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

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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:


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

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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:

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:

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:

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

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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:


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:

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

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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:

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

Favorite book(s):

Full Conversation:

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:

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:

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.

Posted on: October 29, 2014.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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176 comments on “The Unusual Books That Shaped Billionaires, Mega-Bestselling Authors, and Other Prodigies

  1. Some nice books and people but this list leaves me wanting… gender plus race. Maybe in the future… “Dude buddy” as reflected by many commenters. Thanks for the lists.

    Mareesha

    Like

  2. Just finished listening to “The Science Of Personal Achievement” audio recordings from Napoleon Hill – 20 years of tried and tested truths from incredibly successful humans, including America’s first ever billionaire – incredible content. Thanks Tim for inspiring us to keep reaching!

    Like

  3. Thanks for this post – a great list of inspirational books to add to the list,
    Just want to add:- Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is book 1,and The Artists’s way At Work book 2,are both required to maximise the benefit.

    Be interested on their thoughts on sleep patterns and the importance of it
    on their daily productivity.

    Like

  4. What an awesome compilation Tim! I am a huge lover of audiobooks – I consume them all of the time while working, so you have definitely added quite a few to my reading list. I am always on the lookout for motivational or personal development books to take my business to that next level! “The Four-Hour Workweek” however, is most definitely one of my all-time favorites. 🙂

    Like

  5. Tim, this is a great collection of suggestions! As I go into the Christmas holidays, this will give me some great ideas on what to read. I’ve enjoyed Holiday’s suggestions in the past (read “Meditations” and the Benjamin Franklin biography – plan to finish “Titan” by Chernow this weekend).

    This article also reminds me to pick up some of the books I already have and get down to reading them (e.g. “Man’s Search for Meaning”).

    Like

  6. Some of these books are life-changing; The War of Art by Pressfield is a personal favorite. Glad you had James Altucher on the show. Great guy and even though he’s a bit eccentric, he’s got amazing things to say.

    Like

  7. I just discovered the Tim Ferriss podcast and have listened to 24 or so in rapid succession! I’m trying to find a book mentioned in one of them– I can’t remember by whom, though, and it’s not listed here (though I think it’s Kevin Kelly)– it’s a graphic novel for teens on how to be indispensable. I think it starts with the letter K. Ring a bell, anyone?

    Like

  8. Thank you so much for this great abundance of knowledge! I have many of these books on Kindle, audible or Librivox and others will be pick up from the library! I love how the universe conspires with us!

    Like

  9. Amazing that Atlas Shrugged is mentioned more than once. Several other non-billionaire guests have mentioned it too — my guess is that it’s the most recommended book on the show! I know Tim is aware of Ayn Rand and I think he mentioned he was reading her non-fiction writing course but I’ve never heard him talk about Atlas Shrugged. Curious if he’s a fan too??

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  10. Hi from Spain
    Im reading with the most interest your blog and book, I really love it. You talk about things people like: liberty to do what you want. But im still lost, I dont know how start.
    What kind of muse can I have? I need some other help. Any recomendation? Who can i ask to be my master or friend to start?
    Im sorry if im not more accurate , i don’t wanna bore anyone.
    Thanks in advance and congratulations for your blog and new TV show.
    Pura vida!!

    Like

  11. Highly Recommended – This is a movie/documentary. “Senna” very passionate and inspiring. Not just for Racing fans at all.

    Like

  12. There was a book mentioned on the podcast that I remember the person saying it was pretty hard to find because it is out of print but you could get it on Ebay sometimes and then joking about the price of it going up after people hearing it on the podcast. I think they also mentioned a book by the same author that half way through reading the book, you then flip the book upside down to read the second half. Does anyone remember which book / author / podcast this was on?

    Like

  13. Fantastic, love the list. I was already doing some research on a few billionaires and some of the books here are the same ones they read.

    Like

  14. A lot of books I haven’t heard of before. Looking forward to reading a few of these. Love the type of content that is coming out these days, very progressive.

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  15. Many young, educated Americans go through an Ayn Rand phase. Most grow out of it. The ones that don’t are a worry. Her philosophy contains nothing that brings genuine peace of mind.

