Books Recommended by Elon Musk That Are Worth Reading

 PUBLISHED ON JULY 17, 2020 | 20 MIN READ

Books Recommended by Elon Musk That Are Worth Reading

Aside from being the brainchild of some notable tech corporations, Elon Musk has a deep passion for reading. According to him, most of his success is due to the books he read throughout his childhood and adulthood.

As a kid, he had a book with him all the time, wherever he was. His mother mentioned in an interview that when he went with her to dinner parties, she would introduce him to some adult guests. If he did not find them interesting, he would secretly read a book by hiding it under the table. His brother also recounted that he would finish 2 books in one day.

Before you find out the books recommended by Elon Musk who is one of the most prominent tech people in modern times, learn who Elon Musk is and what he is known for.

Who is Elon Musk?

Elon Musk is an American businessman and entrepreneur who was born in South Africa. He established X.com which later became more popularly known as PayPal in 1999.

In 2002, he set up SpaceX and Tesla Motors a year after. In his late 20s, he became a multi-millionaire when he sold Zip2 to one of the divisions of Compaq Computers.

What is Elon Musk Best known for?

Here are some of Elon Musk’s most notable accomplishments.

Zip2

This is Elon Musk’s first company that he established with Kimbal Musk, his brother, in 1995. It was a city guide that can be accessed online.

Soon, it provided content for The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times’ new websites. A division of Compaq Computers bought this company for $307,000,000 cash and $34,000,000 for stock options in 1999.

PayPal

The Musk brothers put up X.com in 1999 by using the money they earned from selling Zip2. This is a payment and online financial service corporation. After the acquisition of X.com in 2000, this gave way to the establishment of PayPal that we all know today.

Musk earned his first billion when PayPal was sold to eBay for $1,500,000,000 in stock. Musk owned 11% of the stocks in PayPal before selling it.

SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation or SpaceX is Musk’s third company. Its goal is to create spacecraft to be used for commercial travel in space.

In 2008, when the company became well-established, it was granted by NASA a contract handling transport of cargo in the International Space Station. There are also plans for sending astronauts in the future through SpaceX.

In May 2012, SpaceX was able to transport the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station by launching a rocket. He became more well-known when he bought SolarCity in 2016 and became an advisor during the early presidency days of Donald Trump.

Tesla

In 2003, Tesla was founded, and Musk was the CEO, co-founder, and product architect.  The company aims to manufacture affordable electric cars, solar roofs, and battery goods.

What are the Best Books Recommended by Elon Musk?

Best Recommended Books by Elon Musk

THE LIST:

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
2. The Lord of the Rings
3. Benjamin Franklin
4. Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down
5. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
6. The Foundation Trilogy 
7. Our Final Invention
8. Ignition: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants
9. Merchants of Doubt 
10. Zero to One
11. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
12. Lord of the Flies
13. Einstein
14. Life 3.0

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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This sci-fi comedy book is about a supercomputer figuring out the number 42 as the answer to having a purposeful life. Musk read this book when he was a teen in South Africa. He mentioned that it was crucial in his way of thinking.

He was very captivated that he put the phrase, “Don’t Panic!” on the Tesla Roadster launched in space on the center screen. This phrase was on the cover of the early editions of this novel.

In an interview in 2015, when he was asked what spaceship he liked the most from science fiction, he answered the one from this book because it was driven by the power of uncertainty.

Quotes from the book;

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

“This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”


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

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The Lord of the Rings

When Musk was just a child in South Africa, he had a Muskrat as his nickname as he was considered nerdy and wimpy. In a report in 2009, it was mentioned that he read a lot of science fiction and fantasy books to overcome loneliness.

His taste for books can be considered eclectic. This book was striking to Musk since it made him visualize his future self.

He said that the characters from the books he read have an urge to do something for the world. It seems that the fanciful plot of this Tolkien book played a part in his success.

Quotes from the book;

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.”

“Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.”

“I want to be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.”

“Home is behind, the world ahead,
and there are many paths to tread
through shadows to the edge of night,
until the stars are all alight.”

“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.”

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”


3 – Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

It is known that Musk considers Benjamin Franklin, who is one of the founding fathers of America and a notable inventor, as one of the people he looks up to.

Being able to prove that lightning is a form of electricity from his popular experiment using a kite, Franklin was able to discover the lightning rod. He also invented bifocals which are glasses with different optical lenses.

In this biography book, you will be able to see the entrepreneurial side of Franklin according to Musk. He added that Franklin started with nothing and was a runaway who became an entrepreneur.

Quotes from the book;

“A man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false.”

“Socrates’ method of building an argument through gentle queries, he “dropped my abrupt contradiction” style of argument and “put on the humbler enquirer” of the Socratic method. By asking what seemed to be innocent questions, Franklin would draw people into making concessions that would gradually prove whatever point he was trying to assert.”

