The Unusual Books That Shaped 50+ Billionaires, Mega-Bestselling Authors, and Other Prodigies

You are the average of the five people you associate with most. Choose your books and authors wisely.
You are the average of the five people you associate with most. Choose your books and authors wisely.

One of the questions I ask the most successful people I interview or meet is:

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

Below is a mega-list of the most-gifted and favorite books of 50-60 people like billionaire investor Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Arnold Schwarzenegger, elite athlete Amelia Boone, Malcolm Gladwell, legendary Navy SEAL Commander Jocko Willink, Dr. Brené Brown, music producer Rick Rubin, chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, Glenn Beck, Reid Hoffman, Marc Andreessen, and many more.

Several books appear more than once, which might be where you start your own collection.

Important notes on the list:

  • Bolded books are “most-gifted book” answers.
  • Unbolded books were recommended or mentioned by the guest, but not specifically “most-gifted.”
  • Many of these answers were updated or added by guests AFTER their interviews, or the “guests” haven’t been on my podcast, so they are only found in Tools of Titans.

For the answers from 120+ world-class performers, and much more, please check this out.



Adams, Scott: Influence (Robert B. Cialdini)

Altucher, James: Jesus’ Son: Stories (Denis Johnson), The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini), Antifragile; The Black Swan; Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Nicholas Taleb), Brain Rules (John Medina), Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell), Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)

Andreessen, Marc: High Output Management; Only the Paranoid Survive (Andrew S. Grove), Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Peter Thiel with Blake Masters), Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (Neal Gabler), Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (David Michaelis), The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World (Randall E. Stross), Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life (Steve Martin), The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)

Attia, Peter: Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson), Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard P. Feynman), 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story (Dan Harris)

Beck, Glenn: The Book of Virtues (William J. Bennett), Winners Never Cheat (Jon Huntsman)

Bell, Mark: COAN: The Man, The Myth, The Method: The Life, Times & Training of the Greatest Powerlifter of All-Time (Marty Gallagher)

Belsky, Scott: Life’s Little Instruction Book (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)

Betts, Richard: A Fan’s Notes (Frederick Exley), The Crossroads of Should and Must (Elle Luna)

Birbiglia, Mike: The Promise of Sleep (William C. Dement)

Boone, Amelia: House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)

Boreta, Justin: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (Oliver Sacks), Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (Sam Harris), This Is Your Brain on Music (Daniel J. Levitin), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)

Brown, Brené: The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

Callen, Bryan: Excellent Sheep (William Deresiewicz), Atlas Shrugged; The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand), The Power of Myth; The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell), The Genealogy of Morals (Friedrich Nietzsche), The Art of Learning (Josh Waitzkin), The 4-Hour Body; The 4-Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss), Bad Science, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients (Ben Goldacre), Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 (Thomas Ricks), The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11; Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Lawrence Wright), Symposium (Plato)

Chin, Jimmy: Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era (Eiji Yoshikawa and Charles Terry), A Guide to the I Ching (Carol K. Anthony), Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Jon Krakauer)

Cho, Margaret: How to Be a Movie Star (William J. Mann)

Cummings, Whitney: Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart), The Drama of the Gifted Child (Alice Miller), The Fantasy Bond (Robert W. Firestone), The Continuum Concept (Jean Liedloff)

D’Agostino, Dominic: Personal Power (Tony Robbins), Tripping Over the Truth (Travis Christofferson), The Language of God (Francis Collins), The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis), Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer (Thomas Seyfried), Ketogenic Diabetes Diet: Type 2 Diabetes (Ellen Davis, MS and Keith Runyan, MD), Fight Cancer with a Ketogenic Diet (Ellen Davis, MS)

de Botton, Alain: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera), The Complete Essays (Michel de Montaigne), In Search of Lost Time (Marcel Proust)

De Sena, Joe: A Message to Garcia (Elbert Hubbard), Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand), Shōgun (James Clavell), The One Minute Manager (Kenneth H. Blanchard)

Dubner, Stephen: For adults: Levels of the Game (John McPhee); for kids: The Empty Pot (Demi)

Eisen, Jonathan: National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer)

Fadiman, James: Pihkal: A Chemical Love Story; Tihkal: The Continuation (Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin)

Favreau, Jon: The Writer’s Journey (Christopher Vogler and Michele Montez), It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here (Charles Grodin), The 4-Hour Body (Tim Ferriss), The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)

Foxx, Jamie: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (James Allen)

Fussman, Cal: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez), Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers (James C. Humes), A Feast of Snakes; Car (Harry Crews)

Ganju, Nick: Don’t Make Me Think (Steve Krug), How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business (Douglas W. Hubbard), How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking (Jordan Ellenberg), Getting to Yes (Roger Fisher and William Ury)

