Elon Musk’s list of must-read books

May 16, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I’m a sucker for lists of what people are reading, as it tells us something about them and also can be a source of good things to read. I suppose, though, that when a famous person is asked what books they’re reading, they may well pad the list with books that make them look more serious and intellectual.

But I don’t think that’s the case with this list from Blinkist Magazine of nine books that Elon Musk found extremely influential in his life.  Now Blinkist seems a bit slippery to me, since its mission appears to be to distill long books down into bite-size 15-minute audio bits that can help you succeed. And it’s all about what will help you get ahead in life, rather than books that could change your point of view.

Nevertheless, this is a genuine list of books that Musk reads, and it says he “reads a lot”:

Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and other game-changing tech companies, somehow finds time to read a lot of books when he’s not sending rockets into space. From classic sci-fi works to complex studies on artificial intelligence, Musk credits books with helping him achieve his success. In fact, when asked how he learned to build rockets, he famously replied, “I read books.”

But to tout its Reader’s Digest-like format, Blinkist also adds at the beginning:

According to a study by the Bureau of Labour Statistics, most Americans find time to read just 17 minutes per day. At that rate, it could take you more than a month to read one of Musk’s recommended non-fiction titles.

OH NO! Well, why not try reading more than 17 minutes a day! And noting that Americans can’t “find the time” to read just 17 minutes a day” don’t impress me much. Think of the hours that the average person spends online or in front of the telly.

But I fulminate. Here’s the list of the books Musk recommends. The article gives a short paragraph on each, which I won’t reproduce (click screenshot to read). I’ve added the Amazon link to each book, and also note whether I’ve read it:

1.)  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. A biography; I haven’t read it.

2.)  Human Compatible by Stuart Russel. It’s about AI, and I haven’t read it.

3.) Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Master. It’s about how to build a business; I haven’t read it.

4.) Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway. It’s about disinformation and environmental issues, and I haven’t read it.

5.) Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark. Another book about AI, and one I haven’t read.

6.) The Big Picture by Sean M. Carroll. Now I’m impressed, as this has no business relevance but shows pure intellectual curiosity on Musk’s part. I have read it, and liked it.

7.) Lying by Sam Harris. Another impressive book; I have read it. While it’s not one of Sam’s best (I disagree with his view that it’s never  okay to lie), it’s nevertheless a thoughtful work.  But I would have preferred that if Musk recommended a short life-changing book by Harris, it would have been Free Will.

8.) Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. More about AI; I haven’t read it.

9.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read it, but it’s the one real “classic” on Musk’s list.

Now remember, these are books that Musk says could “change your life”, and I suspect he means that largely in a vocational sense. 

I could make a list of nine or ten books that changed my life, but could not ever guarantee that they’d change yours (one of mine would be Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis). But I will divulge the two books I’m reading now (I usually read one at a time):

1.) What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Mechanics by Adam Becker. This is an absorbing book that I picked up in my lifelong and desperate quest to understand something that I’ll never grasp. Yes, I know the phenomena, but this book is about whether quantum mechanics is simply a useful mathematical apparatus for predicting things, or actually describes a real, underlying world. So far I’m a third of the way through, and don’t know the answer.

2.) People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn. I’ve just begun this, and don’t have much to say about it yet. Horn is a prizewinning novelist, but here she tackles the striking fact that whenever she’s asked to write about Jews (she is Jewish), it’s always about dead Jews, as in the Holocaust. This seeming affection for ex-Jews contrasts with the rising anti-Semitism Horn sees in the present, and the fact that she’s not asked to write about living Jews.

I also just finished a book that a reader recommended: the 1400-page doorstopper A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (a good travel book). I thought it was very good, though could have used a bit of pruning, especially in the bit about politics. Also, the main character, Lata, never seems to come to life in a way that some of the other characters do. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of it, finished it, and am grateful for the suggestion.

So, this is your own cue to let us know what you are reading, and whether you recommend it.

101 thoughts on “Elon Musk’s list of must-read books

  1. Well, I guess I am heartened that Mush reads at all. I am reading Arthur Lloyd’s The Slavery Controversy, 1831-1860. I just finished reading The First Lincoln Campaign by Reinhard Luthin, which I would recommend. I took a break from serious stuff for a bit and re-read Harry Potter. Cracking.

    1. A few of his books reflect his stance on general UI which is in line with Sam Harris’s stance.

      1. Bostrom is extremely worried about Artificial General Intelligence, Tegmark is optimistic, and Russell is cautious. If I recall, Musk is somewhere in the Russell to Bostrom vicinity. Which is a very good thing because Tesla’s self driving cars are going to push us further toward AGI, and I think Bostrom is the closest to getting it right.