“Franklin was worried that his fondness for conversation and eagerness to impress made him prone to “prattling, punning and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company.” Knowledge, he realized, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” So in the Junto, he began to work on his use of silence and gentle dialogue.”

“In fact, these terms devised by Franklin are the ones we still use today, along with other neologisms that he coined to describe his findings: battery, charged, neutral, condense, and conductor.”

“History is a tale, Franklin came to believe, not of immutable forces but of human endeavors.”

“He wished to please everybody,” Franklin later said of Keith, “and having little to give, he gave expectations.”

“When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.”


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

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Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down

From having a background about coding, Musk learned on his own the basics of rocket science when he set up SpaceX. In doing self-learning, this is one of the books that helped him learn the concepts. J.E. Gordon, who is a materials scientist from Britain, discusses structural engineering in this book.

Musk recommends this book if you want a headstart on the structural design. His interest in the mechanics of building rockets paved the way for the creation of the Falcon Heavy rocket by SpaceX. He played a vital role in its design and planning.

When he was interviewed about his plan to take over mars, he mentioned that he did not intend to be the chief designer for this rocket, It happened because he could not find anyone qualified for the job.

Quotes from the book;

“When you climb the tower of a cathedral it becomes shorter, as a result of your added weight, by a very, very tiny amount, but it really does become shorter.”

“Mathematics is to the scientist and the engineer a tool, to the professional mathematician a religion, but to the ordinary person a stumbling-block.”

“Thus energy may be regarded as the universal currency of the sciences,”

“stress’ in a solid is rather like the ‘pressure’ in a liquid or a gas. It is a measure of how hard the atoms and molecules which make up the material are being pushed together or pulled apart as a result of external forces.”

“Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and so the total amount of energy which is present before and after any physical transaction will not be changed. This principle is called ‘the conservation of energy’.”

“In our material world, every single happening or event of whatever kind involves a conversion of energy from one into another of its many forms.”

“The scientific kind of energy with which we are dealing is officially defined as ‘capacity for doing work’, and it has the dimensions of ‘force-multiplied-by-distance’.”


5 – Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom

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Superintelligence

Musk gave a warning over and over again about the dangers of uncurbed use of AI or artificial intelligence. In a tweet in 2014, he said that people need to extremely careful with AI because of its serious risks,

Musk mentioned in a documentary about AI that this technology can be used to make an immortal dictator that is inescapable. He realized these scary AI dangers when he read this book. This book lets you imagine what could happen if AI outperformed human intelligence.

Quotes from the book;

“Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization – a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.”

“We know that blind evolutionary processes can produce human-level general intelligence, since they have already done so at least once. Evolutionary processes with foresight—that is, genetic programs designed and guided by an intelligent human programmer—should be able to achieve a similar outcome with far greater efficiency.”

“The cognitive functioning of a human brain depends on a delicate orchestration of many factors, especially during the critical stages of embryo development—and it is much more likely that this self-organizing structure, to be enhanced, needs to be carefully balanced, tuned, and cultivated rather than simply flooded with some extraneous potion.”

“Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization—a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.”

“Some little idiot is bound to press the ignite button just to see what happens.”

“The computer scientist Donald Knuth was struck that “AI has by now succeeded in doing essentially everything that requires ‘thinking’ but has failed to do most of what people and animals do ‘without thinking’—that, somehow, is much harder!”


6 – The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

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The Foundation Trilogy

As mentioned, Musk developed an interest in reading fantasy and science fiction books. In addition to The Lord of the Rings, Musk gained more interest in these genres because of this series. The series is about the downfall of a galactic empire where people live on a million planets over the Milky Way.

The story has a huge impact on Musk’s career. He said that the events in history show that civilizations change by phase. He added that we live in a very heightened phase. It may remain this way or it may not since there can be occurrences that decline the current technology.

Quotes from the book;

“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.”

“It was childish to feel disappointed, but childishness comes almost as naturally to a man as to a child.”

“The temptation was great to muster what force we could and put up a fight. It’s the easiest way out, and the most satisfactory to self-respect–but, nearly invariably, the stupidest. ”

“A fire-eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.”

“Any fool can tell a crisis when it arrives. The real service to the state is to detect it in embryo.”

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”

“Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.”

“To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.”

“It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.”

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”


7 – Our Final Invention by James Barrat

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Our Final Invention

Musk mentioned in a tweet in 2014 that this book is worth reading. Similar to Superintelligence: Paths, Daners, Strategies, it also warns about the dangers of misusing AI.

Barrat explains in detail the benefits and drawbacks and the future of AI. He also mentioned on his website that the book explains the destructive effects of it that IBM, Google, or Apple will not tell you.

Although Musk agrees, he said in an AI documentary that AI itself is not evil. If it has a purpose but humans interfere, it can ultimately destroy humanity.

