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The Bookshelves of 10 Successful Leaders

The Bookshelves of 10 Successful Leaders

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Peering into someone’s bookshelf is like getting a glimpse into the inner workings of their mind. The books someone cites as their favorites can say a lot about who they are. “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle? You’re spiritual and introspective. “The Rational Optimist” by Matt Ridley? Analytical and business minded. “Bossypants” by Tina Fey? You don’t take yourself too seriously.

Famous entrepreneurs and thought leaders in particular, often regard reading as an essential habit to success. Founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, read 50 books a year, while Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, read at least 10 hours a day. 

To take a peek into their brilliant minds, here are the bookshelves and favorite books of 10 famously successful individuals.


Elon Musk

Originally from South Africa, Elon Musk is a serial inventor and entrepreneur. Notable companies he has founded include PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX. His reading habits are slightly unusual: he says that he prefers to read books on his iPhone.

His favorite books are:

The Lord of the Rings by. J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by. Douglas Adams

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by. Walter Isaacson

Einstein: His Life and Universe by. Walter Isaacson

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

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in 2003. In order to promote reading, Zuckerberg started an online book club called the “A Year of Books” in 2015. He made book recommendations every two weeks through his Facebook account, offering a total of 23 options. 

His favorite books are:

Why Nations Fail by. Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson

The Rational Optimist by. Matt Ridley

Portfolios of the Poor by. Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Arlanda Ruthven

The Three-Body Problem by. Liu Cixin

Genome by. Matt Ridley

Bill Gates

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is well known for his proclivity for reading. He releases a new list of his favorite books annually, and reads at least one book every week. In 2017, Gates shared with Time magazine that reading was “absolutely essential to success.”

His favorite books are:

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by. Steven Pinker

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by. Elizabeth Kolbert

The Man Who Fed the World by. Leon Hesser

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by. John Brooks

The Vital Question by. Nick Lane

Jeff Bezos

When Amazon debuted in 1994, it was known as an online marketplace for selling books. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Jeff Bezos is well read. According to his biographer, he claims to learn more from reading fictional novels, like his top pick “The Remains of the Day”, than non-fiction.

His favorite books are:

The Remains of the Day by. Kazuo Ishiguro

Sam Walton: Made in America by. Sam Walton

Memos from the Chairman by. Alan Greenberg

The Mythical Man-Month by. Frederick P Brooks Jr.

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by. Jim Collins

Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen must love what she does, because the economist and former Chair of the Federal Reserve has a book list that matches her resume. The New York Times reported that her vacations to the beach include “a suitcase of economics books”.

Her favorite books are:

The Rise and Fall of American Growth by. Robert Gordon

The Second Machine Age by. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

The Federal Reserve System: Purposes and Functions by. Board of Governors

Gold: The Monetary Polaris by. Nathan Lewis

Capitalism Will Save Us by. Steve Forbes

Gretchin Rubin

Former lawyer and Supreme Court Clerk, Gretchin Rubin is known for her expertise on the subject of human happiness. Her book, “The Happiness Project” was a New York Times Best Seller.

Her favorite books are:

Man’s Search for Meaning by. Viktor Frankl

Jackie Under My Skin by. Wayne Koestenbaum

My Early Life by. Winston Churchill

The Life of Samuel Johnson by. James Boswell

The Habit of Being by. Flannery O’Connor

Sheryl Sandberg

You might be surprised to learn that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of tech company Facebook, prefers physical paperbacks to digital readers. Though she uses an iPad when traveling, she describes her method of traditional reading: “I like holding a book open and being able to leaf through it, highlight with a real yellow pen and dog-ear important pages. After I finish a book, I’ll often look to see how many page corners are turned down as one gauge of how much I liked it.”

Her favorite books are:

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by. Anna Quindlen

Bossypants by. Tina Fey

Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by. Fred Kofman

Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by. Michael Lewis

Now, Discover Your Strengths by. Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton

Barack Obama

The 44th president of the United States releases a list of his favorite books every year through Twitter. He has said, “reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible, from complex world problems and the meaning of our history to scientific discovery and technological proficiency.”

His favorite books are:

Moby Dick by. Herman Melville

Self-Reliance by. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Song of Solomon by. Toni Morrison

Parting the Waters by. Taylor Branch

Gilead by. Marylinne Robinson

Larry Page

Larry Page was moved to tears by an autobiography of Nikola Tesla that he read when he was 12 (talented inventor Tesla died in penniless obscurity). Page says, “I figured that inventing things wasn’t any good. You really had to get them out into the world and have people use them to get any effect.” The lesson seems to have taken hold - Page is a cofounder of Google, one of the most widely used internet services in the world.

His favorite books are:

My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla by. Nikola Tesla

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by. Richard P. Feynman

What Do You Care What Other People Think? by. Richard P. Feynman

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by. Richard P. Feynman

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by. Richard P. Feynman

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah has said that “nothing, not one thing or activity, can replace the experience of a good read - being transported to a different land, a different realm, through words and language.” Her book club recommended 70 books during its 15 year run.

Her favorite books are:

Discover the Power Within You by. Eric Butterworth

A New Earth by. Eckhart Tolle

The Poisonwood Bible by. Barbara Kingsolver

Night by. Elie Wiesel

A Fine Balance by. Rohinton Mistry

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