      1. The Lincoln Campaign is a study of the election of 1860, primarily from the Republican side, and goes into each of the candidates. The Slavery Controversy I haven’t gotten into enough, yet, to be sure if it’s worth it or not. The author’s thesis seems to be that slavery would have ended all right eventually, but the radical abolitionists got the slaveholders backs up. William Garrison began his campaign against slavery in 1831, hence the start date for the book. We’ll see.

        1. The slaveowners were the ruling class, politicians, and wealth of the South. They would not give that up except to do what they did post-reconstruction: continue slavery in all but name. Antebellum, slavery was doubling in every generation and expanding slavery to vast Texas, territories, Cuba, and South America if they could. The election of 1860 Republicans wanted the territories for white western settlers, the South wanted it for slave land.

          1. Thank you for that concise authoritative (and authoritarian) history of the slavery question in the American Civil War. It saves me the trouble of reading any of the long tedious and hard books about it.

            1. Why the snark? You are surely not suggesting that one can only comment on the slavery question in long, hard, book-length posts? If you disagree with Les Faby why not explain why? Whether or not Les Faby’s views are authoritative I can’t say but I’m baffled about what you find authoritarian about his post.

  2. I started reading Ann Applebaum’s book about Ukraine but got too depressed so I switched to a book that has been waiting to be read from my bookshelf for some time about the late Roman Empire. Some parallels are striking & some very much not (which is striking in its own way). I always liked this period when I was in school & thought it would be interesting to revisit aspects of it in detail beyond the cursus honorum. The book is Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland.

      1. I’m inclined to read it to see if she holds forth on George Kennan. A month or so ago on Andrew Sullivan’s podcast “The Dishcast,” she pronounced that “George Kennan was wrong about many things” (including his position on NATO eastward expansion). Who was George Kennan to differ with Anne Applebaum?

        On my long “To-Do List” is to try to read at least one book by John Mearsheimer and Andrew Bacevich.

    1. I hear you about Ann Applebaum. Very good, but I can’t read her stuff straight through because it gets disheartening, and I’m depressive and misanthropic at the best of times.

  3. I’ve not long finished “Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps” by Tzvetan Todorov, published in the 1990s. The author looks at examples from within both the Nazi camps and the Soviet Gulag, at situations where people are in a daily struggle to survive but where some can nevertheless display moral behaviour. He also looks at how ordinary people can best respond to extreme violence from the state. He’s a devotee of Rousseau rather than Hobbes.

  4. The Steve Jobs book is excellent—and paints a mixed picture of the man. Very well done, as are all of the Walter Isaacson biographies I’ve read, and that’s most of them. Right now, I am 60% through his biography of Henry Kissinger—published in 1992 and revised in 2005.

    It’s interesting how both Isaacson’s early and his most recent biographies have the same laudable characteristics. They are all very readable, detailed, scrupulously researched (AFAICT), and balanced. They cover the good, the bad, and the ugly, with enough editorializing, but not too much. I loved his book on Leonardo da Vinci, and learned a great deal. And he did a fantastic job with Einstein, explaining his theories with great understanding and clarity. His recent Codebreaker book is not a biography per se, but showcases (along with his Einstein) Isaacson’s ability to grasp a wide range of technical fields. His bios are also long—hundreds of pages—but I’m OK with that, as I can read for more than 17 minutes per day.

    1. It’s worth noting that Isaacson, an excellent biographer IMHO, has practically finished a book on Elon Musk. That may be why the Jobs book is on his list.

  5. I am reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and an atlas of birds. I love both books. I’ll read almost anything on birds, though it’s more looking than reading because the attraction for me is gorgeous photos of birds. Mann is a lot funnier than I remembered, and the characters The Magic Mountain are so good. Like Austen’s characters, they’re in a certain time, but they are also timeless types. And the main character is irritable and excitable, which is refreshing to see in a main character and seems left out of books but is very present in people in real life. It’s also funny in a book. (Not so much in real life.)

    1. I read The Magic Mountain about 45 years ago, and enjoyed it (AFAICR), but I don’t remember that much about it. You have encouraged me to read it again!

  6. Currently reading these.

    “The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Through the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson. . Moderately amusing but over-the-top surrealist deadpan comedy. Probably won’t finish.

    “The Revenge of Geography” by Robert D. Kaplan. Over-argued but fascinating analysis of how
    geographic factors influence (determine?) national culture and behavior.

    Recently finished: “Black Sea” and “Stone Voices” by Neal Ascherson. Utterly absorbing hybrids of
    history, sociology, literary criticism, travel memoir, and the essay format. Ascherson is one of those fabulously well-informed and allusive British writers, like the late Tony Judt. I look forward to next reading his “Wojtek the Bear, Polish War Hero”.

  7. … when a famous person is asked what books they’re reading, they may well pad the list with books that make them look more serious and intellectual.

    What was it Mr. Twain said about literary “classics” — that they’re “something everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read”? 🙂

    1. “What was it Mr. Twain said about literary “classics’?”

