You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves

Photo: Ozyman

The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company. It includes photographs of some fun bookshelves, including yours truly (Tim Ferriss). CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

Enter Shane

They say a person’s eyes are “the window to the soul.”

I am not very good at pupil-based soul-reading, but I’ve found that I can learn a lot about a person by the books on his or her shelf. When I go to someone’s house or office for the first time, my favorite thing to do is check out the bookshelf.

Here’s what’s on mine:

(click to enlarge any and all photos in this post)

Storytelling is a powerful force, as I’m a fan of reminding people. Stories—fiction and non—make ideas stick; they change minds and shape us in often subconscious ways. I believe the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past.

A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a little experiment.

I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.

Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with. Here are some of my favorites:


Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at and one of the smartest women in American tech


Fred Wilson, Partner at Union Square Ventures and the man responsible for investments in Tumblr, Etsy, CodeAcademy, KickStarter, Meetup, Soundcloud, Twitter, Behance, and StackExchange…

He sent me this one:

But I actually found this closeup in his Flickr photostream, too:


Guy Kawasaki, Bestselling Author of Enchantment, A.P.E., and a dozen other terrific books


Mike Lazerow, Founder of Buddy Media (sold to Salesforce last year for $700 million)


Mitch Kanner, Owner of 2Degrees and one of Ad Age’s “hottest rolodexes” in advertising (this guy hooks people like Jay-Z up with deals like Samsung’s million-album download)


Jonah Berger, Bestselling Author of Contagious and “virality” guru


Claire Ortiz-Diaz, head of Social Innovation at Twitter and one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People In Business


Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot and founder of OnStartups, and one of the most humble leaders you’ll ever meet


Dave Kerpen, Bestselling Author of Likeable Business and founder of Likeable Media (also the highest-trafficked LinkedIn Influencer in the world)


Cindy Gallop, renowned advertising executive and founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn


Adam Grant, Bestselling Author of Give And Take and purveyor of revolutionary ideas about work and success


Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social and board member of Starbucks (elected at age 29)


Jeffrey Walker, philanthropist and Chairman of JPMorgan Chase Foundation and author of the forthcoming book The Generosity Network


And I certainly couldn’t leave out Tim Ferriss, whose penchant for anime happens to be his secret weapon for language-mastery:


Interestingly enough, the book I referenced in the beginning about stories making ideas stick (Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath) shows up several times in this gallery. There are a few other repeats if you look carefully!

Of course, there were a number of well-read people whose bookshelves I’d love to get a peek at (but unfortunately couldn’t get a hold of). In particular, I wish I could check out the shelves belonging to the following five:

Arianna Huffington

Elon Musk

Martha Stewart

Joss Whedon

Cory Booker (and not just because of the name!)

We’re all a product to some degree of the books we read, the programs we watch, and the people we meet. In the comments, I’d love to discuss: What books from this gallery jumped out at you? Whose bookshelves above do you identify with in particular?

And, perhaps most importantly, what are the most important 2-3 books on your bookshelf?

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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235 Replies to “You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves”

  1. This is a post near and dear to my heart. I am a bibliophile.

    Here are images of some of my books:

    While I don’t have Made to Sitck by Chip Heath & Dan Heath which showed up in a lot of the shelves of the actual post, I do have their Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

    The 3 books which have had a MAJOR impact on my life are:

    * Shadows of the Mind by Tom Johnson

    * You Are Your Own Experience by Tom Johnson

    * The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

    The 3 books which I personally recommend to undergraduate students are:

    * The 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferriss (No, I’m not kissing butt here. I have given or recommended this book to my undergraduate seniors more than any other book bar none.)

    * Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod

    * Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

    My 3 favorite books about creativity are:

    * Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    * Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch

    * Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko

    My 3 favorite books about productivity are:

    * Time Warrior: How to defeat procrastination, people-pleasing, self-doubt, over-commitment, broken promises and chaos by Steven Chandler

    * Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life

    by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry

    * The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey (a timeless classic which will stand the test of time)

    Also, one of my favorite booklists is by Derek Sivers:

    I could go on and on;)

  2. Greta post! I love books! My top books are :

    The School for Gods- Stefano D’Anna

    A New Earth- Eckhart Tolle

    Reality Transurfing: The Space of Variations- Vadim Zeland

    Becoming a Supple Leopard- Kelly Starrett

    Cure Tooth Decay – Ramiel Nagel

  3. I am a parent, first and foremost; I will recommend to anyone who will listen Alfie Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting,” and “The Schools Our Children Deserve.” These two had a profound effect on my relationship to my kids and their environment. I also like Lucy Calkins’ “Raising Lifelong Learners.”