Gazzaley, Adam: Foundation (Isaac Asimov), The Reality Dysfunction (The Night’s Dawn Trilogy) (Peter F. Hamilton), Mountain Light (Galen Rowell)

Gladwell, Malcolm: Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious (Timothy D. Wilson), Merchant Princes: An Intimate History of Jewish Families Who Built Great Department Stores (Leon A. Harris), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Little Drummer’s Girl; The Russia House; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John le Carré), The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (Michael Lewis), The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande), all of Lee Child’s books

Hamilton, Laird: The Bible, Natural Born Heroes (Christopher McDougall), Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien), Deep Survival (Laurence Gonzales), Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach and Russell Munson), Dune (Frank Herbert)

Hoffman, Reid: Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values (Fred Kofman), Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari)

Holiday, Ryan: Meditations (Marcus Aurelius), The War of Art (Steven Pressfield), What Makes Sammy Run? (Budd Schulberg), Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (Ron Chernow), How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Sarah Bakewell), The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King; Tough Jews (Rich Cohen), Edison: A Biography (Matthew Josephson), Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity (Brooks Simpson), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

Junger, Sebastian: At Play in the Fields of the Lord (Peter Matthiessen), Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari)

Kamkar, Samy: Influence (Robert Cialdini)

Kaskade: Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath (Ted Koppel)

Koppelman, Brian: What Makes Sammy Run? (Budd Schulberg), The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal (Julia Cameron), The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)

McChrystal, Stanley: Once an Eagle (Anton Myrer), The Road to Character (David Brooks)

Miller, BJ: Any picture book of Mark Rothko art.

Neistat, Casey: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be (Paul Arden), The Second World War (John Keegan), The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X and Alex Haley)

Nemer, Jason: The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran), Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu)

Norton, Edward: Wind, Sand and Stars (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), Buddhism Without Beliefs (Stephen Batchelor), Shōgun (James Clavell), The Search for Modern China; The Death of Woman Wang (Jonathan Spence), “The Catastrophe of Success” (essay by Tennessee Williams), The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

Ohanian, Alexis: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (Jessica Livingston), Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture (David Kushner)

Popova, Maria: Still Writing (Dani Shapiro), On the Shortness of Life (Seneca), The Republic (Plato), On the Move: A Life (Oliver Sacks), The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837–1861 (Henry David Thoreau), A Rap on Race (Margaret Mead and James Baldwin), On Science, Necessity and the Love of God: Essays (Simone Weil), Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert), Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (Edward Abbey), Gathering Moss (Robin Wall Kimmerer)

Randall, Lisa: I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

Reece, Gabby: Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand), The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

Richman, Jessica: The Complete Short Stories (Ernest Hemingway)

Robbins, Tony: As a Man Thinketh (James Allen), Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl), The Fourth Turning; Generations (William Strauss), Slow Sex (Nicole Daedone), Mindset (Carol Dweck)

Rodriguez, Robert: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Simon Sinek)

Rose, Kevin: The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation (Thich Nhat Hanh), The Wisdom of Crowds (James Surowiecki)

Rubin, Rick: Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu, translation by Stephen Mitchell), Wherever You Go, There You Are (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Schwarzenegger, Arnold: The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History (Boris Johnson), Free to Choose (Milton Friedman), California (Kevin Starr)

Sethi, Ramit: Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion (Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson), The Social Animal (Elliot Aronson), Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got (Jay Abraham), Mindless Eating (Brian Wansink), The Robert Collier Letter Book (Robert Collier), Never Eat Alone, Expanded and Updated: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (Keith Ferrazzi), What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School (Mark H. McCormack), Iacocca: An Autobiography (Lee Iacocca), The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande)

Silva, Jason: TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Erik Davis), The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance (Steven Kotler), The 4-Hour Workweek (Tim Ferriss)

Skenes, Joshua: Cocktail Techniques (Kazuo Uyeda)

Sommer, Christopher: The Obstacle Is the Way (Ryan Holiday), the works of Robert Heinlein

Tan, Chade-Meng: What the Buddha Taught (Walpola Rahula), In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Thiel, Peter: Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (René Girard)

von Ahn, Luis: Zero to One (Peter Thiel), The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)

Waitzkin, Josh: On the Road; The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac), Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert Pirsig), Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts), For Whom the Bell Tolls; The Old Man and the Sea; The Green Hills of Africa (Ernest Hemingway), Ernest Hemingway on Writing (Larry W. Phillips), Mindset (Carol Dweck), Dreaming Yourself Awake: Lucid Dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga for Insight and Transformation (B. Alan Wallace and Brian Hodel), The Drama of the Gifted Child (Alice Miller), Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Sebastian Junger), Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Angela Duckworth), Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool)

Willink, Jocko: About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (Colonel David H. Hackworth), Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Cormac McCarthy)


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

For more answers, tactics, habits, and routines from 120+ world-class performers, please check out my labor of love Tools of Titans.