Quotes from the book;

“The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else. —Eliezer Yudkowsky, research fellow, Machine Intelligence Research Institute”

“If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one human, within five years, its successor will be more intelligent than all of humanity combined. After one generation or two generations, they’d just ignore us. Just the way you ignore the ants in your backyard.”

“The strongest argument for why advanced AI needs a body may come from its learning and development phase—scientists may discover it’s not possible to “grow” AGI without some kind of body.”

“Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer, was a sole entity, and not a team of self-improving ASIs, but the feeling of going up against it is instructive. Two grandmasters said the same thing: “It’s like a wall coming at you.” IBM’s Jeopardy! champion, Watson, was a team of AIs—to answer every question it performed this AI force multiplier trick, conducting searches in parallel before assigning a probability to each answer.”

“According to Steve Omohundro, some drives like self-preservation and resource acquisition are inherent in all goal-driven systems.”

“Is knowledge the same thing as intelligence? No, but knowledge is an intelligence amplifier, if intelligence is, among other things, the ability to act nimbly and powerfully in your environment.”

“In 1956, John McCarthy, called the “father” of artificial intelligence (he coined the term) claimed the whole problem of AGI could be solved in six months.”

“As I’ll argue, AI is a dual-use technology like nuclear fission. Nuclear fission can illuminate cities or incinerate them. Its terrible power was unimaginable to most people before 1945. With advanced AI, we’re in the 1930s right now. We’re unlikely to survive an introduction as abrupt as nuclear fission’s.”


8 – Ignition: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John Drury Clark

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Ignition

This book is crucial in Musk’s mission to understand and master complex subject matters such as rockets. Clark, an American chemist, was active during the 60s and 70s in developing rocket fuels.

This book chronicles the growth of the rocket industry and explains how rocket science works. When Musk was designing the Falcon Heavy rocket, he applied the lessons he learned from this book and used them in creating the SpaceX rocket.

Quotes from the book;

“And there is one disconcerting thing about working with a computer – it’s likely to talk back to you. You make some tiny mistake in your FORTRAN language – putting a letter in the wrong column, say, or omitting a comma – and the 360 comes to a screeching halt and prints out rude remarks, like “ILLEGAL FORMAT,” or “UNKNOWN PROBLEM,” or, if the man who wrote the program was really feeling nasty that morning, “WHAT’S THE MATTER STUPID? CAN’T YOU READ?” Everyone who uses a computer frequently has had, from time to time, a mad desire to attack the precocious abacus with an axe.”

“a molecule with one reducing (fuel) end and one oxidizing end, separated by a pair of firmly crossed fingers, is an invitation to disaster.”

“And the moral of this story is that it’s always worth trying an electrical discharge on your mixtures when you’re hunting for new compounds. You never know what will happen. Almost anything can.”

“The only possible source of trouble connected with the acid is its corrosive nature, which can be overcome by the use of corrosion-resistant materials.’ Ha! If they had known the trouble that nitrid acid was to cause before it was finally domesticated, the authors would probably have stepped out of the lab and shot themselves.”

“And it is a nerve-wracking experience to put your ear against a propellant tank and hear it go “glub” -long pause- “glub” and so on. After such an experience many people, myself (particularly) included, tended to look dubiously at peroxide and to pass it by on the other side.”

“Now it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don’t mean garden-variety crazy or a merely raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.”

“Most of the Navy work on peroxide was not directed towards missiles, but towards what was called “super performance” for fighter planes -an auxiliary rocket propulsion unit that could be brought into play to produce a burst of very high speed- so that when a pilot found six Migs breathing down his neck he could hit the panic button and perform the maneuver known as getting the hell out of here.”


 9 – Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

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Merchants of Doubt

Written by two science historians, this book was made into a documentary. They pointed out that scientists who have industry and political connections have concealed the truth about various public health problems such as the use of pesticides, tobacco smoking, and the destruction of the ozone layer.

This book was recommended by Musk because of its takeaway. He said that the scientists who claim that smoking does not cause cancer are similar to them saying that climate change does not need to be taken seriously.

Quotes from the book;

“The industry had realized you could create the impression of controversy simply by asking questions”

“Economists have a term for these costs—a less reassuring one than Friedman’s “neighborhood effects.” They are “negative externalities”: negative because they aren’t beneficial and external because they fall outside the market system. Those who find this hard to accept attack the messenger, which is science.”

“Sensible decision making involves acting on the information we have, even while accepting that it may well be imperfect and our decisions may need to be revisited and revised in light of new information.”

“Science is pretty much the same. A conclusion becomes established not when a clever person proposes it, or even a group of people begin to discuss it, but when the jury of peers—the community of researchers—reviews the evidence and concludes that it is sufficient to accept the claim.”