    If a person is in the habit of expressing himself in writing, I’d say “Garner’s Modern American Usage” is a must.

  4. Interesting. The books on thouse thought leaders have some same books or similar interested genre. They are the one that I followed. I suppose other thought leaders not listed may have similar books I happen to be following too.

    Like attracts like.

    The book I find myself referencing often currently is by John Kotter, “Sense of Urgency”. I am work on building a buy-in at my workplace. John Kotter’s framework of driving changes is fabulous.

    Oh yes. A book, a public domain, that may be a secret weapon in my arsenal is Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. The books surrounding this is reason of my growing collection such as works by Cialdini, Mckee, and likes.

  5. How about Ryan Holiday’s bookshelf?

    I love, love, and love reading Ryan Holiday’s monthly reading list. He write damn good review and explain why he read this book for what purpose.

    It was an interesting months where Ryan shared his commentary on numerous of civil war books. Ryan reads diverse books and that might explain his all-around savvy.

  6. This is the greatest idea! thanks! I’m always curious about certain people’s bookshelves. I wonder what’s on Jay-Z’s bookshelf and whether or not Dana White reads books.

    I’ll look for fiction books among the bookshelves in this article because I rarely read fiction but I’d like to read more.

    I don’t really have a bookshelf because after I read something I end up giving it away.

    The last book I finished was Power of Habit and I loved it.

    I’m going to pick up Mastery because many of your commenters mentioned it.

    Thanks again. Awesome article.

  7. I see a japanese shogi book in there. It would be interesting to see the accelerated learning principles applied to go, shogi or chess.

  8. The Bhagavad Gita – good enough for Oppenheimer good enough for me

    The 33 Strategies of War – Robert Greene ( and his Mastery and 48 laws)

    The 4 Hour Body – by the man himself ( not to blow smoke up the….. but because it has inspired me to set up my own self learning and self experimentation in a number of areas )

  9. Books! my first love. For me books have always been the best vehicle to travel across the globe. I not only have hard copies but not my hard drive has almost 20Gb of books. Reading books should certainly be everybody’s passion for it shows them the world they know and do not know.

  10. So many great books and so difficult to pick 2-3. Here are my picks:

    1) The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann

    2) Success Intelligence by Robert Holden

    3) Freedom Flight: The Origins of Mental Power by Lanny Bassham

  11. I really appreciate the original material on your blog. Day going kind of mundane? Jump to Tim’s blog for a dash of difference and inspiration. Thanks for sharing your world.

  12. 1. What jumps out is the number of ORANGE COLOURED books, obviously a marketing technique, including 4 Hour Body. (Blue with orange)

    2. Don’t mess with Guy Kawasaki. He has a sniper fetish.

    3. On my bookshelf: Baudolino by Umberto Eco. Collapse by Jared Diamond and the Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz

    4. The books in my heart are: Green Eggs and Ham (favourite), The Millionaire Next Door, The Richest Man in Babylon, and On Watership Down.

    If you can’t learn leadership from a cuddly rabbit named Hazel, this world is too complicated for you!

  13. Lots of Chip Heath, a few Malcom Gladwell. I guess I would expect more of them to have more books, especially more diversity.

  14. take a book at their Goodread profile will be an other alternative to know what your respected people read. Many borrow books from library.

  15. Tim Ferris has “Creating the Good Life” on his shelf. University of Florida has a “What is the good life?” class mandatory for every new undergrad student coming in. There were some good readings in that class, Siddhartha, On love and other difficulties, The Road less Traveled etc.

    Jeffrey Walker “philanthropist” and JPMorgan… paradox in terms? Oh, his book “The Generosity Wealth”? Oh, what a laugh!

    1. Manga is book, anime is … animated.

      I don’t read manga, but I’d recommend Death Note for anime. It’s also available as manga.

  16. Amidst the predominately non-fiction depicted (overall) loved seeing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Darmesh Shah’s photograph.

  17. I’d be interested to know if anyone has read “the Power of Now”. Do you feel like it conflicts with your goal setting, GTD efforts, habits etc.

