The Unusual Books That Shaped Billionaires, Mega-Bestselling Authors, and Other Prodigies

Tim books

Who are the mentors to billionaires, chess prodigies, rockstars, and mega-bestselling authors?  Who teaches them to do what they do? To achieve the success they achieve? Oftentimes…it’s books.

On The Tim Ferriss Show (iTunes, SoundCloud), I dissect world-class performers to find the tools and tricks you can use.  Here’s a full list of guests.  One of the questions I always ask is:

“What book have you gifted most often to others, and why?”  

Below is a list of answers from people like billionaire investor Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, etc.. (And here are my own current answers, if you’re interested.)

You’ll see several books that appear more than once. Can you guess which they are?

The Ultimate To-Read Book List

Kevin Kelly is the founding editor of WIRED magazine, real-life Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World.”

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Peter Thiel, billionaire investor (first outside investor in Facebook) and co-founder of PayPal, Palantir…

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Tony Robbins, performance coach to Bill Clinton, Serena Williams, Paul Tudor Jones, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey, and more.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Peter Diamandis has been named one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune Magazine.  In the field of Innovation, Diamandis is Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, best known for its $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private spaceflight. Today, the X PRIZE leads the world in designing and operating large-scale global competitions to solve market failures.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Joshua Waitzkin – Considered a chess prodigy and the basis for Searching for Bobby Fischer, Josh has perfected learning strategies that can be applied to anything, including chess, Brazilian jiu-jutsu (he is a black belt under phenom Marcelo Garcia), business, and Tai Chi Push Hands (he is a world champion).

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Ed Catmull is a co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios (along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Neil Strauss has written 7 New York Times bestsellers, including The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Tracy DiNunzio is the self-taught founder and CEO of Tradesy.com, which has attracted legendary investors like Sir Richard Branson and John Doerr.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Mike Shinoda is best known as the rapper, principal songwriter, keyboardist, rhythm guitarist and one of the two vocalists of the band Linkin Park, which has sold 60+ million albums worldwide.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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James Altucher is an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, and bestselling author.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Joe De Sena is the co-founder of The Death Race, Spartan Race (1M+ competitors), and more.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Brian Koppelman is a screenwriter, novelist, director, and producer. He is best known as the co-writer of Ocean’s Thirteen and Rounders, as well as a producer of The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Chase Jarvis is a master photographer and the CEO of CreativeLIVE.com.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Jason Silva , called the “Timothy Leary of the viral video age” by The Atlantic, host of Brain Games on National Geographic Channel.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Ryan Holiday is an American author and the media strategist behind authors Tucker Max and Robert Greene. Former Director of Marketing for American Apparel.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Ramit Sethi is an American personal finance advisor and entrepreneur. Sethi is the author of the 2009 book on personal finance, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, a New York Times Bestseller, and a co-founder of PBworks, a commercial wiki website.

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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Did you find this post valuable?  If so, please let me know in the comments.  If you dig it, I’d compile more posts that spot patterns across top performers.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 400 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.

176 Replies to “The Unusual Books That Shaped Billionaires, Mega-Bestselling Authors, and Other Prodigies”

      1. Try getting audio versions and “reading” while exercising, driving/commuting or in the shower…

      2. haha, yeah. Makes you wonder how many good books there are and if these really are the best, or if there actually are even better ones. Oh man, now I have created another problem for myself, haha….

      3. I’m gonna try to do something about it…I know many of us wanna read a ton of books, while there’s only a limited amount of time…

  1. I’ve read several of these, and I’ll definitely read more. “Life is Elsewhere” by Kundera is one of my all-time favorites. And Seneca’s shortness of life is really good, too. Totally modern, despite being a couple of thousand years old.

  2. I’ve read 16 of these books. My favourite non-fiction of the bunch is Antifragile, and my favourite novel Shantaram – two books that can literally both change the way you see the world and how you interact with it.

    1. I read Shantaram and enjoyed it but it broke my heart to find out it is fiction, its not real…maybe a little bit of it is the truth but for the most part it is made up. I was disappointed as he passed it off as if it happened to him. I felt conned.