Tools of Titans is available at Barnes & Noble, AmazonBooks-A-MillioniBooksIndiebound, Indigo, and others. If you found the above interesting, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the whole thing.

Thanks for reading!

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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54 Replies to “The Unusual Books That Shaped 50+ Billionaires, Mega-Bestselling Authors, and Other Prodigies”

    1. Odd that you picked up on that. I began life with fiction, but now that I am older, devour non-fiction. Learning as much as I can and love Tim’s work. My most gifted books are Mona Brooke’s, Drawing With Children, and Tim’s books.

  1. That is an amazing array of books Tim, your book reading appetite is voracious! Ordered the book already and can’t wait 😁

  2. I love to hear the answers to this question you pose to the guests on your podcasts, which I listen to at the gym. Because of the suggestions, I have widened and enhanced my reading. I’m looking forward to reading your new book, which I gifted to myself for Christmas. Always appreciate your books and podcasts which are entertaining, thought provoking and sometimes educational. I now take cold showers, do gymnastics ab exercises, kettle-bell swings as well as others. I appreciate all you do. Thanks.

  3. You are the average of the 5 people you associate yourself with? Or, are you an average of the 5 actions you take consistently? #foodforthought

  4. Hey Tim — woke up at 4:30 a.m. so I could pick up where I left off in “Tools of Titans.” And mind you, I fell asleep at midnight by passing out while reading your book. I almost didn’t buy it because I read mysteries constantly and was concerned it would just sit there. Uh, no…. Can’t put it down. This is it, this is all: you rock.

    1. It won’t be any time soon. He mentions in another post that he may consider something else instead of audio, I think because of some of the visual aspects of the book.

  5. I am sending out an Outrageous Outreach each day. Tim, today it’s you. Do you want a project business in which to put forth your ideals? I own a small birth center in Portland. This business rocked financially for 10 years. Now with languishing insurance reimbursement, we are failing. Gross over 2 million now 990 K. Use us as an example? Thank you for your smart Podcast.

  6. 200+ podcasts episodes distilled in one printed volume alone are worth the purchase. I’ve pre-ordered Tools of Titans, like every one of your books. Thank you for your work Tim!

  7. Hi Tim. Bought your new book today. Wishing you loads of success with this title. Thanks for all the great content over the years. Warm regards, Fred

  8. I ran this post through Sporkforge to see which books were recommended more than once.

    Here are the books that were recommended twice:

    “the hard thing about hard things, ben horowitz”

    “the unbearable lightness of being, milan kundera”

    “the alchemist, paulo coelho”

    “the drama of the gifted child, alice miller”

    “the checklist manifesto, atul gawande”

    “the war of art, steven pressfield”

    “atlas shrugged, ayn rand”

    “sapiens yuval, noah harari”

    “what makes sammy run, budd schulberg”

  9. Hey Tim, thanks for compiling the mega list of books that you sent out in the email today. This will for sure come in handy. Respect man

  10. I wanna become a hermit for a year, and just read all the books I can.

    All I need is an automated income, just enough to cover my costs.

    Didn’t someone write a book about that………?

  11. Hi Timmy,

    I wanted to buy your new book as a Xmas gift for someone. Why is it saying I can’t get it until January?

    ps love the newer/shorter podcast format.

  12. It would be amazing if someone could take this list and create a mega list based on frequency of recommendation…

  13. Great stuff Tim. I’ve really enjoyed your podcasts and appreciate your knowledge across such a broad range of topics. It really comes through in your interviews. Are there 1 or 2 books that all of these people have read? Trying to uncover a commonality here. Thought to ask. Cheers, Borja

  14. Aloha Tim & team! I’m wondering how soon you will have your new book available via Audible? Thanks for creating another labor of love 🙂

  15. Thank you so much for the list of books. Am also really enjoying the “Distilled” podcasts and can’t wait for my TOT book to arrive 🙂

  16. Thanks for compiling this massive list of books, Tim!

    I’ve already purchased several of your book recommendations and will continue to refer to this book list often for future purchases.

  17. Thanks, Tim, for that priceless book list from some of the most successful people on the planet.. wow! It will take me awhile just to peruse through it.. awesome.

  18. I am looking forward to read your new book. I browsed the content and missed Eckhart Tolle in the wisdom section. To me he is the wisest man. He makes a lot of thinking obsolete, probably that’s the reason for you staying away from him. Your bro Kevin Rose mentions him quite often. Thanks for inspiring me for years. Cris

  19. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! A list like this can make even Ryan Holiday jealous! And his reading lists are superb:)

    I guess it’s time for some Amazon book shopping.


