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22 Incredibly Powerful Books recommended by Billionaires like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and many more

When you read books recommended by billionaires, it allows you to draw inspiration from the same set of people that inspired them. Note this: People managing billion-dollar businesses are particular about what they read.

If Bill Gates declares on public forums, in his documentary that Vaclav Smil is one author whose books he looks forward to reading. Then, you can blindfoldedly (not literally) pick up any Smil’s book.

Billionaires’ word is shorthand for curated selection, you know. So, if you are unable to find the next life-changing title, look no further than this list.

Centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton wrote to his rival Robert Hooke, “If I have seen farther, it’s only by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Every generation finds its seeds of inspiration in the work done by those before them. They capitalize on the huge swathe of knowledge and discoveries made by others.

The revered modern-day entrepreneurs and billionaires also draw inspiration from the works of others.

The charismatic Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, in an interview with CNBC, mentioned that he first learned about rockets by reading books. He declared, “ I was raised by books. Books, and then, my parents.“ 

In this post, I have compiled a list of 22 business books recommended by billionaires like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, Jeff Bezos, and more:

1. Einstein: His Life and Universe

Recommended by: Elon Musk
books recommended by billionaires

A Walter Isaacson classic.

Einstein: His Life and Universe is as inspirational as it is thought-provoking.

Isaacson is a phenomenal biographer. Perhaps, one of the best of our time.

The book is a fascinating account of Einstein’s personal life and his extraordinary career.

Isaacson studies Einstein as a man, with his many imperfections, some bizarre, others just plain incredible. No wonder Elon Musk recommends this book.

2. Zero to One

Recommended by: Elon Musk
books recommended by billionaires

It’s an acknowledged fact that there are no clear-cut, recipe-like methods for startup success.

In Zero to One, Peter Thiel, the billionaire VC and co-founder of companies like PayPal and Palantir, elaborates on a chunk of broad, industry-agnostic guidelines to help startups get started in the right direction.

The book teems with pearls of wisdom from Peter Thiel. The million-dollar saying that struck me the most is:  “The single greatest danger for a founder is to become so certain of his own myth that he loses his mind.”  

3. Structures: Or Why things don’t fall down

Recommended by: Elon Musk
books recommended by billionaires

Don’t let the title mislead you this one for a cut-and-dry engineering book.

J.E. Gordon’s Structures is geared toward the layperson. It’s every bit as informative as it is entertaining.

It’s suitable for almost anyone who’s ready to invest their time in it. There are dramatic stories told with the humor of old technology in ships and bridges when they failed.

Elon Musk has recommended this book on public forums. ”  It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design  ,” Musk is quoted to have told the radio station KCRW.

4. Shoe Dog

Recommended by: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett
books recommended by billionaires

Bill Gates declared Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog as one of his favorite books of the year 2016. Warren Buffett called it the best book he read that year.

For the uninitiated, Phil Knight is the co-founder of the billion-dollar shoe brand Nike. Shoe Dog is his epic business memoir.

This is a great read for anybody. And, if you’re thinking about starting a business, especially a business that you expect to grow, then this book belongs on your must-read list.

You’ll learn things that you won’t learn anywhere else and you’ll learn things that you can only learn from a story.

5. Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

Recommended by: Bill Gates
Books recommended by billionaires

Origin Story is a big-history book. It condenses the story of the universe for the last 13 billion years into a 300-page riveting narrative.

The book is divided into four sections: Cosmos, Biosphere, Us, and The Future.

The writing is conversational and comfortable to follow while providing a level of detail and terminology without overwhelming technicality.

In his review of the book, Bill Gates lauds the author David Christian, “David is a very good writer, and he has a way of making complicated subjects fun. Origin Story does a fantastic job distilling the latest thinking about the origins of the universe.

6. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley startup

 Recommended by: Bill Gates 
books recommended by billionaires

Bill Gates called Bad Blood a thriller with a tragic ending and a book so compelling that he couldn’t turn away.

It is a devastating expose of a biotech startup called Theranos and its charismatic and somewhat psychotic founder Elizabeth Holmes.

At the height of its glory, Theranos had even leapfrogged the combined valuations of Uber and Spotify.

The moral decadence of its founder, however, set Theranos off on a path of duplicitous lies and sophistic trickery. Bad Blood is the story of the rise and fall from grace of the Valley’s first self-made billionaire female founder.

7. Things Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

Recommended by: Bill Gates
books recommended by billionaires

Randall Munroe. Does the name ring any bell?