      And on the topic of classics, there’s Woody Allen’s “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”

    1. I read an interview with Grimes. He tells her that they are in a simulation & she has been created for him as his perfect mate. Of course, in Elon’s mind, the simulation is all about him.

    2. I suspect, but can’t prove, Elon Musk’s belief that we live in a computer simulation is one of his intellectual trollings. It gets him attention and can’t be proven one way or the other. He views it as a freebie.

      1. I love Sabine Hossenfelder but she pretty much demolishes her own argument at around 2:20. I think it is “innocent fun” to pursue this thought experiment. I don’t know about Bostrom, but surely Musk and DeGrasse Tyson would agree with this. On the other hand, it is useful to think about the problem to inspire new ways of thinking about the universe. Calling it religion seems like a straw man argument. We wonder whether computer simulations we create might develop theories about humans. It isn’t outside the real of possibility, though not achievable currently. Thinking about that leads directly to wondering if we are in a similar situation.

        Hossenfelder often seems driven to fight against funding areas of science that she doesn’t like. I suspect that also plays a role here. Her worry that it will lead non-scientists astray seems like a non-problem. Within the non-scientific world, it’s just a popular science fiction theme at this point.

    3. It’s interesting, but as Jeremy Pereira mentions, there are strong arguments against. In my opinion, Sabine Hossenfelder’s argument is very sound and had never occurred to me before I saw her video. But there are many reasons to question the hypothesis, at least as Bostrom poses it.

      My main issue with it is that Bostrom takes it as a given that advanced civilisations would simulate the universe, humanity or whatever they fancied, if they were actually able to do so. I think that’s a massive and unjustified leap in his reasoning.

      Over the last few hundred years, we have witnessed humanity becoming immeasurably more human. We are more aware of others, and increasingly less cruel to each other. In order for society to become civilised enough to simulate the whole universe, cooperation, collaboration, morality and mutual understanding would be crucial. But would a morally developed civilisation blithely incarnate quadrillions of people, each with huge potential for suffering, just to run simulations? The idea is morally repugnant, what sort of society would actually do that?

      Apart from anything else, we still how no real clues about consciousness. We don’t know if it can arise in a purely classical manner, in any substrate, or if it depends on certain biological machinery. We have no idea.

      Sean Carroll did a brilliant podcast with Bostrom on this issue. It’s very good, and much recommended (by me at least): https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2020/08/24/111-nick-bostrom-on-anthropic-selection-and-living-in-a-simulation/

  8. I haven’t read any on the list, though a couple are sitting on my bookshelf. Perhaps this will prompt me to read Carroll’s The Big Picture next.
    I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown. It was recommended by PCC(e) and, as usual, his recommendation was spot on (at least for my tastes). And after finishing this novel, there are three more in the series!

  9. Now Blinkist seems a bit slippery to me, since its mission appears to be to distill long books down into bite-size 15-minute audio bits that can help you succeed.

    So the Reader’s Digest version of the Reader’s Digest version of a book?

    1. The Cole’s notes of the Reader’s Digest version of the Reader’s Digest version of a book. 😀

  10. First, a couple of books that will likely aggravate many here, but which are worth reading and reflecting on neverthelss:

    When Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights is Tearing America Apart, by Jamal Greene. Please read it from the beginning; don’t skip ahead to the chapter on rights in academia.

    The Hundred Years War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance 1917-2017, by Rashid Khalidi. I know the title alone will raise hackles, but consider it to be an academic history of the Middle East and Palestine.

    Both of these books are thought provoking, and rest assured that I find much within them that I disagree with but also much that I found worth pursuing further.

    Finally, I believed Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day has been mentioned before, herein. I had to read it as part of a workshop I was involved with, and while going in I thought I would hate it, it turned out to be life changing for me. The book is far superior to the movie, in that it focuses on the general question of the consequences of short-sighted decisions, as opposed to the upper class British/Nazi collaboration during the 1930’s. A true masterpiece

  11. The Wealth of Nations — is ol’ Elon saying he’s read all five volumes of Adam Smith’s treatise?

    Can’t say as I have, though the last full book I recall reading by the late P.J. O’Rourke was his one on The Wealth of Nations, titled (coincidentally, I’m sure) On The Wealth of Nations.

  12. Interesting list

    just a note that I got some good picks as a result of discussion here :

    David Lodge – The Campus Trilogy
    Adam Smith
    Richard Hofstadter

    Possibly here , but definitely elsewhere :

    A. G. Cairns-Smith : The Life Puzzle and Seven Clues to the Origin of Life

    ^^^ this is possibly unfalsifiable and not an academic treatment but it is so much fun to indulge in Cairns-Smith’s sprawling imagination.

    1. It was Historian who recommended Hofstadter (for me at least). I’m glad I took his recommendation, especially Anti-intellectualism / the Paranoid Style.

