These 13 books inspire, inform, and even intimidate some of tech's top business leaders

It’s a known fact that some of the best business leaders in the world are also some of its most voracious readers.

Just in the past few years, tech luminaries like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have started book clubs, encouraging people to read some of their favourite books.

In that spirit, here are 13 books that have inspired some of Silicon Valley’s greatest leaders.

Some of them are fiction, some of them are business-focused, and at least one is so frighteningly technical, even Gates had trouble finishing it.

These are the books that inspire top tech leaders:

Bill Gates once said 'definitely send me a resume' if you can finish the famously punishing 'The Art of Computer Programming' by Donald Knuth.

'If somebody is so brash that they think they know everything, Knuth will help them understand that the world is deep and complicated,' Gates said.

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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is a big fan of 'The Fountainhead,' by Ayn Rand, a book about a principled architect who refuses to back down from his beliefs, even when they're seen as selfish.

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For a while, the Fountainhead cover was even Kalanick's Twitter avatar. 'It’s less of a political statement. It’s just personally one of my favorite books. I’m a fan of architecture,' he told the Washington Post.

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Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is a big fan of science fiction. His favourite, 'Foundation' by Issac Asimov, is the story of the long process of rebuilding civilisation after a galaxy-spanning society collapses.

Musk has said that Foundation has sharpened his belief that humanity has to spread to the stars. He told The Guardian: 'Given that this is the first time in 4.5 billion years where it's been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth, it seems like we'd be wise to act while the window was open and not count on the fact it will be open a long time.'

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When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shook up the company's management in April 2014, he said it was a leadership lesson taken from 'The Boys in the Boat,' by ex-Microsoftie Daniel James Brown, about the USA Rowing Team at the 1936 Olympics.

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'There is a very evocative description in the book about a team of rowers working together at the highest level -- he calls it 'the swing of the boat,'' Nadella wrote in a company-wide email. He wanted the company to find the swing of the boat.

When he was 12, Google cofounder Larry Page read the autobiography of famed scientist Nikola Tesla. He already wanted to be some kind of inventor, and this just drove it home.

(You can read Tesla's autobiography online for free here.)

But where Tesla died penniless and unable to commercialize his inventions, Page knew he wanted to make something with a bigger impact.

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You can listen to Page discuss Tesla here.

Page's Google cofounder Sergey Brin says 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!', the autobiography of world-famous physicist Richard P. Feynman, totally changed his life.


Larry Ellison, the jet-setting founder of Oracle, told the Academy of Achievement that his favourite book is Vincent Cronin's biography of French general Napoleon Bonaparte.

'It's interesting to read about him for a couple of reasons: to see what one man of modest birth can do with his life, and to see how history can distort the truth entirely,' Ellison told the Academy. He says Napoleon 'definitely needed better PR'

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Marissa Mayer is a big fan of 'The Charisma Myth,' which teaches that anybody can be trained to be a great leader.


Mayer put Cabane's lessons to work at Yahoo with leadership training sessions...and even hosted the book's launch party at her San Francisco home.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is also a voracious reader, but he says he learns more from novels than he does from nonfiction. His favourite novel is 'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro, about a butler reflecting on his service to England during World War II.

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'If you read 'The Remains of the Day,' which is one of my favourite books, you can't help but come away and think, I just spent 10 hours living an alternate life and I learned something about life and about regret,' Bezos told Slate in 2009.

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Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

Before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg started his famed book club, he was a big fan of the classics: Virgil's Aeneid, the Latin epic poem telling the story of the Trojan War, was a favourite dating back to his high school days.

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'There's a part of him that -- it was present even when he was twenty, twenty-one -- this kind of imperial tendency. He was really into Greek odysseys and all that stuff,' Napster founder and early Facebook president Sean Parker said of Zuckerberg in the New Yorker in 2010.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says that business classics like Eric Ries' 'The Lean Startup' and 'Now, Discover Your Stengths' by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton influenced the social network's growth. But the book closest to her heart, she says, is Anna Quindlen's 'A Short Guide to a Happy Life.'

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'Her wisdom resonates for me on the deepest level: 'But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart.' Perfect,' Sandberg told the New York Times.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook is a huge fan of 'Competing Against Time,' by George Stalk Jr. It's about managing supply chains to get a competitive boost -- something Apple has to worry about a lot.

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In fact, industry scuttlebutt says that Cook gives copies out to new hires.

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When Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was a student at Reed College, Ram Dass' 'Be Here Now,' a book on meditation and metaphysics, made a huge impact.


'It was profound,' Jobs said. 'It transformed me and many of my friends.'

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