He is the brains behind the famous intellectual humor webcomic xkcd.

Now the peculiar thing about Things Explainer is that it relies upon a common vocabulary of only 1000 words to tell you about things that are hard to understand. So, you have stuff like “Machines for Burning Cities” in place of “Atomic Bombs”. I know that makes it sound weird but all in all, it is a very fun and insightful book to read.

Bill Gates called Munroe’s book a wonderful guide for curious minds.

8. Business Adventures

Recommended by: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

 Business Adventures is a neglected classic and it’s still my favorite business book ever. Bill Gates, 2014

books recommended by billionaires

Legend has it that Warren Buffett gifted his copy of Business Adventures to Bill Gates in the ’90s. And, Gates totally fell in love with it.

The book comprises twelve stories from the business world of the 1950s and 1960s. The stories as you’d rightly guess are a bit dated, but, thanks to the author, they keep the reader riveted.

Business Adventures tells such stories as the legendary failure of the Ford Edsel, the rise of Xerox, a particularly fluctuating market in May 1962, among others.

9. The Innovator’s Dilemma

Recommended by: Late Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos
books recommended by billionaires

An all-time business classic. Written by Prof Clayton Christensen in 1997, the book quickly rose to prominence.

After more than two decades, Christensen’s lessons are still relevant. The book is required reading in many business schools across the world even today.

The Innovator’s Dilemma gives you a blueprint for action.
It explains how excellent companies with brilliant managers and epic strategies can do everything right and still fail.

It also explains how innovators with disruptive technologies on the fringes of the mainstream cannot follow the same rules as existing firms.

10. Made in America

 Recommended by: Jeff Bezos
books recommended by billionaires

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the founder of one retail behemoth took inspiration from another who came before him. Not only Jeff Bezos, but Sam Walton’s book can galvanize any entrepreneur.

Made in America is an autobiography – a book as unassuming as its author. Written in colloquial American English sans the technical mumbo-jumbo, it tells Sam’s incredible journey of passion and purpose.

After more than two-and-a-half decades since the book first came out, the story of how Sam built the Walmart empire from scratch and forever changed the retail industry has remained timeless.

Invest in this book, and you will be glad you did. It is a must-read for any entrepreneur and anyone that thinks they know what Walmart is all about.

11. The Black Swan

 Recommended by: Jeff Bezos and Vinod Khosla
books recommended by billionaires

If there is one book you must read about understanding the 2008 financial crisis, it is The Black Swan.

The book came in the wake of the crisis and blew to bits the bastions of many experts in banking and finance.

In many financial circles, the book is considered irreverent and blasphemous, not just because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but because Nassim Nicholas Taleb has so much fun demolishing revered ideas.

No wonder it’s on the recommended reading list of the famous entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist, Vinod Khosla.

12. The Peter Principle

Recommended by: Carlos Slim
books recommended by billionaires

Another book on this list that has stood the winds of time. Almost 50 years old now, The Peter Principle tells you why organizations and bureaucracies are run so poorly.

 In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.  – Raymond Hull and Laurence Peter

Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, paraphrased the premise of the book in his own way: “The cream rises until it sours.”

The Peter Principle is brilliant in its simplicity, and I find it overwhelmingly accurate in explaining incompetence in the workplace.

13. Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went

 Recommended by: Carlos Slim
books recommended by billionaires

Carlos Slim is said to be an avid reader of books on business and economics. He recommends a timeless classic called Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went.

Originally published in 1975, John Kenneth Galbraith’s book provides a historical perspective on money and banking.

If you liked Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money you owe it to yourself to read Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went

I would say even if your interest doesn’t run toward the dismal science, the book is a great read with many nuggets of spectacularly delicious writing.

14. Why Nations Fail

 Recommended by: Mark Zuckerberg
Why Nations Fail

Mark Zuckerberg recommended Why Nations Fail in 2015 when he highlighted his endeavor to read an important book every two books.

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, of MIT and Harvard respectively, propose a model based on the concepts of extractive vs. inclusive institutions. 

One of the best books to read to get a grip on political manoeuvering, power play, and the huge influence different economic institutions have in creating successful or foundering nations. 

15. Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day

Recommended by: Mark Zuckerberg
Portfolios of the Poor

It is hard to imagine for those living in the developed world that nearly 40% of the world population manages to survive on $2 a day.

The book describes the findings of a detailed study and gives insights into how people live on such little resources. 

Portfolios of the Poor can be a slog for some readers. But for those with academic interest in developmental economics, it details how microfinance plays out in different communities.