  3. Tim, this post has literally made my day! SO SO glad that I can find all of these in one place. Just finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. So good. Thanks dude 🙂

    1. I was thinking that too but I look at it in my own life. “Think and Grow Rich” was to me; the jumping off point. I look at that book that inspired me to seek more and more specialized knowledge. While I still love the book, I’ve since moved on to new favorites. Perhaps its the same with some of the guests.

  4. Hi – really, really enjoying the podcasts – thanks! (and glad to be an overseas night time post guinea pig in the UK before the US wakes up …)

    I realise you’ve got a million other things to do, but I was wondering if I could ask a short, specific question, please:

    I’m very worried about Ebola. I want to help more people than I normally could (à la Tony Robbins’ podcast). I wondered if I could try and set off a viral donation video (like ALS ice bucket). [A very quick first idea – shotgunning beers (something we don’t really do in the UK … yet). #BoozeAgainstEbola ?]

    Question: What’s the one thing I could do to give something like this a hope in hell’s chance of success?

    Sorry to bother you – I hope this doesn’t count as spam – and please don’t reply if you can’t. Thanks very much – and thanks again for the podcasts.

  5. Really, really love the podcasts – thank you very much! (also happy to be an overseas post guinea pig in the UK – reading before the US wakes up!)

    I know you have a million things to do, but I was wondering if I could please ask a very short, specific question:

    I’m worried about Ebola. I want to help as many people as possible (à la Tony Robbins). I want to unleash a viral charity video challenge (ALS ice bucket style). [Very quick initial thought – shotgunning beer (something we don’t really do in the UK … yet) #BoozeAgainstEbola , anyone?]

    Question: what’s the one thing you can suggest I do l to give this a hope in hell of actually working?

    Thank you very much for your time. please don’t reply if you can’t – I understand!

    I hope this isn’t spamming (and I hope this isn’t a repost – my computer’s going haywire – is this page loading well for other people?). thanks again for the great podcasts. Jon

  6. Kevin Kelly recommends: The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by James Fadiman haha how cool is that.

    I’ll probably read many of those listed books and i hope you ask your future guests as well.

  7. Tim buddy, of all the books listed here the one that was kinda sorta really unusual was “Slow Sex”. Have you read it…any take aways that you can share with us (If you dont mind me asking)?

    Great list overall. I have only read 10% of whats listed here….now I really need is a book on “How to read fast” 🙂

    1. Tim has a whole chapter of Nicole Daedone’s work in “The 4 Hour Body” so it’s not that unusual. You should check it out. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

    1. You’re the third person to recommend that book just this week. I think my next step is to download to my kindle! Thanks for being the tipping-point element 🙂

  8. Cal newport is a highly underrated author. His books on how to succeed as a student have a very “4 hour” approach. Learnt so much on how to be effective from ‘How to be a straight A student’.

    Tim, your next book should be “the four hour student”.

  9. Tim, you always offer the perfect content in the perfect format at the perfect time.

    Perfect as usual.

    Many thanks.

  10. Ryan Holiday is a beast when it comes to reading books. I am surprised he left out Robert Greene’s Mastery. That book is great, reads like a blueprint to life.

  11. Tim, you are the best Blogger of all time. It doesn’t even stop there. Everything you do,research, people you interview and “stuff” you find out we get to share with you FOR FREE!!!!!! Come on, you even itemize the juicy stuff for us if we don’t have time to listen to your interviews. Like who does that, Tim does. I will follow you forever, be a Quarterly subscriber and promote you always! You deserve recognition for your accomplishments and amazing generosity!

    Namaste

  12. Hey Tim! I’m a big fan of yours and I wanted you to know I’m having some troubles trying to capture your web with Evernote Web Clipper in Chrome. I don’t know if you changed something in the web or it’s just me but it was perfectly working a few weeks ago. That’s all.

    Please, keep being the light that enlightens us.

    Best,

    Hector Leon

    1. Your right! Atlas Shrugged is a way of life. It’s the philosophy of Objectivism. It is a philosophy that a lot of high performing business people live by. Mark Cuban is a big fan. Have fun going down the rabbit hole!