“For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels, and the bill has come due. Yet, we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.”

“While the idea of equal time for opposing opinions makes sense in a two-party political system, it does not work for science, because science is not about opinion. It is about evidence.”


 10 – Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

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Zero to One

Peter Thiel, an investor, and entrepreneur, mentions in this book that you have to know the secret so that you can create a better future for yourself. He also promotes the idea that the development of businesses is not only applicable to the tech industry but also in different businesses.

It is a best-seller because of the positive way the information about managing a company is presented. According to Musk, this book can tell you how to build a successful company since Thiel has a lot of very successful companies.

Quotes from the book;

“ZERO TO ONE EVERY MOMENT IN BUSINESS happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

“In the most dysfunctional organizations, signaling that work is being done becomes a better strategy for career advancement than actually doing work (if this describes your company, you should quit now).”

“The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.”

“Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them. Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?”

“The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”


 11 – The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

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The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

This award-winning sci-fi novel was published in 1966. It lets readers imagine an anti-utopia happening not too far from the future. With the sharp description of this fictional world, it makes Musk’s imagination active.

The novel is about people leaving the Earth and creating a libertarian community on the moon. A supercomputer and a one-armed computer technician started a lunar colony rebellion on the Earth in the year 2076. Musk considers this book Heinlein’s greatest novel.

Quotes from the book;

“There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”

“Limiting the freedom of news ‘just a little bit’ is in the same category with the classic example ‘a little bit pregnant.”

“One might define adulthood as the age at which a person learns that he must die …and accepts his sentence undismayed.”

“A managed democracy is a wonderful thing… for the managers… and its greatest strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is defined as ‘responsible’ and the managers define what is ‘irresponsible’.”

“I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

“My point is that one person is responsible. Always. […] In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.”


 12 – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Lord of the Flies

In high school, you might have been required to read this book. The book tells the story of a group of young children who were stranded on a deserted island. Because they needed to survive, they built a civilization.

A lot of problems surfaced in their attempt to do so. Musk suggests this book since it influenced his perspective about his future.

Quotes from the book;

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”

“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”

“The greatest ideas are the simplest.”

“The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away.”

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?”

“I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been.”


 13 – Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

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Einstein

Musk enjoys the works of Walter Isaacson. In an interview, Musk suggested this biography book about Einstein who was one of the most influential people not only in science but also in the history of humanity.

It shows the personal letters Einstein received. It also gives a picture of how Einstein was as cold until becoming a winner of the Nobel Prize. This is a story that gave inspiration to Musk.

Quotes from the book;

“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think, he [Einstein] said.”

“How did he get his ideas? “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom”

“He was a loner with an intimate bond to humanity, a rebel who was suffused with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.”

“If we want to resist the powers that threaten to suppress intellectual and individual freedom, we must be clear what is at stake,” he said. “Without such freedom there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Newton, no Faraday, no Pasteur, no Lister.” Freedom was a foundation for creativity.”

“One of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness. Such men make this cosmos and its construction the pivot of their emotional life, in order to find the peace and security which they cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”


14 – Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Meg Tegmark

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Life 3.0

This is another book about the future of AI that Musk recommends. Max Tegmark, a professor at MIT, talks about the benefits of AI to humans.

He also assures that the advancement of this technology is in line with the future goals of humans. This is a bit different since the approach to the topic of AI is positive.

Quotes from the book;

“Your synapses store all your knowledge and skills as roughly 100 terabytes’ worth of information, while your DNA stores merely about a gigabyte, barely enough to store a single movie download.”

“If you’re driving down a highway at fifty-five miles per hour and suddenly see a squirrel a few meters in front of you, it’s too late for you to do anything about it, because you’ve already run it over! …your consciousness lives in the past”

“This ability of Life 2.0 to design its software enables it to be much smarter than Life 1.0”

“let’s instead define life very broadly, simply as a process that can retain its complexity and replicate.”

“We invented fire, repeatedly messed up, and then invented the fire extinguisher, fire exit, fire alarm and fire department.”

“If consciousness is the way that information feels when it’s processed in certain ways, then it must be substrate-independent; it’s only the structure of the information processing that matters, not the structure of the matter doing the information processing. In other words, consciousness is substrate-independent twice over!”

“computer scientists call validation: whereas verification asks “Did I build the system right?,” validation asks “Did I build the right system?”


 Final Thoughts

With the books recommended by Elon Musk,  you now may have realized how important books are for Elon Musk. It has inspired him since he was a child, given him heroes in his young adulthood, and helped him to learn the concepts of rocket science that contributed to the launch of SpaceX.

No time is wasted in reading these books. Not only your present but also your future self can benefit from the lessons these books present. In this competitive era, books can give you an edge. What are you waiting for? Grab and read any of these books now.


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Books Books Recommended By Elon Musk That Are Worth Reading