5 books that inspired billionaire CEO Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes TheranosSteve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunchTheranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was named No. 1 on Business Insider’s Silicon Valley 100 list this year due to her remarkable rise to success.

Since dropping out of Stanford at age 19 to found her health technology company in 2003, Holmes has raised $US400 million in venture capital and become a billionaire in the process.

Theranos is founded on the idea that a single drop of blood can provide enough information for a complete, inexpensive blood test. It already has a deal with Walgreens and in early July reached a major achievement when the FDA approved Theranos’ herpes test.

In an interview with the Academy of Achievement nonprofit last September, Holmes discussed several books that helped shape her world view.

'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey' by Homer

Holmes says she was an introverted child and that books were her 'good friends.' Two of the books she enmeshed herself in at a young age are Homer's ancient Greek epic poems about the Trojan War and Odysseus' journey home after it, 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey,' respectively.

'I've always been fascinated in the fact that so much changes in our society technologically, but as humans we don't change a lot,' Holmes said.

Robert Fagles' translation is especially accessible while remaining true to the source material.

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'Moby-Dick' by Herman Melville

The 1851 American classic is another book Holmes fell in love with as a girl.

While many of us are familiar with the general story of Captain Ahab and the white whale because of its place in pop culture, the story has many more layers than you may be aware of, and is a rich allegory on what constitutes morality and how we create meaning in life.

To appreciate the many allusions Melville played with, check out the Norton Critical Edition.

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'The Complete Story of Civilisation' by Will and Ariel Durant

From 1935-1975, author Will Durant wrote 11 volumes on Western history, finishing with the Napoleonic era only because he and his wife died weeks apart. His wife Ariel is a coauthor of several of the final volumes, and they both won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction for the 10th in the series, 'Rousseau and Revolution.'

'I've really been fascinated and inspired by reading books about history, because there's so much wisdom in understanding how these great people and great leaders built great organisations, led groups of people and effected change,' Holmes said.

She thinks there is 'very powerful' insight contained within the Durants' massive work. 'It shapes your frame of thinking when you encounter people and situations,' she said.

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Or, if you'd rather start with a series of essays by the Durants on overarching themes of their work, read 'The Lessons of History.'

'Meditations' by Marcus Aurelius

When Holmes left Houston for Stanford University in 2002 to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate, her parents sent her with a copy of Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations.'

Marcus, known as one of history's 'philosopher kings,' wrote the private writings that constitute the book during the chaotic last decade of his life, from 170 to 180 AD. It is his interpretation of Stoic philosophy, focusing on accepting things out of one's control and maintaining mastery over one's emotions.

Holmes said she read the book 'over and over again' and found the story of an incredibly disciplined and focused leader 'very inspiring.'

Gregory Hays' highly readable translation makes Marcus' lessons more accessible rather than trivializing them.

Buy it here >>

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