    Like

  16. Many young, educated white Americans go through an Ayn Rand phase. Most grow out of it. Those that don’t can be a worry. Her philosophy contains nothing that brings genuine peace of mind.

    Like

  17. My ‘Off the top of my head’ top 10.

    1. I AM THAT
    2. Who Dies? (because the author passed away today and the book stayed in my backpack for 2 whole years)
    3. The Essential Rumi
    4. The Windup Bird Chronicles
    5. 100 Years of Solitude
    6. On Writing
    7. The Liars Club
    8. The Tropic of Capricorn
    9. Swann’s Way
    10. The Knee of Listening

    Like

  18. If your into history Ramit Sethi also recommended “Sapiens” and “The Rational Optimist”. I have listened to the audio book versions and they are both awesome!

    Like

  19. This is extensive and I’m going to have bookmark with hopes that it will take me under a few years to read all of these. Thank you for being so thorough.

    Like

  20. Yes, Yes, thank you! I went hunting for something like this a while back after realizing I hadn’t written down everything from the podcasts I’d listened to! I’m building a list of 1001 books to read before I die (or in the next 10 years or less, ideally) that’s based on what the people I actually care about the experiences and opinions of actually reccomend, and this contributed a beatiful chunk. Thank you Tim!

    Like

  21. List is nice to have but I’m kinda disappointed that it’s dominated by males. I would like to know what inspires women. What touches a woman’s heart and ignites her mind?

    Like

  22. I don’t know if you’re still checking these replies, but this post is super helpful. As a matter of fact if your team made a more current edition that would be even better. You’ve done so many amazing interviews and there is so much great content it is difficult to go through it all. Thanks for making all this great stuff and giving us access to such an amazing group of individuals!

    Like

  23. We need a social network on top of book platforms like Amazon and Audible. These lists should be publicly accessible, directly shared by the readers!

    Like

  24. Louise Hay, you can heal your life. So many people struggle with low self esteem and have health issues. Louise shines light on how you can change it. Her book help me tramensly that in my own personal development it lead me to write a book which is being launched this week. Thursday, 9/22. Titled ,Harness your Purpose, Power, and Peace. Discover the Leader within You”. You see at one point in my life a doctor opened my heart because of health issues but the greatest story is how the horse heals my mind.

    Check it out Tim!

    Like

  25. Great list….of all these books Tim, which have you read and which are your favorite? You probably won’t see my message…but would love to get an answer.

    Like

  26. Are these really unusual books though? They seem to me to be fairly standard self-improvement books. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact it’s a very good endorsement of mainstream self-improvement tomes that so many successful people read and implement them. If we all had to read unusual books, or rare books, or esoteric books to get ahead, we’d be screwed. Overall, becoming successful is easier than people make it out to be, and the books Tim has compiled here proves that. I, for one, am glad there is no secret knowledge required for success, but just the requirement of using easy to implement knowledge.

    Like

  27. Thanks for sharing this list. I put some of them on my reading list. With so many articles and books to read nowadays, one needs to be picky. Fall and winter, perfect time to curl up on the couch with hot tea and read some good novels with the sound of rain outside.
    Best x

    Like

  28. i am looking for a book mentioned in one of the podcasts but can’t remember title 😦 It is a first person perspective book and author I think had an unusual surname (like if that helps..). Moreover it was I think his first book and Tim also recommended it strongly after reading. The strong clue is that narration is first person and someone in the podcast described it as ”You wake up in a hotel room, your eyes are hurting and red” or something like that..
    Sorry if this doesn’t make much sense but its been while since that podcast.
    Thank you and all best!

    Like

  29. It would be nice to find a woman’s recommendation here as well, all people listed are men, can’t harm with some diversity! Even though of course I appreciate the lists, but this stares at me…

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  30. I don’t know if you planned to put this list in front of me as I need more books to read and with Christmas right around the corner. Or if it was just the right time for me to see it.

    You taking the raw data that gets teased out of your show and turning it into condensed and categorized information makes it much more useful to me. Especially because I never remember which show contains what when i think back on things.

    Like