped him learn basic engineering.

Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark
Goodreads rating:
Synopsis:  The story of the search for a rocket propellant which could be trusted to take man into space.
What Musk said about the book: 
 “There is a good book on rocket stuff called Ignition! by John Clark that’s a really fun one.” (in an interview with MediaBistro)


Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom
Goodreads rating: 3.9/5
Synopsis:It argues that if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant life form on Earth.
What Musk said about the book: Musk believes deeply in the power of technology to help humans. But he’s also expressed concerns about the harmful potential of artificial intelligence. In a tweet, he described the book as “worth reading”.

Our Final Invention by James Barrat
Goodreads rating:
Synopsis: The potential benefits and possible risks of human-level or super-human artificial intelligence.
What Musk said about the book: Another book “worth reading”.

Das Kapital by Karl Marx
Goodreads rating: 3.8/5
What Musk said about the book: Read Das Kapital when I was 14, including cross-checking English translation of original German. Ironically, future automation will naturally lead to greater equality of consumption. Monopolies are true enemy of people. Competing to serve is good.” (in a tweet)


Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
Goodreads rating: 4.2/5
Synopsis: Notes taken by Masters for the CS183 class on startups taught by Thiel at Stanford University.
What Musk said about the book:“Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how.”

Screw Business As Usual by Richard Branson
Goodreads rating: 3.7/5
Synopsis: The celebrity business leader shows how easy it is for both businesses and individuals to embark on a whole new way of doing things, solving major problems and turning your work into something you both love and are proud of.
What Musk said about the book: “Liked Screw Business as Usual a lot. This approach should be taken to heart by all, as it really is the smart move.” (in a tweet)


The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Goodreads rating: 4.5/5
Synopsis: The Fellowship of the Ring embark on a journey to destroy the One Ring and end Sauron’s reign over Middle-earth. A young Hobbit known as Frodo has been thrown on an amazing adventure in Middle-earth, when he is appointed the job of destroying the One Ring, which was created by the Dark Lord Sauron.
What Musk said about the book: “The heroes of the books I read … always felt a duty to save the world.” (The New Yorker)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Goodreads rating: 4.22/5
Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend, Ford Prefect — an alien researcher for the titular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an enormous work providing information about every planet in the universe — from the Earth just before it is destroyed by the alien Vogons.
What Musk said about the book: When Musk launched his Tesla Roadster into space in February, he put the words “Don’t Panic!” — which graced the cover of some early editions of the book — on the car’s centre screen.

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