      1. Probably – my jaw dropped upon reading those essays by Hofstadter – as if he was in our own time. It is … uncanny?…

      2. To follow up on your comment, Mark R., just about anything written by Richard Hofstadter is worth reading. My reading of “The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It” started me on the road from swallowing the fairy tale version of American history to a more realistic one. At the time, many decades ago, I found his portrait of Lincoln somewhat shocking because I was reading about a man, not a god. Although what he wrote is far from being immune from criticism by other historians, it is remarkable that even 50 years after his death, his various arguments, such as the paranoid style, is still being quoted and debated. Part of his continuing importance is that he wrote in a style that is accessible by the general reader. The more I think about Hofstadter, the more I think about him, the more I am becoming convinced that he is the most influential of historians writing about American history. It is sad that he was only 54 when he died in 1970.

        1. Thanks for the follow-up. I also read “The American Political Tradition…” It was engrossing and I learned a lot, but it didn’t affect me like the other essays I mentioned. Those were just so relatable and (to use the same adjective as above) prescient. Yes, he died way too early, but it’s really astounding all that he accomplished in his short time. I read a short bio of him; talk about an over-achiever!

          And let me formally say “Thanks!” for the introduction to Hofstadter.

          1. “And let me formally say “Thanks!” for the introduction to Hofstadter.”

            Yes thanks from me too – I recall vaguely the discussion.

        2. Yes, Richard Hofstadter greatly influenced me as well. Picked up a copy of “The American Political Tradition” from my parents’ bookshelf when I was a high school senior. They hadn’t read it, neither went to college, think it belonged to an uncle who began but didn’t finish. Ended up reading, over the years, virtually everything by the man I could find.

          And that led me to the work of one of Hofstadter’s students, Christopher Lasch. Lasch also died too young, but produced a remarkable body of work still worthy of attention. Too influenced by Freud, I think. Especially good, to my mind, are “Haven in a Heartless World: the Family Besieged” and “The Culture of Narcissism”.

          1. By the way, if anyone’s interested, two of Hofstadter’s books as well as some of his essays were published last year in a new volume by Library of America entitled “Richard Hofstadter: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Uncollected Essays 1956-1965.”

            Amazon describes it as follows:

            “Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and The Paranoid Style in American Politics are two essential works that lay bare the worrying trends of irrationalism, demagoguery, destructive populism, and conspiratorial thinking that have long influenced American politics and culture. Whether underground or–as in our present moment–out in the open, these currents of resentment, suspicion, and conspiratorial delusion received their authoritative treatment from Hofstadter, among the greatest of twentieth-century American historians, at a time when many public intellectuals and scholars did not take them seriously enough. These two masterworks are joined here by Sean Wilentz’s selection of Hofstadter’s most trenchant uncollected writings of the postwar period: discussions of the Constitution’s framers, the personality and legacy of FDR, higher education and its discontents, the relationship of fundamentalism to right-wing politics, and the advent of the modern conservative movement.”


    1. From Wikipedia – I know this is a large comment but Smith argues his principle of “absolute advantage” – apparently an “Economics 101” concept? – in this work :

      “In economics, the principle of absolute advantage is the ability of a party (an individual, or firm, or country) to produce a good or service more efficiently than its competitors.[1] The Scottish economist Adam Smith first described the principle of absolute advantage in the context of international trade in 1776, using labor as the only input. ”

      “The concept of absolute advantage is generally attributed to the Scottish economist Adam Smith in his 1776 publication The Wealth of Nations, in which he countered mercantilist ideas.[2][3] Smith argued that it was impossible for all nations to become rich simultaneously by following mercantilism because the export of one nation is another nation’s import and instead stated that all nations would gain simultaneously if they practiced free trade and specialized in accordance with their absolute advantage.[2]”



  13. I’ve read 4 through 8, a couple of them more than once, and liked them very much. I agree that Free Will is more important than Lying, and I preferred Something Deeply Hidden to The Big Picture, but no real quibble here with either one.

    I have to admit the first three don’t sound very interesting to me, but given the quality of the ones I HAVE read, perhaps I should reconsider. And Wealth of Nations is likewise for me one that I feel remiss in not having read yet.

    I’d be even more interested to know what science fiction Elon Musk has read. There’s SO much of it out there and a LOT of it is derivative to about the fifth exponent level, so finding a good source for recommendations is useful.

    Of course, no one could ever go wrong reading a book by Robert Elessar…in my not-so-humble opinion, anyway. But that’s another matter.

    And Musk really needs to read Why Evolution is True and Faith Vs Fact, if he hasn’t already. I forget who wrote those…

  14. A book that seemed to have an impact on me in the 60’s was “The Sot Weed Factor” by John Barth. I still have my much thumbed copy. Currently I’m reading two; The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch and A Brief History of Everyone The Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford. About to start “Frequently Asked Questions About The Universe , Cham & Whiteson. Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder.I read “People Love Dead Jews”. Puffing his chest out there are a thousand or more books on my shelves. I keep going back to Patrick O’Brian and the Aubrey/ Maturin books. The writing is beautiful. I read C.S.Forester voraciously as a kid. I like Ken’s comment # 7 above.