  20. Wow, of all the books noted, not a mention of “The Four Hour Work Week”?

    Maybe they’re not real titans…) Nick Marra

  21. I walked the Honolulu Marathon yesterday and listened to several of your podcasts. Thanks for sharing this invaluable information. Fan of the 4 Hour Work week. Waiting to receive my ordered copy of Tools of Titans. I also appreciate the just received mega list of books. Mahalo

  22. Tim, do you plan on having this book translate into Chinese? If so please let me know – I’d love to translate this book for Chinese readers!

  23. Hey Tim, my daughter is an great writer with one self help book on Amazon already. She adores you!! Can I pay extra and get Tool of Titans autographed and personalized?

  24. Dear Tim,

    I picked up a copy of Tools of Titans today because your podcast has resonated with me on a visceral level.

    For me, your show is a space to practice embodying an empowering relationship with failure. It’s as if listening to all of these self-assertive super players I become intoxicated and then I am out to play my own game. It’s the half time talk, over and over again, as needed.

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I will continue to listen and read and grow and play and share.

  25. I wish there was more diversity in these people’s choices because holy moly, that is a lot of men. I counted only about 20 women.

  26. Thank you!

    2016 was an amazing year for my wife and I. Listening to your podcast on my way to work has no doubt changed my life. I purchased the 5MJ, changed my mindset with mindfulness thoughts and Bam!

    New higher paying job

    New home

    New daily practice for heath and work

    Most importantly new Baby Girl that blessed my wife and I two days ago.

    We’re buying the 5MJ for close family and friends. It’s amazing what happens when you change your thinking and thoughts when you write it down!

    You have no idea how much my wife and I owe you.

    From the bottom of our hearts, thank you

    P.S. Tools of Titans is amazing, I have so many notes that need to be implemented.

  27. Hi Tim, and every one reading.

    I think you wont read this, and i believe maybe is not the correct topic, is but i needed to tell you (or maybe tell myself).

    I´m 30 , im proudly Mexican, and im sorry if my english is not as good as i wanted to be.

    Just wanted to tell you that i have been doing business since i was 20 years old, i have been a dreamer since then and never let anything stopped me, i used to travel a lot, i loved new ideas and business , always with a smile in my face and a lot of new ideas to pursue, until everything began to fail, i lost my self confidence, and im trap in a meaningless job in something i hate, assuming this is real life.

    Im just beginning to read your 4 hours week book and needed to tel you that it helped a lot to remind myself this is not who i am, is not who i want to be and if i long time before i truly believed it was something better in life i can do it again, you made me so easy to take my desicion, i need to feel the adrenaline again, always is a great time to start over.

    Thank you, thank you again for the inspiration i needed


  28. The favorite and most-gifted book recommendations were my favorite part of Tools of Titans. It inspired me to choose 52 of the books listed above to read in 2017. I’m highlighting the journey on Books of Titans.

  29. Books that were mentioned more than once on all of that list:

    Atlas Shrugged 3

    Tao Te Ching 3

    Influence 2

    Mindset 2

    Sapiens 2

    Shōgun 2

    The 4-Hour Body 2

    The 4-Hour Workweek 2

    The Alchemist 2

    The Black Swan 2

    The Checklist Manifesto 2

    The Drama of the Gifted Child 2

    The Hard Thing About Hard Things 2

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being 2

    The War of Art 2

    What Makes Sammy Run? 2

    Zero to One 2

  30. I LOVE books. I have an obsession with books. Before starting my PhD, I read 75 of them in a year (not cheating, I mean, the ones with 300 pages each). Now I have around 80 books in my bookcase to read, and crazy to read them, but I don’t have the time!!! and that drives me nuts. Thanks for the recommendations. I only dare to take a look at that list (before I go to Amazon and continue my addiction) after I read the ones I have around the house…it will probably take a while….

  31. Tim I have a question for you. What entry level jobs and or college courses in your experience were the most beneficial as far as building skills necessary for success as an entrepreneur? I am currently homeless and just spent the last 13 months incarcerated where I read your book Tools of the Titans. I listen to your podcast at work and I feel like I can become successful. So if you can make an uneducated homeless man feel like he can become millionaire than you must be doing something right. Thank you

  32. I’ve compiled a list of all books suggested in the 270+ Ferriss podcast episodes. The list is on the Books of Titans website under the menu item Full List. It is the only full list by guest that I am aware of.

  33. Good lord there are some really crap books in here. The Alchemist??? Ayn Rand? The Prophet? And many more.