    1. Cem,

      Actually, I’ve read the Power of Now and GTD, 7 habits, etc. etc. I do not think it conflicts personally. It is important to never be rigid about a philosophy or system. A part of being alive is being spontaneous and in the now. For me personally, flexibility is also very key.

      Two of my favorite quotes are:

      “The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.” – Lao Tsu from the Tao Te Ching

      “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable.” – There are variations of this quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower

      So to translate the last quote to your question, goals, habits, etc. are important, but not to the sacrifice of carpe diem. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” (Yogi Berra)

      However, you may want to read Leo Babauta’s take on NOT having goals: for a different perspective.

  18. The very sight of all those books stacked in neat (and sometimes scattered) piles is exhilarating. This piece made me want to buy more and read more. Glad to see the intelligent choices of all the people featured. Thanks!

  19. Great read! Thank You for the education I’m guilty for not reading enough. I am inspired to pick up a book now!

    [Moderator: link removed]

  20. Tim,

    Awesome post. Seriously one of the best all year in my humble opinion. Just finished “Creating the Good Life” from your shelf – what an incredible book and so glad I read it at the beginning of my 3rd decade.

    Thank you for putting these amazing books on my radar, and hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!! 🙂



  21. Hello Shane,

    Thank you for writing this post, other people’s bookshelves are fascinating indeed and getting a peek into such a private aspect of public figures’ personality is super exciting.

    Something has struck me though: if we all agree that “the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past”, then we all agree too that the stories read -or read to us- during childhood are as relevant as what we read as adults.

    Many of the books showed in these pictures are pretty serious with a hell of a lot of non-fiction (except for Tim’s collection of mangas, cheers for that!), whereas surely (surely?) everyone here has been a kid and has derived tons of dreaming material and even more anxiety from the books they’ve been exposed to as children. When I look at the bookshelves where my childhood literature is resting, I remember being first introduced to Hiroshima and cancer as a little kid through books (although now that I write this, it sounds odd), ogres (which are figuratively paedophiles (your mind knew)), witches, serial murdering husbands (Bluebeard), suicide (the Little Mermaid) and anthropomorphic cats…..etc, etc.. Real stuff. Stuff that leave a lasting mark on a young, inexperienced mind, and influence their vision of good and evil for many years to come.

    So if you ever decided to make a book out of your pursuit of collecting pics of famous people’s bookshelves, I would love to see included some of the books they read as kids as well as the books they’ve filled their own kids’ bookshelves with.

    On another note, I’d like to know what everyone reads while in the loo as many people seem to have a specific literary selection for that room (and no one reads profound philosophy on the throne, I won’t be tricked into believing that!).

  22. I hang out with a bunch of people who have shelves and shelves of inspirational stories and personal development books until they are barfing quotes from the likes of Jim Rohn and Tony Robbins. Don’t get me wrong, these guys have a place in my heart, but sometimes the personal development sector feels like Christian camp, where everyone seems artificially happy all the time.

    I prefer stories by unknown people who have endured extreme physical hardship. “A boy called it.” “Angela’s Ashes” are a couple of the ones that tell the true story of a horrendous childhood and the survival of it. “Off the rails” inspired me to get off my ass and travel hardcore.

  23. They really read a lot of different books huh? Some of them likes stories. It is not just all informational books. But I don’t think it has something to do with their success. The books they choose is just based on their personality.

  24. This is my first comment here.

    Tim, you’re a huge inspiration and I love to see that you are interested is soccer.

    But after reading the META-chapters in 4HC, I’m really surprised that Pelé is the guy you are learning soccer from. I’m sure you have your reasons and I’d love to hear them – but I think Pelé is one of the biggest natural talents the game has ever seen.

    In true 4HC approach, I’d go for learning from Johann Cruyff. For those who don’t know, he is the key figure behind the ‘total football’ approached that revolutionized the game in the 70’s. Today most top clubs, including FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich, is influenced by Cruyffs adepts.

    The approach also have a lot of similarities with MED and 80/20. One example: Cruyffs team always put the opponent under extreme pressure to win the ball high – so they didn’t have to run as much.

    Also the players changed positions during the game (when somebody was out of position) for the same reason.

    One of Cruyffs legendary quotes:

    “It is the ball who should run and sweat, not the players”.

