Elon Musk is the founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX; a Series A investor, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Inc.; co-chairman of OpenAI; founder and CEO of Neuralink. He was previously co-founder and chairman of SolarCity; co-founder of Zip2; and founder of X.com, which merged with Confinity and took the name PayPal. Musk was ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful People.
These are some of the books recommended by Elon Musk:
1. Benjamin Franklin
Subtitle: An American Life
Author: Walter Isaacson
Summary: In this authoritative and engrossing full-scale biography, Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Einstein and Steve Jobs, shows how the most fascinating of America’s founders helped define its national character. Walter Isaacson chronicles the adventures of the runaway apprentice who became, over the course of his eighty-four-year life, America’s best writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical and ingenious political leaders.
Quote: “His morality was built on a sincere belief in leading a virtuous life, serving the country he loved, and hoping to achieve salvation through good works. That led him to make the link between private virtue and civic virtue, and to suspect, based on the meager evidence he could muster about God’s will, that these earthly virtues were linked to heavenly ones as well. As he put it in the motto for the library he founded, ‘To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.’ In comparison to contemporaries such as Jonathan Edwards, who believed that men were sinners in the hands of an angry God and that salvation could come through grace alone, this outlook might seem somewhat complacent. In some ways it was, but it was also genuine.”
2. Catherine the Great
Subtitle: Portrait of a Woman
Author: Robert K. Massie
Summary: A masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
Quote: “She was discovering the way to make people like her, and once she had learned the skill, she practiced it brilliantly. It was not a matter of behaving seductively. Sophia–and, later, Catharine–was never a coquette; it was not sexual interest she wished to arouse but warm, sympathetic understanding. To produce these reactions in other people, she used means so conventional and modest that they appear almost sublime. She realized that people preferred to talk rather than to listen and to talk about themselves rather than anything else.”
Subtitle: His Life and Universe
Author: Walter Isaacson
Summary: An excellent exhibition of Einstein’s personality, aura, rebellious nature and scientific approach for things that seemed mundane to others. The book delves deep into his life and verifies the connection between creativity and freedom. It reveals Einstein as the man behind the science. From early years of life to thoughts, experiments to his later life, the book has it all. It also reveals his role in the development of the atomic bomb and how he contributed to the civil rights groups in the United States.
Quote: “An appreciation for the methods of science is a useful asset for a responsible citizenry. What science teaches us, very significantly, is the correlation between factual evidence and general theories, something well illustrated in Einstein’s life. In addition, an appreciation for the glories of science is a joyful trait for a good society. It helps us remain in touch with that childlike capacity for wonder, about such ordinary things as falling apples and elevators, that characterizes Einstein.”
4. Howard Hughes
Subtitle: His Life and Madness
Authors: Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
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. Originally published under the title Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes.
Quote: “While Hughes’s mind was adept at absorbing complicated technical material, there was no place in it for human beings. He could remember years afterward, to the quarter-inch, the angle of the windshield in a plane he helped to design, but had entirely lost the name of the engineer who worked side by side with him for many months. From childhood on, he was never one of the boys, never able to share a joke or enjoy the camaraderie of youth or the friendship of adults. He never sought–and did not seem to need–human companionship.”
Find the book here: Amazon
Subtitle: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants
Author: John D. Clark
Summary: A classic, accessible, and entertaing history of liquid rocket propellants, with introduction by Isaac Asimov.
Quote: “We were in a new and exciting field, possibilities were unlimited, and the world was our oyster just waiting to be opened. We knew that we didn’t have the answers to the problems in front of us, but we were sublimely confident of our ability to find them in a hurry, and set about the search with a ‘gusto’–the only word for it–that I have never seen before or since.”
Find the book here: Kindle
6. Merchants of Doubt
Subtitle: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
Authors: Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Summary: The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. These scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers.
Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.
Quote: “In case after case, scientists joined forces with think tanks and private corporations to challenge scientific evidence on a host of contemporary issues. In the early years, much of the money for this effort came from the tobacco industry; in later years, it came from foundations, think tanks, and the fossil fuel industry. They claimed the link between smoking and cancer remained unproven. They insisted that scientists were mistaken about the risks and limitations of SDI. They argued that acid rain was caused by volcanoes, and so was the ozone hole. They charged that the Environmental Protection Agency had rigged the science surrounding secondhand smoke. Most recently–over the course of nearly two decades and against the face of mounting evidence–they dismissed the reality of global warming.”
Subtitle: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down
Author: J. E. Gordon
Summary: The author made plain the secrets of materials science. In this volume he explains the importance and properties of different structures.
Quote: “Structures are involved in our lives in so many ways that we cannot really afford to ignore them: after all, every plant and animal and nearly all the works of man have to sustain greater or less mechanical forces without breaking, and so practically everything is a structure of one kind or another. When we talk about structures, we shall have to ask, not only why buildings and bridges fall down and why machinery and aeroplanes sometimes break, but also how worms came to the shape they are and why a bat can fly into a rosebush without tearing its wings. How do our tendons work? Why do we get ‘lumbago’? How were pterodactyls able to weigh so little? Why do birds have feathers? How do our arteries work?… As it has turned out, the struggle to understand the real reasons why structures work and why things break has been a great deal more difficult and has taken much longer than one might have expected. It is really only quite recently that we have been able to fill in enough of the gaps in our knowledge to answer some of these questions in any very useful or intelligent manner.”
Subtitle: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Author: Nick Bostrom
Summary: The human brain has some capabilities that the brains of other animals lack. It is to these distinctive capabilities that our species owes its dominant position. Other animals have stronger muscles or sharper claws, but we have cleverer brains.
If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence.
Quote: “Machines matching humans in general intelligence–that is, possessing common sense and an effective ability to learn, reason, and plan to meet complex information-processing challenges across a wide range of natural and abstract domains–have been expected since the invention of computers in the 1940s. At that time, the advent of such machines was often placed some 20 years into the future. Since then, the expected arrival date has been receding at a rate of one year per year; so that today, futurists who concern themselves with the possibility of artificial intelligence still often believe that intelligent machines are a couple of decades away.”
9. Zero to One
Subtitle: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Author: Peter Thiel
Summary: The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them. It’s easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. Every new creation goes from 0 to 1. This book is about how to get there.
Quote: “New technology tends to come from new ventures–startups. From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild Semiconductor’s ‘traitorous eight’ in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better. The easiest explanation for this is negative: It’s hard to develop new things in big organizations, and it’s even harder to do it by yourself. Bureaucratic hierarchies move slowly, and entrenched interests shy away from risk. In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (if this described your company, you should quit now). At the other extreme, a lone genius might create a classic work of art or literature, but he could never create an entire industry. Startups operate on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can.”