SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a controversial figure.
His recent purchase of Twitter put him even further in the spotlight, especially his focus on fighting what he calls the “woke mind virus.”
But love him or hate him, nobody would argue that Musk is a highly intelligent and successful man who’s changing the way we live, work and explore the universe.
With that in mind, I want to take a look at Musk’s top reading recommendations. First I’ll start with fiction and then move to Musk’s non-fiction picks…
1) The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
British fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings series between 1937 and 1949, introducing readers to the timeless world of Middle Earth.
Full of deep themes surrounding spirituality, salvation, war, brotherhood and destiny, the series is one of the bestselling of all time and continues to have a profound influence on popular culture, including the recent films.
Musk has praised LOTR extensively, calling it his “favorite book ever.”
Looking forward to it. I know it's cliche, but LotR is my favorite book ever 🙂 Want to see the set and take my kids on tour of greater NZ.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 12, 2017
2) The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
Next up in the top books Elon Musk thinks everyone should read is the Foundation series by science fiction author Isaac Asimov.
A Russian-born prodigy who became a professor in New York City and a bestselling science fiction author, Asimov’s Foundation series has been rated the best sci-fi series ever written.
It paints a picture of a cosmic future in which human society is about to collapse but a brilliant mathematician finds a way to try to limit some of the disaster which is about to occur.
Musk loves the series and has called it “fundamental” to his decision and motivation for creating SpaceX.
Foundation Series & Zeroth Law are fundamental to creation of SpaceX
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 15, 2018
3) Dune By Frank Herbert
Another of the key books Elon Musk thinks everyone should read is Dune by Frank Herbert.
This 1965 sci-fi classic takes place in a future galactic civilization where planets are controlled by aristocratic houses.
The planet Arrakis is ruled by House Atreides, where the struggle to control the valuable “spice” and melange drug have plunged the society into internecine and intense warfare.
Musk has called Dune brilliant and says he also agrees with Herbert’s advice that machine learning must have limits placed on it.
Dune series by Herbert also brilliant. He advocates placing limits on machine intelligence.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 8, 2014
4) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand’s classic novel of innovation and industry competing against an oppressive bureaucratic state earns Musk’s vote of approval.
His only caveat for readers is that they should approach it’s me-first ideology with a little bit of compassion and not buy into it completely or get carried away like some undergrads.
Yes, Atlas Shrugged has some solid points to make, but don’t treat it as your one source of Gospel truth, Musk warns.
Very appealing if you’re a sophomore in college. It’s a counterpoint to communism and useful as such, but should be tempered with kindness.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 16, 2018
5) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Next up in Musk’s recommendations is one of my personal favorites: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by the late and great Douglas Adams.
I particularly remember laughing my face off at the antics of Marvin the depressed robot.
This satirical series about the clearing of earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass will have you laughing out loud and pondering the meaning of life in the same breath.
It’s that good. Solid choice from Musk here!
@Recode I love Douglas Adams! My favorite spaceship ever is in HHGTTG.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 5, 2016
6) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
John Green is one of those writers who’s become very wealthy writing young adult fiction. It may not be trendy to admit to liking him, but Musk doesn’t care.
Musk acknowledged that he loves The Fault in Our Stars, calling it “sad” and “romantic.”
The story of two teenagers with cancer is enough to make anybody cry and reflect on this journey of life, even a billionaire tech mogul.
Other Green offerings such as Paper Towns are also well worth your time.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 6, 2015
7) Player of Games by Iain Banks
This classic late 1980s sci-fi novel from Scottish writer Iain Banks ranks high on Musk’s mantel.
He has portrayed Banks’ novels as “grand” and “semi-utopian,” responding to the optimistic portrayal of AI with hope.
It’s clear that Musk looks at Banks’ work as a best-case scenario of a human future involving broadly applied machine intelligence.
Reading The Culture series by Banks. Compelling picture of a grand, semi-utopian galactic future. Hopefully not too optimistic about AI.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 26, 2014
8) The Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger
German author Ernst Jünger’s firsthand tale of brutal trench warfare in World War One has become a classic of military non-fiction.
