The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

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.

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.

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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!

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