    Would love to see Tim use the META-approach to soccer.

    Thank you for an awesome blog.

    – Björn, Sweden

    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Bjorn! I love this recommendation and will look him up. Much appreciated!

      All the best,


  25. Two must read books, both non-fiction, hysterically funny, by women who swear like sailors and make a great difference in the world:

    1. Jenna Lawson’s “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir”

    2. Jane Bussman’s “Worst Date Ever (Or, how it took a comedy writer to expose Africa’s secret war).

    Best. Books. Ever. You’ll laugh, you’ll snort, you’ll read them over and over again. Brilliant!

  26. Seeing a small part of your manga collection I am sure(Cowboy Bebop is the best and what got me hooked from the anime on Cartoon Network Adult Swim), I wan’t to tell you about a manga series called Denpa Kyoushi. It is a guy who uses social media to turn anysituation into instant viral activity. The other thing about him that reminds me of you is he suffers from ADW (Able to Do only what he Wants. There is slight different definition and acronym later in the series.) If its something that interests him nothing in the world will stop him from doing it. For instance his claim for fame is developing the physics for Doraemon’s “anywhere door.” One reason I like this series so much is because his use of the various websites and such to create viral reactions to activities or opportunities seem realistic. It could be done. Just trying to get this message of a great manga to you seems to be hard since this blog and twitter are the only two listed contacts in your contacts. I have avoided social media like the plague they are, social driven brainless activities to keep the masses enthralled. The upside of social media is well brought in this series on business sales and education, Kagami is suppose to become the world’s best teacher as well. Baiking and The Great Merchant Kim Manduk, Korean manga, are also two good business manga.

    Anyway more on topic of bookshelf vs. somebody mentioned video. I like manga way better because as somebody mentioned you can stop and reflect or look at the details in the background or get all the nuisances of the puns and such used since they have to be explained in footnotes, since I do not yet read Japanese ;(, or just to look at really awesome pictures. Yeahh reading is more imagination producing too.

    Reading this gave me my muse to create a unique interface for selling. So thanks for that as well.

  27. Now this is my kind of book shelf. I also have Kindle books which I take with me when I am travelling. My mind is always thirsty to learn more in the personal development field. I live and breathe it.

    I’m currently reading “Science of the Mind” by Ernest Holmes. Really enjoying it.

  28. Very nice indeed.

    I’m trying to do almost the same thing [Moderator: link removed]

    Mind if I try to contact some of the people you’re talking about in this post?

  29. Thank you for sharing this; I noticed that I have read a few of the books above and have some on my “to read” list. I have to say that I would also like to see the shelves of Arianna Huffington, Joss Whedon, and Martha Stewart.

  30. Interesting to see their bookshelves. I fully agree that we are what we read. We have no choice to be otherwise.

    [Moderator: Link removed]

  31. I do like Adam Grants and of course TIm Ferriss choice of books! I love reading books bout success and failures. It gives me inspiration to move forward in reaching my goal. It gives the feeling of reality and how to escape and improve from it.

    Im a big anime fan as well, later on developed into reading mangas! I love how i imagine myself as the hero with powers to save humanity and rescue my love ones from evil. Aside from financial books and novels, mangas are great way to learn to be creative :))

  32. Nice! This makes me want to take a picture of my own bookshelf, though it’s gonna take more than one shot in one angle! I do the same thing – when I get inside a house, I look for the bookshelves. If there are none, I look for their DVD/VCD collection. This is a great post!

  33. Tim, I’ve heard you say that you read 3 books a week on average. What I’d like to know from you and others is this; are there any books that you have read 10x or more? 100x+? or maybe a book that you’ve been reading continuously for years? interested to know people’s answers.

  34. Good: pics of thought leaders’ bookshelves

    Better: listing the books shown underneath

    Useful: linking to the books on goodreads/worldcat

  35. Amazing post! I love checking out bookshelves. It’s one of the first things I do when I’m in a new place (if there’s one there, of course). What a great idea to showcase these from some well-known people.

  36. I think I read a good balance between fiction and nonfiction. I could see that I’ve read quite a few of the books from each of the different entrepreneurs that you posted. My three favorite books would be The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the Purpose Driven Life, and the secret. I read them all more than once and at different times in my life. They speak to me differently each time, only because I’m at a different place in my life. Great blog Tim. I now have a few more books I’m going to add to my bookshelf thank you 🙂

  37. I think my bookshelf would not express my mind very well, as I give all the good ones away… only to purchase again and give away several more times.