    1. Patrick O’Brian? Oh yes. So beautifully written and the characters are unforgettable. Plus, you end up with a lifetime supply of early nineteenth century naval terminology. I’ve read the entire series three times.

  15. I’m reading “The Splendid Feast of Reason” by S. Jonathan Singer. From the Preface: “I am therefore in most respects an unreconstructed and possibly dangerous heretic: I am a resolute rationalist, a political liberal, a confirmed atheist, a genetic partisan, and an economic proletarian. Read on at your own peril.”

    1. That’s for damn sure. One of the best nature-related books ever, though The Peregrine by A. J. Baker has to rank at the very top. I can’t recommend it highly enough. “Ring of Bright Water” is also excellent.

    2. Yes to all three of the above. Another classic nature-related book is The Living Mountain, by Nan Shepherd, recently reissued with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane, all of whose own books are well worth reading. My favourite is The Old Ways, but his latest, Underland, is pretty damn good as well.

    3. +1…and to second Jerry and Steve, if you liked H is for Hawk, then I’m sure you’ll like The Peregrine. Though the two books are very different.

  16. Right now I’m reading Hubert Selby, Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. I’ve long had a powerful appetite for transgressive Lit, and figured it was time to get around to Mr. Selby’s first novel, one of the motherloads of the genre.

    (I had planned to read it 20 years ago. An old buddy of mine mailed me a copy of the trade paperback. But when I opened it up, I realized he was repaying me, in cash, for a few grand I had lent him a couple years earlier, and the middle pages all had a dollar-bill-sized hole sliced into them where he had stashed the cash. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have the money back, but disappointed to find that he had defaced the book, especially since I knew it was one of his favorites.) 🙂

    1. Have you read any works by J.G. Ballard (or any other readers, for that matter)? I also appreciate transgressive lit. and I’ve always wanted to read some of his works, but somehow never get around to it; one reason is that I don’t know anyone who has read him. I only have Crash on my bookshelf.

      1. Haven’t, but I’ll have to check him out. Thx, Mark.

        I recently chanced upon a documentary about Selby (known to his friends and colleagues as “Cubby”) titled It/ll Be Better Tomorrow (Selby was known for his idiosyncratic punctuation, including the use of slashes for apostrophes — since they were a lot easier to type on the manual typewriter he wrote on). It’s got interviews with Jerry Stahl, Richard Price, the late Nick Tosches, and some of my other favorites regarding what a huge influence Selby has had on contemporary writers.

        You can watch the documentary for free on YouTube here. It was watching the doc that reminded me that I still needed to read Last Exit to Brooklyn.

        1. Ballard: as well as Crash, try Vermilion Sands and High-Rise. Or Empire of the Sun, a novel based on his childhood experiences in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai.

          1. Empire of the Sun. I remember that Spielberg film (Stoppard screenplay) but had no idea it was based on Ballard. I barely remember the movie, but remember liking it. Now I’ll have to read the book. Thanks again.

      2. I’ve read his novel, “Concrete Island”, a reworking of Robinson Crusoe set in 1970s London. I loved it!

      3. Thanks for the Ballard recommendations, Ian and Steve. And thanks, Ken, for the Selby doc. That quote in the beginning is quite the hook. 😉

  17. Since this thread has migrated into other books, I will take the opportunity to thank the reader here who recommended Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. Nicely told from several different thematic and cross-referencing national viewpoints.

  18. Recently read, in non-fiction: “Going to Church in Medieval England”, by Nicholas Orme, a fascinating description of the role of the church and religion in the lives of my medieval ancestors. This is one of the books shortlisted for the 2022 Wolfson Prize for history books.

    Recently read, in fiction: “O, Caledonia”, by Elspeth Barker, which recounts the life of a girl growing up in a remote Scottish castle in the years after World War 2. She is a solitary child who prefers books and her own vivid imagination to the company of her family. I discovered this book via the obituary of its author, who died recently. It was her only novel, and I was sufficiently intrigued to want to read it.

    1. I’m glad you mentioned one of my favorite books O’Caledonia. I was sad to learn only yesterday that Elspeth Barker died last month. I have tried for years to get others to read it, and finally won over my best friend with a copy of the new reprint. Although it’s sort of a dark and gothic story, there are so many parts that make me laugh out loud, and beautiful sentences on every page.

