Reading List & Recommendations

Elon Musk is one of the greatest entrepreneurs of his generation, born in South Africa, Musk’s early life was difficult. Nicknamed ‘Muskrat,’ he was picked on a lot and as a result he read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. Since then Musk has gone on to become a world renowned business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor but he still credits literature for his triumph.

“I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents” — Elon Musk.

Elon Musk, a voracious reader, Musk regularly comments on the importance of reading, especially during his early childhood and the role it continues to play in his life. The following collection is a reading list and a series of book recommendations from Elon Musk, based upon his authorised biography from Ashlee Vance, and from a series of interviews he gave.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
by Walter Isaacson
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: During his 84-year life Benjamin Franklin was America’s best scientist, inventor, publisher, business strategist, diplomat, and writer. In Musk’s own words: “I like biographies. I think they’re really helpful. I like Franklin’s biography by Isaacson. He was an entrepreneur, he started from nothing, just like a runaway kid. It was interesting to see how he created his business then went to science and politics. I could say he is one of the people I most admire. Franklin is pretty awesome. He did what needed to be done at the time it needed to be done.”

Dune
by Frank Herbert
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune tells the story of the boy Paul Atreides. A triumph of imagination and a stunning blend of adventure, mysticism, environmentalism and politics, this science fiction classic is cherished by both Musk and his partner Grimes.

Einstein: His Life and Universe
by Walter Isaacson
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.

The Foundation Series
by Isaac Asimov
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future—a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save humanity, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire—both scientists and scholars—and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls this sanctuary the Foundation. In Musk’s own words: “In terms of sci-fi books, I think Isaac Asimov is really great. I like the Foundation series, probably one of the all-time best.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect. In Musk’s own in-depth words: “I guess when I was around 12 or 15 … I had an existential crisis, and I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean? It all seemed quite meaningless and then we happened to have some books by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in the house, which you should not read at age 14 (laughter). It is bad, it’s really negative. So then I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which is quite positive I think and it highlighted an important point which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And 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. Then whatever the question is that most approximates: what’s the meaning of life? That’s the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing.”

Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness
by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Howard Hughes has always fascinated the public with his mixture of secrecy, dashing lifestyle, and reclusiveness. This is the book that breaks through the image to get at the man. In Musk’s own words: “It may be a cautionary tale but he is sort of an interesting fella.”

Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants
by John D. Clark
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Ignition covers the history of rocket propellant research from the late 1800s to circa 1980 detailed through the eyes of a propellant chemist. In Musk’s own words: “There is a good book on rocket stuff called ‘Ignition!’ by John Clark that’s a really fun one.”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a tale of revolution, of the rebellion of the former Lunar penal colony against the Lunar Authority that controls it from Earth. It is also one of the high points of science fiction, a novel bursting with politics, humanity, passion, innovative technical speculation, and a firm belief in the pursuit of human freedom. In Musk’s own words: “…Robert Heinlein, obviously. I like The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.”

My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla
by Nikola Tesla
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Nikola Tesla was a prophet of the electronic age. His research laid much of the groundwork for modern electrical and communication systems, and his accomplishments include the alternating-current electrical system, radio, the Tesla coil transformer, wireless transmission, and fluorescent lighting. In Musk’s own words: “I also like biographies of scientists. Obviously, about Tesla, absolutely great person.”

The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring and their perilous quest to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom. Musk names Lord of the Rings as one of his favourites growing up as a teenager in South Africa.

Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert A. Heinlein
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Stranger in a Strange Land is considered one of Heinlein’s best books, it has eerie similarities to Ray Bradbury’s gloomy classic, The Martian Chronicles — space explorers set out to discover Mars, and are lost for a generation. In Musk’s own words: “I like Stranger in a Strange Land, although it kind of goes off the rails at the end.”

Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down
by J.E. Gordon
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Structures is 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. In Musk’s own words: “There’s a good book on structural design called ‘Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down’. It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
by Nick Bostrom
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: Unlike most CEO success authors, Grove delves as deeply into his failures as his successes. In Musk’s own words or tweets: “Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
by Peter Thiel
Print | Audiobook

In Summary: The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. The legendary entrepreneur, investor and Musk’s former PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel shows how we can find these new realities and how we can create them. In Musk’s own words: “Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and this book shows how.”

If you would like to learn more about Elon Musk, please check out our stories and documentaries below.

Stories About Elon Musk

Savanteum has published a number of documentaries and stories about Elon Musk. Check them out below!