When people ask Elon Musk how he learned to build rockets, he has a simple answer: "I read books."
Books have always been important to Musk: inspiring him as a child, giving him heroes as a young adult, and helping him to learn rocket science while launching SpaceX.
'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien
Musk had a nickname when he was a shrimpy, smart-mouthed kid growing up in South Africa: Muskrat. The New Yorker reports that "in his loneliness, he read a lot of fantasy and science fiction." Those books — notably "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien — shaped his vision for his future self. "The heroes of the books I read always felt a duty to save the world," he told The New Yorker.
'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams
he came upon "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," a comic interstellar romp by Douglas Adams. In the book a supercomputer finds the "answer" to a meaningful life is the number 42 — but the question was never figured out.
This was instructive to a young Musk.
'Benjamin Franklin: An American Life' by Walter Isaacson
Musk has said that Ben Franklin is one of his heroes.
In Franklin's biography, "you can see how [Franklin] was an entrepreneur," Musk says in an interview with Foundation. "He was an entrepreneur. He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid." Musk's review: "Franklin's pretty awesome," he says.
'Einstein: His Life and Universe' by Walter Isaacson
In that same interview with Foundation, Musk says he learned a lot from another biography by Walter Isaacson: "Einstein."
As with "Franklin," this books tells the story of a genius who transforms the world with his intelligence and ambition.
'Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down' by J.E. Gordon
Musk is a committed autodidact, devouring the subjects he needs to know about.
When he decided to start SpaceX, he needed to learn the basics of rocket science.
One of the books that helped him was "Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down," a popular take on structural engineering by J.E. Gordon, a British material scientist.