  19. Recently finished Justin E.H. Smith’s The Internet is Not What You Think It Is. Damn that guy can write.

  20. One of my favorite recent reads was — of all things — John Barton’s History of the Bible. He is an Anglican priest but his book is informative and enjoyable by those of our faith also. I read “A suitable boy” some years ago and enjoyed it — mostly. I also recently re-read “Soul mountain” by Gao Xingjian, a slow but fascinating tour of rural China and the author’s (double) persona. I was lucky to be able to read it in French because I found the English translation was not very good. Becker’s book sounds interesting, maybe a bit double emploi with Jim Baggott’s “Quantum reality”, an excellent but not really easy book on interpretations of QM. I’ll add Becker to my reading list. Baggot gets into a lot of philosophy and I found Simon Blackburn’s “Think” to be a great introduction to that subject.

  21. Some good reading ideas here. Presently working my way through Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon books. Excellent reads.

  22. Coincidentally, I am nearing the end of a re-read of Carroll’s The Big Picture. It’s a worthy book, although I have found it drags towards the end (on both reads). I suppose that’s just a reflection of my greater interest in the physics rather than the philosophy, the latter of which gets more attention in the final section.

    If I was to urge Musk to read a book, it might be Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. It highlights the incredible difficulty of continuing the human experiment on another world.

  23. I love book threads. I plan to investigate each unfamiliar title mentioned here, mining for gold. Here are the last five books I read:

    I just finished “War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941”, which was sort of tedious, as it focused on the minutiae of troop movements and lists of difficult to pronounce towns, instead of focusing on the human aspect. A better, and haunting book on the same subject is “The Holocaust by Bullets” by DesBois, or “Europe between Hitler and Stalin”

    I will recommend “The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521” by Castillo, which is a first person account of a place and time that few people have a good understanding of.

    Another first person account of an interesting time and place is “A girl’s life in Virginia before the War” by Burwell. Not necessarily an unbiased account, but nonetheless written by a person who lived then and there.

    “Beslan: The Tragedy of School No. 1” by Phillips is a very detailed look at that particular tragedy. Very personal, very haunting. Well written and engaging.

    Finally, I found “Captured By The Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750-1870” by Drimmer, really fascinating.

    1. I agree with your recommendation for Dìaz del Castillo’s book. It’s really fascinating.

    2. These all sound interesting, thanks. When you mention “Europe between Hitler and Stalin” are you referencing Snyder’s “Bloodlands”? (I think that’s the subtitle, but not sure if that’s what you’re recommending.) I have that book, but haven’t read it yet.

      1. Yes, “Bloodlands” by Snyder. It has been mentioned in these forums at least twice before, so I was less specific than usual. Or, it might be that I forgot the author and full title.
        It is not a happy book, nor was it a happy series of events. That subject is one that I read just about everything I can find, as well as taking the opportunity to speak to survivors of all sides, whenever possible. It is a difficult era to truly grasp, in the sense of being able to put yourself in the mindset of those involved, at least to the point where it is possible to understand the motivations for the progression of their actions.

  24. “Now I’m impressed, as this has no business relevance but shows pure intellectual curiosity on Musk’s part.”

    I recently listened to a Joe Rogan podcast where he talked to Elon (it originally aired in 2020 though) and was similarly surprised. Most of the podcast did relate to tech and Elon’s businesses but Elon did speculate a bit about the nature of reality and was familiar with “basic” philosophical thought experiments like the Brain in a Vat. I’m not surprised at all a billionaire CEO would be sharp but the fact he had any interest in philosophy was striking. Apparently Elon also bought Gene Wilder’s house as a preservation effort and he described the interior in some detail and how he thought it matched Gene Wilder’s personality (he’s since sold it though). So presumably also has some appreciation for the arts.

  25. Many on Twitter express doubts that Musk really has much to do with Tesla and SpaceX’s success. Either he bought the technology from someone else or he’s just a rich caretaker and others do the “real work”. Of course, others do do the real work as there’s no way one guy can do all that. He hires and inspires good people.

    Still, here’s even more proof that he knows what he’s doing and that good engineering is what gets him up in the morning. This is part of an interview by Tim Dodd, The Everyday Spaceman, with Musk as they walk around SpaceX’s Starship facility in Boca Chica, TX:

    Elon Musk Explains Updates To Starship And Starbase!

    1. Agree. Dodd’s earlier interview with Musk has even more examples of his level of involvement in the technical aspects of design and development at SpaceX. Many people I know to be pretty smart and to generally believe that following the evidence is important are willing to think the worst of Musk despite the evidence simply because they don’t like him.

      Many also think that Musk is nothing but a selfish a@#*&%e despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. To be clear, he may well be that, but like most people he is multifaceted and that clearly isn’t all he is. Some recent examples of the better aspects of his personality can be found in the recent Netflix documentaries about the civilian Dragon missions. One example, when asked by a reporter about one of the astronauts children asking him a question about the safety of the mission, he tried several times to answer the reporter but couldn’t continue because of a strong emotional response.