  13. As a reading addict and someone who is reading a few of these authors’ works (James Altucher, Sam Harris, Peter Thiel, Joshua Waitzkin) I really appreciate this list. I really like this kind of post and would appreciate more of them…. It is so interesting to me to see the commonalities between people who are living in ways I find appealing.

  14. Well, well well…..

    Tim, my que is quite similar. I am in the legal arena, criminal defense, family law, personal injury. We influence for a living, often with high stakes on the line. After a handful of years in the trenches, I realized just how poor attorneys are at writing, influencing, story-telling, marketing and building psychological frameworks upon which to create a compelling narrative. As a passion, I have explored the globe and history for great minds, both living and dead. Here is but a taste of “required reading”:

    Thinking Fast and Slow – Kahneman

    Each and every essay or research piece that Kahneman and Tversky drafted

    Science of Influence – Kevin Hogan

    Neuroscience of Decision Making – Vartarian

    Irresistible Attraction – HoganMetaphors We Live ByWhy People Believe Weird Things

    Social Engineering

    Perspectives on Framing

    Human Error

    The Heuristics Debate

    Choices, Values, Frames

    The God Delusion

    Age by Propaganda

    Heuristics and the Law

    The Lost Art of the Great Speech

    Split-Second Persuasion

    Psychology of Persuasion

    The Secret Life of Pronouns

    Words that Work

    Heuristics and Biases

    Legal Blame

    Check List Manifesto

    Invisible Influence

    Covert Persuasion

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Not by Genes Alone

    Revising Prose

    The Conquest of Happiness

    Evolution in Four Dimensions

    Finding Flow

    The Signal and the Noise

    Evolution – Prothero

    How We Know What Isn’t So

    The Winner’s Curse

    The Culture Code

    Invisible Gorilla

    Myth of Choice

    Drive

    What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite

    Brain Rules – by my boy Medina.

    The Rules of Influence

    Ok, that’s enough for now, the above is just the reading que for becoming an exalted, critical thinker and man-of-influence. I also consider the above core curriculum for today’s Knowledge Worker. After all, if you do not know “thy self” and cannot grasp how the bio-brain actually works and has evolved to work – then the rest doesn’t matter much – you will continue to folly and remain rather impotent.

    I won’t get started on the spiritual stuff, that que is even longer. Tao, Toltec for awareness, Alchemy and the Great Work, Stoic philosophy, etc. – the list goes on and on and on.

    Not fucking around with the audience, seriously – the books highlighted above (if well grasped) will give you insights and knowledge that few ever realize. Game Changers.

    Take good care,

    Marc

  15. Thank you for this list! I usually try to write down what each of your interviewees say about book choices as I listen, but I miss them sometimes so this is handy. It’s interesting to see how so many different books can be an influence. The only authors I saw on multiple lists were Malcolm Gladwell, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Stephen Pressfield (although in this case, it’s only The War of Art, not multiple books.)

  16. Tim– Big thanks for the summary. Always frustrating when I’m listening to the podcast in the car or at the gym and unable to take notes. I think that list should keep me reading through 2020.

    Kyle

  17. The post I’ve been waiting for!!! I have most of these books favorited, wish listed, or scratched on a forgotten sticky note. Thanks for the compilation, Tim. Time to get reading, if only your podcast was consuming the majority of my free hours.

  18. Dude, you read my mind. Literally. I’ve had nagging thoughts to schedule time this week in fact to find the exact points where your guests share their books, specifically Tony and Peter’s plus Ryan’s to start. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!! It makes your podcasts so much more of a resource and not just the insightful learning/entertainment it is.

  19. Thank you for posting this as a compilation, it’s exactly what I was looking for when sorting through the podcast links! Very happy to subscribe to Audible and support you creating more podcasts with such interesting and intelligent guests. Bravo, keep’em coming!

  20. You should always ask your “what books had the most impact on your life” question, Tim.

    As the same for “At what are you world class”/”What’s your secret sauce”/”What were your aha moments”. I like also the mentor thing question and I’d gladly know what they gonna do in the future to keep on growing, stay competitive, get psyched about.