Originally published in 1920, Musk recommends this book as incredibly “intense” and worth a read.
Almost finished Jünger’s Storm of Steel. Intense. Great book.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 1, 2021
9) The Autobiography of Ben Franklin by Ben Franklin
Next up in the best books Elon Musk thinks everyone should read comes Ben Franklin’s autobiography.
When he wasn’t busy helping found nations, Franklin found time to pen fascinating recollections of his life and lessons.
This Founding Father is well worth everyone’s time to read, and had a much more ribald and reckless life than many realize.
10) Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom
It’s well-known that Musk is very interested and concerned with the power of AI and its applications to human society and industry.
In Superintelligence by Swedish thinker Nick Bostrom, we get an incisive and fascinating look at machine learning and its potential.
Bostrom’s powerful argument is, simply put, that hyper-aware and intelligent machine systems and AI could eliminate the need and presence of human beings.
Musk has expressed similar concerns to Bostrom and has clearly been highly influenced by this engaging book.
Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 3, 2014
11) Lying by Sam Harris
This 2011 book by neuroscience author Sam Harris is a defense of telling the truth.
According to Harris, we can enormously improve our lives and relationships by simply telling the truth instead of giving into the temptation of lying where it seems easier.
This gets Musk’s stamp of approval and he says Harris’ longform essay’s thesis convinced him.
Read "Lying", the new book by my friend Sam Harris. Excellent cover art and lots of good reasons not to lie!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 21, 2011
12) Our Final Invention by James Barrat
Our Final Invention by James Barrat also touches on Musk’s favorite subject of AI and the future.
This 2013 book argues about the benefits and drawbacks of AI and gets into speculation of an intelligent AI species which makes a rational decision to end human life.
Is it plausible?
This book is reportedly extremely good, although I’ve not yet read it.
Musk highly recommends Barrat’s work here, saying it’s second to none.
While on the subject of AI risk, Our Final Invention by @jrbarrat is also worth reading
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 3, 2014
13) Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes
Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science. Her 2010 book Merchants of Doubt investigates how dissident voices in science cling to the bitter end with their ideas and conspiracies.
As Musk notes, she establishes interesting ties between climate change denialism and many other historical untruths such as the trend of formerly promoting cigarettes as being good for your health.
Have you read this book? Musk recommends it!
Worth reading Merchants of Doubt. Same who tried to deny smoking deaths r denying climate change http://t.co/C6H8HrzS8X
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 25, 2013
14) Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Apple founder Steve Jobs had a fascinating and productive life that changed the world forever.
Walter Isaacson’s look at the life of Jobs is something that fully captured Musk’s attention, and he’s recommended this read for everyone.
This is definitely one of the most popular biographies out there, and Musk agrees that it’s worth everyone’s time to check out.
I haven’t read it, but my mom says the book is great!
15) Human Compatible by Stuart Russell
Stuart Russell digs further into AI in his 2019 tome Human Compatible.
This comes with Musk’s full stamp of approval and he says the book is an interesting and engaging look at a more high-tech future.
Russell goes into detailed investigation of how AI and humans could coexist and potential advantages and disadvantages of a machine run society.
If you’ve read it, do you agree?
Worth reading “Human Compatible” by Stuart Russell (he’s great!) about future AI risks & solutions https://t.co/ZCdvZrrcVf
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 8, 2019
16) Twelve Against the Gods by William Bolitho
This book isn’t well known, but Twelve Against the Gods is one of Musk’s favorites that he urges others to read.
The book includes insightful looks at the lives of the Prophet Mohammed, Napoleon, Alexander the Great and other figures from history.
After Musk recommended it, the book reportedly went out of stock on many bookselling sites, but the good news is it’s back in stock…
It’s definitely a unique pick from Musk and is reportedly well worth your time to check out, although I haven’t yet read it.
Ready, set, read!
What do you think of Musk’s recommendations?
I was a huge science-fiction fan growing up and have read many of his suggestions in that genre, but am a newcomer to various of the non-fiction titles, and will be checking them out.
Which do you look forward most to reading? Which do you think are the worst suggestions.