  26. If you enjoyed “A Suitable Boy” you might also like “The Golden Gate” by the same author, which I absolutely love. It’s much shorter and to me sounded unpromising – a novel in verse about a group of San Francisco residents, inspired by Sir Charles Johnston’s translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – but I couldn’t put it down.

  27. After having Finnegans Wake sitting on my bookshelf for about 40 years, I finally got round to reading it over winter. I’m glad to have done so, and I quite enjoyed bits of it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.

    I seem to be doing a lot of re-reading these days (currently Anthony Powell’s sequence A Dance to the Music of Time). The best newish book I’ve read lately is The Sea Is Not Made Of Water, by Adam Nicolson, a lyrical account of life between high and low water in a remote Scottish sea-loch.

  28. “Lying by Sam Harris. […] (I disagree with his view that it’s never okay to lie)”

    I was quite amused in one of his podcasts – with a Stanford professor of philosophy, I believe -when they put forth the idea of “skillful truth-telling”.

    I cannot recall if that is in Lying, I’ll have to check.

    1. Harris has softened this stance (in his book Lying) a little. Listen to some of his more recent podcasts.

  29. Thanks to all for these interesting suggestions. Strangely enough, I thought I was a voluminous reader since retirement, but I have not heard, let alone read, many of them. I’ll expand my 17 minutes starting tonight — although, I confess I don’t know where to start.

    One recent read of mine was “The Cold War” by Louis Menand. Having lived through the period he covers (and I mean covers), I found his detailed and well written discussions to be a great review of things that have “floated away down a dark mythological river whose name begins with an L” as Billy Collins describes so well.


  30. I really had fun reading “Proof” about alcohol and how it effects your body. The author is a scientist and an amusing writer. Adam Rogers. Its history of distilling and the chemistry of alcohol. Fun read.

    I am currently reading “Everybody Hertz”. It’s about sound in the universe…from black holes to rainbows. It’s about sound vibrations and frequencies. I have just started it.

    I was fascinated to hear how the Nazis used radio beams to fly their bombers during WW2.
    And amused by how a musician came up with the chime sound for the Apple computer that signals computer is turned on.

  31. I am not seeing anything about Wm. Faulkner here — but I bet some of you have tried to read his “The Sound and the Fury”, published in 1929?
    If you have tried and failed, like my father decades ago, try this —
    a] Read Part 3 first [April 6, 1928], the Jason Section — this is a day in the life of one of the members of the Compson Family: the 3rd-born of the 4 kids: Jason IV. It is stream-of-consciousness, but easily followed. Somewhere Faulkner said this man is his most loathsome character, and it is a joy to see him getting his due in this part of the book. This part is funny as hell.
    b] Then read, if you can find it, “Appendix: Compson: 1699-1945”. Written later, in 1945, it is included in the old 1946 Modern Library edition of “TSATF” plus “As I Lay Dying”. This “Appendix” itself can be quite confusing — but nothing like Parts 1 and 2 of “TSATF”. And it is marvelously helpful in grasping the whole book. It is missing in most of the recent editions, but is readily available online.
    c] Then try to read Part 1 [April 7, 1928]. This is the Benjy Section — a day in the life of the 33-year-old idiot, youngest of the 4 Compson siblings — and it’s also his birthday! This is stream-of-consciousness in spades! It starts with a pun — Benjy hears a golfer calling “Here caddie.” But what happens in his mind is he is hearing the name of his sister, Caddy — the only person who ever loved him, and who disappeared decades before. So, he cries and moans and tries to get thru the fence. But if you can’t handle this section yet, go on to the last part, below …
    d] Part 4 [April 8, 1928]. This is actually Easter of that year. This is usually called “The Dilsey Section”, and mercifully, it is not stream-of-consciousness. It is full of pathos, demonstrating the author’s deep sympathy for folks under duress, and also is very funny. We get to see Jason, the evil son, getting his full measure of frustration and karma. Reading these 3 of the 4 parts in chronological order [part 3, then 1, then 4] helps keep things kind of … um … chronologically coherent. Then, you are ready for …
    5] Part 2 [2 June 1910]. Yes — it goes back almost 18 years. It too is stream-of-consciousness in spades … and shovels. It is the story of the final crack-up and suicide of Quentin, the eldest of the 4 Compson siblings. Good luck!

    Perhaps another way to approach the book is to read Faulkner’s 1931 short story, “That Evening Sun”. This story, written 2 years after the novel, gives us a picture of the nuclear Compson family — except for Benjy, who hasn’t been born yet.

  32. Human Compatible
    AI and the problem of Control
    Stuart Russell
    This is worth reading, Russell lays out a compelling far-reaching argument for rethinking what he calls the standard model. It’s dangerous and humans will come out second best. It is a well laid out warning that we should be careful what we ask for.

  33. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – proper Lablit with a black female scientist working on neuroscience, & coving the opioid crisis. Very well written.