    Those questions were really useful for me.

    Btw, if you could interview Dan Brown, that will be awesome haha:).

    Keep on rising Mr. Ferriss !

  21. Great list! Thank you. I just ordered some of these books. Thanks for always offering great profiles on interesting people. I use your blog as a guide for the type of insight I want my blog to offer. [Moderator: link removed]

  22. Long time follower, first time posting…

    I am so glad that you created this summary for your followers! The other day I was thinking about hiring someone to dig through all of your podcasts to document:

    1. The list of books that your guests recommended.

    2. Answers to the “What does your morning routine look like?” question. (Favorite answer thus far is Tony Robbins with the ice bath.)

    You knocked the first one out for me! Thanks for all that you do!

  23. Enjoyed this post. Listening to the podcasts, I try to note patterns as well but interesting to see if they are the same or different from your observations. Really enjoying the podcasts, thanks!

  24. Amazing post. I always ask people who are in positions which I want to be in to recommend books. This is my approach on steroids. Thanks much.

  25. Tim,

    This was a great post – thank you! I did read through Seneca’s, “On the Shortness of Life,” and appreciate you posting it.

    Really enjoy your podcasts as well. With such a wide range of guests, and their varied perspectives and insights, I am continually thinking in new ways and learning.

    As an aside, I am also a fan of your kettle bell YouTube – it enabled me to quickly learn how to correctly perform this move. Still working more than 4 hours/week, but definitely enjoying life more!!

  26. There aren’t any women interviewed and as a result, many of these books come across as very “male.” I bet if you had interviewed some women you’d get a different set of books.

  27. Thank you for asking the question when you’re doing the interview, and thank you! For compiling them here in one place. You could have left it as it is in your individual posts for the interviews, but you made things a 1000x easier for your readers, leaving no room for excuses not to read better.

  28. Thanks for putting this list together. Time is everything and making time to read essential. Having a menu and cross reference list of people and their reading makes this an absolute deli of brain food.

  29. cool and inspiring list!

    a note of caution, one size doesn’t fit all.

    a great book for a person is one that complements that person, brings something missing in that person’s life or brings the right challenge. That’s what makes a person better and eventually a happy & successful person.

    you might need another book that’s not in this list, so reading all of them, might bring you joy and some ‘enlightenment’ but won’t be the shortcut you need for success.

  30. Tim, I admire you and the work you do and have many of your books. This is an excellent post with many great books to choose from. My question is why is it that out of the 17 people you mention that only one is a woman? Thanks, Stephanie

  31. Always love good book lists. Read some of the books you and others on your blog have recommended so far and have found them interesting. Keep up the good work. Also- I have read your books and am a fan!

  32. You’ve got at least one typo in there: Wilderness Essays is John Muir, not Epictetus. Perhaps you mean the Art of Living (a translation of the Enchiridion?)

    This is a great list except for Atlas Shrugged. It just goes to show that just because someone is successful, doesn’t mean he has good taste in books–or the capacity to see through logical fallacies and spot a bogus, sociopathic philosophy.

    1. “This is a great list except for Atlas Shrugged. It just goes to show that just because someone is successful, doesn’t mean he has good taste in books–or the capacity to see through logical fallacies and spot a bogus, sociopathic philosophy.”

      I could not agree more.

  33. Great list, Tim! Just what I needed. Don’t forget “What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars.” Also, there was mention of a book on mimicry, but i can’t find who mentioned it. Was the book “The Crowd?”

  34. loving this post and hope it expands as more podcasts generate book recommendations, but I think one thing that is missing is the links to these people’s books. Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich should not be missed, and The End of Faith or Lying by Sam Harris are also required reading

  35. I’m dealing with known American brand online sale of food supplements. Billed 3.1 billion dollars a year. For distribution in Spain / Europe. It is a very interesting business that fits the philosophy of 4h . And the right time to exploit this opportunity is now chosen as distributor in December . Honestly I would go perfect with a partner to share the experience and philosophy of 4h . Feel like ?