16. The Idea Factory

  Recommended by: Mark Zuckerberg 
The IDEA Factory

This 412-page paperback tells the story of Bell Labs, the research arm of AT&T.

It’s a must read for anyone interested in how we got so much of the technology we take completely for granted now.

It’s also a cautionary tale in that private institutions and governments must invest in basic research on the scale Bell Labs did if the United States is to avoid losing its competitive edge in innovation.  

17. Surely, you’re joking, Mr. Feynman

Recommended by: Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Bill Gates
Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman

Google co-founder Sergey Brin in an early interview attributed Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, the autobiography of world-famous physicist Richard P. Feynman, for inspiring him to dedicate his career to blending technology and creativity.

This book is not so much about physics as it’s about charming, intelligent, and inspiring stories from Feynman’s life.

In the nutshell, the book depicts his fresh, original approach to life, ranging from heavy topics like nuclear secrets and death to lighter ones like cooking and painting. A must-read.

18. My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla

Recommended by: Larry Page 
My Inventions

Google’s co-founder Larry Page says that he read My Inventions when he was 12 years old and considers the visionary inventor his hero.

Nicola Tesla was one of the greatest minds to have ever lived and this book is an amazing first-hand account of a semi-forgotten genius.

The man had an unusual but exceptionally brilliant mind. It’s a shame that he didn’t get enough credit when he was alive.

Originally written in 1919, My Inventions isn’t very long – it runs to 92 pages – and is interesting enough to binge read. It includes general information on some of his inventions, his life story and social commentary.

If you are a Tesla fan, then you owe it yourself to read this book.  

19. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need

Recommended by: Mark Cuban
books recommended by billionaires

Mark Cuban’ status of being an outspoken, maverick billionaire is nothing new. But what you may not know that he attributes a lot of his success to books.

In 2017, Cuban told Vanity Fair in a video interview, “ If there was something that caught me eye and I thought it could give me one idea — to spend $30 to give one idea that could help propel me and make my businesses better, it was a bargain.” 

Published in 1978, The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need can best be summed up as a common sense crash course on just about anything and everything related to money.

20. How will you measure your life?

 Recommended by: Michael Bloomberg
How will you measure your life?

The multi-billionaire and key philanthropist Michael Bloomberg recommends Clayton Christensen’s book.

Christensen is a formidable business writer. Though he mainly writes about business, innovation and disrutpion, with How will you measure your life, he delves into career, personal relationships and family values.

Just as a good teacher doesn’t just give you all the answers, but only lays out a roadmap for you to work’em out, so does Prof Christensen in his book.

Throughout the book he asks pointed questions and outlines ideas that help the reader create their own concrete plan for happiness and satisfaction in life.

21. Future Babble: Why expert predictions fail and why we believe them anyway

Recommended by: Vinod Khosla
Future Babble

Vinod Khosla has spent a major part of his life building stellar companies, guiding young entrepreneurs in their quests and debunking the grand theories of the so-called experts.

If you have seen any of his lectures on YouTube, you’d immediately connect with why Future Babble is on his recommended reading list.

Daniel Gardner builds upon the seminal work of Philip Tetlock in underscoring that big experts are often more inaccurate in their predictions than we ever know.

The only difference between the works of the two authors is that Gardners’ book is easy to digest for lay people. Tetlock’s book Expert Political Judgment, on the other hand, can be a tedious read unless you are well-versed with quantitative methods.

22. Predictably Irrational

Recommended by: Vinod Khosla 
books recommended by billionaires

Dan Ariely has attained a cult status in the field of behavioral economics. Predictably Irrational is the book that confirms his status.

Ariely dispels the notion that people always behave rationally. Irrationality is central to our behavior, he theorizes.

It’s a required reading for anyone with interest in human behavior, anyone who has something to buy or sell (that’s pretty much all of us), and anyone who feels that they are completely rational at all times. 


I hope this list of books recommended by billionaires inspires you to pick up at least a few of them. Each book on this list is a goldmine of knowledge and wisdom in its own right. My endeavor is to expand this list further and make it an exhaustive one. So as I research, I would be doing edits to this post in the time to come.

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  1. Thank you for the list . . . while combing through this morning, I added Shoe Dog, Predictably Irrational, and Origin Story to my TBR list, as well as Mastery by Greene (featured in your other post). So much to read!

    1. Glad you liked the list, Alice. “Mastery” is a stellar book and Robert Greene is a terrific, terrific author.

  2. This is a great list. Though I haven’t read most of these books, I have one way or the other heard of them all.

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