Elon Musk’s success story shows how books can positively influence our lives.

“I was raised by books.  Books, and then my parents,” the SpaceX and Tesla tycoon told Rolling Stone magazine in November 2017.

He rarely saw his parents, Maye, a dietitian and model, and Errol, an engineer in Pretoria, while growing up for the first eight years of his life with them in South Africa.

“I didn’t really have a primary nanny or anything,” Musk told Rolling Stone magazine. “I just had a housekeeper who was there to make sure I didn’t break anything. She wasn’t, like, watching me. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets and doing things that could have gotten me killed. I’m shocked that I have all my fingers.  I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.

Musk’s successful life

It’s hard to draw a straight line between the importance of books in Musk’s life with his success, but researchers have shown that access to books is the most important single factor to affect lifetime earning averages.   

Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss makes the point that “He’s probably the only person who has started four billion-dollar companies – PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City.”

It is claimed that Musk read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica aged nine and first learned about rockets by reading books.  Some of the books Musk credits with influencing him include the classic physics explainer “Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down” by J.E. Gordon and the Walter Isaacson biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

He has also publicly recommended Nick Bostrom’s “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers and Strategies” and the book “Merchants of DoubtHow a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

A galactic adventure

Rolling Stone journalist Neil Strauss, who interviewed Musk for the recent interview, suggests the Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series particularly help to explain the world Musk is building. 

The series is centered around Hari Seldon, a visionary who has invented a scientific method to predict the future based on crowd behavior.  He sees a 30,000-year dark age approaching for humanity and creates a plan to ensure civilization survives by sending scientific colonies to distant planets to help.

Asimov certainly was influential because he was seriously paralleling Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but he applied that to a sort of modern galactic empire,” Musk told Strauss.  The lesson I drew from that is you should try to take the set of actions that are likely to prolong civilization, minimize the probability of a dark age and reduce the length of a dark age if there is one.”

We know from our history books that books have a key role to play in combatting any dark age too.

Read the Rolling Stone article in full here: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/elon-musk-inventors-plans-for-outer-space-cars-finding-love-w511747