  36. I have to say I find it interesting that none of the people you’ve listed here is female, and of the favorite books listed, only four are written by women (one mentioned twice). Are there no women who qualify for this category? I’m sure Nicole Daedone and Julia Cameron can come up with a few ideas. I’ve been enjoying this podcast series, but I think you might broaden your horizons a bit to include ground-breaking women. Maria Popova was great, but there are many other amazing choices. How about some best-selling female authors? It’s not like there aren’t plenty of those. Thanks.

  37. yes, this is great. Where to start is the real conundrum. With the ones listed twice? Maybe you could come up with a ranking system, 80/20 analysis of which books pack the most per pound.

  38. One thing that would be cool is to rank the books that show up more than once by how frequently they’re mentioned. Antifragile and Black Swan for example show up a few times, as do Atlas Shrugged and The Rise of Superman.

  39. Hey Tim,

    Love this post. Is there any chance of making this list a tab on the blog so listeners can access it directly as new guests give their most influencing books?

    Love the podcast; I look forward to each one. I have been listening since day one. Great stuff and very inspiring. I would like to tailor a lifestyle similar to yours. Keep inspiring and asking questions 🙂

    – Pearson

  40. Hi Tim!

    A couple days ago i began to read your book, and after reading 6 chapters decide to contact you. This is my first exercise, like when your students try to contact with some celebrities! Wait for your answer

  41. Howdy TIm, Thanks for compiling this list. It is very, very useful. I usually try to write down the books recommended by your guest on my Evernote, random pieces of paper, or commit to memory. Now it is all in one big list. Keep up the interesting work.

    Salud

    mh

  42. Mr. Tim Ferris,

    My name is Xiao Qu. We are inventing a neuroscience based dynamic language learning experience as a startup project.

    Recently after a long discussion regarding the theories behind designing, one of my group member pointed out that our designing theories largely resemble your language learning approaches published in the book “4 h chef” and other publications.

    I’m personally checking out your publications; also I would like to invite you to our advisory board to help us better our learning experience design.

    Here’s our mission: Enable every willing mind to acquire a FLUENT second language, using technology.

    [Moderator: Email address removed]

    Sincerely,

    Xiao Qu

  43. I am looking to read a book such as 4HWW with my 15 year old son. I want to teach him about money, life lessons/decisions, and achieving your goals, and expand his way of thinking. Can anyone suggest a book or series of books that will help me do that? Thank you in advance.

  44. I am posting in response to your book not these books. I am about halfway through listening to your audio book. I am a pastor of a small church. I love your book so far and the principles. But I want to challenge you to help me understand how to make it work for me. In order to be efficient and effective at my job I need to be available to the members when they need me and to devote plenty of time to study for the sermons to be engaging and challenging. Many of the ways that you suggest to save time would cause me to come across as uncaring in a profession where that is unacceptable. I will continue listening to the book and brainstorming but would love your input. Also additional streams of income would be great to help pay for three sets of braces and get my kids through college. I am still trying to come up with a muse. All the ideas I have had so far would just take more of my time. Thanks for the book.

  45. I like it, the lists are quite different from my personal 20 book favorites, but that’s what makes it valuable. If I can find just ONE book I love among the ones mentioned it’s worth it. I would love a pattern analysis regarding top recommended books.

  46. I have gifted the following books the most:

    The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (I basically buy a copy a month for anyone I’ve been talking to about it)

    The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (I’ve gave this one a few times to friends that we’re struggling with bad habits)

    The Habit Journal (I try to give this to everyone I meet or I give them the free download that’s available on the website…ok I’ll admit its my book but I think it’s a life changer…shameless plug over :-))

  47. To answer Tim’s question: “You’ll see several books that appear more than once. Can you guess which they are?”

    Here you go..

    • Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts

    kevin kelly

    Joshua Waitzkin

    • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    Peter Diamandis

    Joe De Sena

    • Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    James Altucher

    Ryan Holiday

    • Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Marketsby Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    James Altucher

    Ryan Holiday

    • The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragilityby Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    James Altucher

    Ryan Holiday

    • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

    Brian Koppelman

    Ryan Holiday

    • The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler

    Chase Jarvis

    Jason Silva

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