    1. Considering he notes the Oreskes book, what does he do for the environmental crisis with all his wealth? Electric cars are all very good, but if we still get electricity from gas & coal & still make concrete etc, then the world will not stay under the 1.5 C temperature rise…

      1. Yes, electric cars are very good. Even if power plants were to continue to be majority fossil fueled electric would still be better than ICE transportation because power plants can achieve higher enough efficiency than much smaller but much more numerous ICEs that even accounting for transmission losses and electric drive train losses (much lower than ICE drive train losses), electric still comes out better.

        But that’s not the actual case the actual case is that greener and renewable electrical production is growing faster and faster and so electric transportation continues to get greener and greener as that happens while ICE transportation does not. And as electric transport technology matures it will replace more and more transportation niches. For example the trucking sector.

        Regarding what he’s doing to help?

        “As you know, the initial product of Tesla Motors is a high performance electric sports car called the Tesla Roadster. However, some readers may not be aware of the fact that our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars. This is because the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.” [Elon Musk, https://www.tesla.com/blog/secret-tesla-motors-master-plan-just-between-you-and-me%5D

        “As explained by Elon Musk in the “Master Plan, Part Deux” memo released last year, the plan for Tesla is essentially for the company to showcase the possibilities with regard to plug-in electric vehicles, energy storage systems, and solar PV roof tiles — as a means of spurring market adoption.

        In other words, the plan is for Tesla to force the hand of incumbent top auto manufacturers and electricity suppliers — so that it becomes necessary to embrace the technologies in question, and to release serious offerings.” [https://cleantechnica.com/2018/02/17/whats-elon-musks-ultimate-goal-overview-tesla-spacex-plans/]

        “Part of the reason I wrote the first master plan was to defend against the inevitable attacks Tesla would face accusing us of just caring about making cars for rich people, implying that we felt there was a shortage of sports car companies or some other bizarre rationale. Unfortunately, the blog didn’t stop countless attack articles on exactly these grounds, so it pretty much completely failed that objective.

        However, the main reason was to explain how our actions fit into a larger picture, so that they would seem less random. The point of all this was, and remains, accelerating the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good. That’s what “sustainable” means. It’s not some silly, hippy thing — it matters for everyone.

        By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better.

        Here is what we plan to do to make that day come sooner:” [Elon Musk, https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux%5D

        1. Even if one regards his statement of Tesla’s intent as just savvy marketing, he’s at least accidentally moved the world in a greener direction. Their success has almost certainly driven all the other companies in the same direction faster than they otherwise would have moved. They are all introducing EVs in order to not be left behind. Tesla’s batteries are also helping in homes and in the green power industry by storing power for use when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Some people seem as if they would only congratulate Musk for these things if his companies were losing money.

        2. That does not consider the impact of electric car production, & the mining of metals & material for batteries. Also there can be no electric replacement for shipping or heavy machinery. Better to tax private vehicles more heavily & move to better public electric transport.

          1. Sure


            Tesla can grow as a company, specifically in the “18 wheeler” cargo transport area. This will also not be perfect, but it will be better, I’d argue, in the long run.

          2. It does consider those things. Just like ICE cars impact all those things. Battery technology is advancing and more toxic metals, like cobalt, are being replaced with other materials, like iron.

            Electric will absolutely be applicable to shipping. Several companies have electric semis entering the market, besides Tesla. Tesla’s production line is just starting up, with the first deliveries to Pepsi. They have 2 range versions, 300 mile and 500 mile, and capacity comparable to diesel semis. 500 mile range covers a lot of the trucking sector, and there’s good reason to think that range will continue to increase, as it has been.

            Electric absolutely will be applicable to heavy machinery. It already has been, for decades. Some of the biggest mining machinery, or machinery of any kind, weighing as much as millions of pounds, has been electric. Granted, large machines like that are powered directly from the grid, not with batteries. However, electric is already entering the heavy construction equipment sector.

            Volvo Construction Equipment

            Switching on Electric Construction Equipment Can Make Jobsites Greener

            Staying with fossil fueled ICE instead of continuing to ramp up electric, that has already proven itself to be at a viable level and improving, seems silly to me. Claims that electric is worse or no better than ICE because batteries, or fossil fueled power plants, are not supported by an unbiased review of the evidence. Cars are not going to go away any time soon, and electric is also applicable to trucking and heavy equipment.

  34. I’ve read The Big Picture, Free Will, Zorba the Greek, and half (so far) of People Love Dead Jews. I appreciate the recommendations by others in the comments, thank you. O’Caledonia by Elspeth Barker is my favorite for a dark tale in beautiful prose. I just finished reading a newly released copy. George Saunders has enhanced my appreciation for classic Russian short stories with his classroom-style analysis in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is an interesting book about decision making, and thinking errors.

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