  38. Good post. Always good to see what others read. However, do you know what I would find even more interesting is the books that they started and didn’t finish and why. Especially, the ‘essential’ ones like great to good and Seven Habits.

  39. Fiction: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; A River Runs Through It, by Norman McLean-such lovely writing. Non Fiction: Anything by Wes Jackson or Thomas Sowell or Joel Salatin

  40. I too caught that Made to Stick was on a couple shelves as well as The World is Flat, which I have on my shelf as well. The three books I just purchased The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene, The War of Art – Steven Pressfield and Freakonomics are worthy reads…however its a massive read but Team of Rivals is two thumbs up!!!!

  41. Glad that one of my favourite authors is reading One Piece ! 🙂

    (For the OP fans: It’s like discovering Tim have Haki)

  42. great stuffas usual. how do you define what smart is for topics like this? ( not a smartass comment honestly curious to see what and how that is decided) Respectfully,


  43. 1. Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money

    by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    2. EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey.

    3. The Total Money Makeover Fitness by Dave Ramsey

    4. Anything by Jim Collins, Seth Godin, and Simon Sinek

  44. I totally agree with you that the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past. It therefore goes without saying that story telling is such a powerful force. Personally I enjoy reading non-fiction books.

  45. I might have missed it in one of the book shelves above but, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer is a MUST read. An absolute personal game changer!

  46. Very interesting, now I have a question for Tim Ferris. Are you still reading One Piece? Do you watch the anime too? I love it and never thought we would have that in common. Best, Luiza.

  47. Trying to diversify my genres with the last one, which I can’t put down at the moment –

    #1 The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

    #2 A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer

    #3 Sekret Machines by Tom DeLonge, A.J. Hartley.



  48. I’ve probably bought 10 copies of the 4-Hour WW and I don’t even think I own one still. I actually loaned someone my copy with stickies all over it and I’ve yet to get it back. I’m a writer myself and I would LOVE to chat with you about my latest book “Torcher Town” and possibly work on an animated TV show with you… lets bring it to life! Its a Burning Man meets Beauty and the Beast awesome story.

  49. Great post. I love checking out book lists.

    Some of my favorite books.


    Kafka On The Shore

    What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Great insights into his writing process and its relation to his running.

    All The President’s Men

    Woody Allen Complete Prose

    Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

    From Heaven Lake – Vikram Seth

    I. Asimov


  50. Tim, you have Happiness, but you should also read The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. It’s the book I gift most.

  51. This is really a great post apart from the fact that you need to turn your head at right angles to see the name of each books. Anyways for me the most enticing compilation is from Mr. Dharmesh Shah.

  52. The World is Flat and Seth Godin caught my eye, oh, and the 4 Hour something or other… I wonder If their Audible library titles would differ very much from the print selection.

  53. 1. Marcus Aurelius-Meditations

    2. Homer-Odyssey

    3. Dostoevsky-Brothers Karamazov

    4. Shota Rustaveli- The Knight in the Panther’s Skin

    5. Friedrich Nietzsche-Thus Spoke Zarathustra

    6. Daniel Kahneman- Thinking, Fast and Slow

    7. Goethe- Faust

    8. Sun Tzu -The art of war

    10. Hagakure

  54. Damn Tim didn’t know you were about that anime/manga. I watch one piece with my kids all the time…you seen one punch man? Check it out.

  55. What an interesting way to find out how readers grow! It also gives any reader an opportunity to reflect on what they are reading. “We are what we eat!” Yes, “We are what we read!”

  56. Is there any place where we can see all the books that are shown here in pictures but in a simple text list? Has anyone done this list already? Please share! Thanks in advance!

  57. What stuck out to me was how small these little libraries are. Definitely feels like these are fractions of the the whole library pie. Made to stick, seems the most relevant book to me, as an Ameture writer myself, it sounds like it’s got food for my thought. I kind of wish I could add a picture of my library. Next time friends.

  58. Just like the body, it’s so important to exercise the mind! Great bookshelves here Tim, super inspiring!

  59. Interesting. So, everybody reads, everybody reads a lot of businessy non-fiction, few of these people read much fiction and nobody seems to read anything very challenging intellectually. I am, frankly, disappointed.