Libraries of Leaders: Books That Inspired Elon Musk, Satya Nadella and Jeff Weiner
Santa Clara Public Library (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Libraries of Leaders: Books That Inspired Elon Musk, Satya Nadella and Jeff Weiner

How did Elon Musk learn to build rockets, and what shapes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s leadership strategies? The businessmen in this week’s edition of Libraries of Leaders count books as one of their biggest counsels. Here’s a look at the books that might have inspired them.

Elon Musk

Tesla Motors and Space X CEO, Elon Musk (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)
Tesla Motors and Space X CEO, Elon Musk (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

Books have been an important part of the Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s life. In an interview with Esquire magazine, Musk said when people ask him how he learnt to build rockets, he often likes to say it is because he reads books.

As a child, he would often retreat into fantasy and science fiction, to cope with being picked on, according to a profile on him in the New Yorker magazine, and these books helped him shape his future self. Scouring through the many interviews he’s done we complied a list of some of his favourite books:

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

According to Musk, the book was especially insightful because it highlighted how sometimes asking the correct question is harder than finding 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.
Elon Musk in an interview to Alison Van Diggelen, of FreshDialogues

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

“It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.” Musk said, commenting on the book in an interview with radio station KCRW.

3. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of Paypal and Palantir Technologies, details the principles of what it takes to build a great business.

Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies. Zero to One shows how.
Elon Musk’s quote on the book’s website.

4. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of America has been one of Musk’s heroes.

In an interview with podcast, Foundation, Musk says, ‘[Franklin] was an entrepreneur. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.’

5. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkein

The heroes of the books I read always felt a duty to save the world.
Elon Musk in an interview with the New Yorker.

6. The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles

It seems that Musk’s children also take after their father’s love for science fiction:

7. Twelve Against the Gods by William Bolitho

After a recent interview with Bloomberg, in which Musk said that he was reading this book, its price rocketed 1500 percent. The book which was listed on Amazon at $6.35 jumped to $99.99, and is now out of stock. The book follows the stories of 12 adventurers from Alexander the Great to Woodrow Wilson.

Last year, technology writer, Ashley Vance released a biography on Musk, that the New York Times calls the ‘definitive account of a man whom so far we’ve seen mostly through caricature.’
Elon Musk’s Biography (Source: Amazon )
Elon Musk’s Biography (Source: Amazon )

This book is certainly on my reading list!

Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella (Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg)
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella (Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg)

Indian born Satya Nadella, in his first email as CEO of Microsoft, told his employees how he is defined by his thirst for learning and buys more books than he can finish. Here are some of his book recommendations:

1.   An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Colonel Chris Hadfield

2. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

This is a book about the 1936 U.S. Olympic crew team, and Nadella has quoted it in an email to his employees, when talking about the importance of teamwork.

3. Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty

Also featured in Gates book list, Piketty chronicles wealth and income inequality in the U.S and Europe since the 18th century.

4. The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin

Nadella recommended this book in an interview with the Washington Post. In the interview, he said that he had been thinking on what it means to live in a more connected and digital world, and that’s why he read this book.

By the way, Nadella has also set about the task of writing his own book, Hit Refresh. According to his publisher, Harper Collins, Hit Refresh will follow three story lines: The CEO’s personal journey, learnings from Microsoft and also how technology will transform the future. The book will be released next year. 

Jeff Weiner

LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)
LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

1. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
Weiner says, on his LinkedIn page, that the most important management principle he applies is that of managing compassionately. Weiner says he learned the ‘true definition of compassion,’ and the difference between compassion and empathy, through the book.

2. Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte
The books describes the history of media technology and makes some predictions for its future. In an interview with Bizjournals, Weiner said that he was reading this book when he got a job at Warner Brothers.

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