How Books Have Influenced Famous People

How Books Have Influenced Famous People
Photo by Brandi Alexandra / Unsplash

When it comes to rich people or CEO's you'll often hear a similar sentiment is shared amongst them, they read a lot. For example, in some interviews, Bill Gates has claimed that he reads 50 books a year. This may not seem like an insanely big number. However, considering the demanding schedule of Gates, it is impressive that he ensures he makes the time for a book every day.  

We're going to look at some of the famous people we all know and see how books have influenced them, and what book to them was most influential.

Barack Obama

Former U.S. President Barack Obama was always known for being an avid reader, and it showed when he delivered speeches. Obama delivered his speeches with the eloquence, vocabulary, tone, and tenor of someone who's well-read.

When you look at some of the books Obama has mentioned over the years, you start to see how they may have influenced his thinking as leader of the free world. Books such as 'Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matter in the End' may have directly influenced Obama's journey to the Affordable Care Act.

When someone has the power to make a difference that reverberates throughout the world, knowing what they read can give a glimpse into their thinking and potential policy on critical matters that affect ordinary humans.

Angela Merkel

The first woman Chancellor of Germany is one of the most well-respected politicians in the modern world. She had a close relationship with former President Obama and shared in his love of reading.

A deeply religious woman, Angela Merkel is a frequent reader of the Bible. Other works that have influenced her include 'Faust' by Goethe, 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Dostoevsky, and finally 'Madame Curie: A Autobiography.'

She's stated that these three books influenced or reinforced her opinion on the importance of science and scientists, Russian identity through the ages (especially post Soviet Union), and in the case of Madame Curie, influenced her to be the powerful woman she believed she could be, and which she became.

Jeff Bezos

The richest man alive, Jeff Bezos, started his Amazon company as an e-commerce platform that only focused on books. So it isn't just the books he read that influenced his rise to success, but books are actually what started it all.

'Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro is a book Bezos frequently mentions as one of the most influential books he's ever read. The reason is one I find rather interesting.

When asked about his most influential book, and he chose 'Remains of the Day,' he was asked why and he said he didn't know somebody could actually write something like that.

The book followed a butler who has an undying love for a housekeeper who once worked in the mansion. It is told as if written as a diary. Bezos was taken aback by the content of the book. Simplistic on the surface, but somehow so incredible in writing. He truly did think it was this book that, while perhaps impossible, was remarkable.

He was asked about parallels between the book and his work at Amazon, and he went on to say;

“What we’re doing here is unusual but nowhere in the same league as impossible.”

Bill Gates

The founder of Microsoft has long been an outspoken reader. In interviews, when asked how he came to be so successful, he often claims that reading was the key to his success. He's stated he reads fifty books, minimum, a year.

What I've found in researching what Bill Gates recommends is that there are recurring themes. For starters, books about conservation, nature, and the future (usually energy production). Secondly, science and healthcare. And finally, biographies (far less frequent than the previously mentioned categories.

Gates is known first for his work as Microsoft's founder. These days, however, he's known more for his work in areas like climate change and healthcare, so it isn't all surprising that he's reading books akin to such a topic. Moreover, it's said that some of these books influenced him to take the science behind the subject matter more seriously.

Joe Biden

I find the case of U.S. President Joe Biden to be one of the most interesting cases of how literature can make a man (or woman).

Anyone familiar with Joe Biden knows that Biden suffers from the occasional stutter, something he's often said was far more prominent in his earlier years. While it still occurs in his everyday life, he's far since overcame the debilitating nature that caused him so much stress.

How did he overcome such a difficult impediment? Reading and reciting Irish Poetry such as WB Yeats or Seamus Heaney. Reading has absolutely changed Joe Biden's life, giving him confidence in public speaking, which happens to be incredibly important in his line of work.

Elon Musk

The man behind electric cars, rockets, and tunnels is also an avid reader. He said once in an interview that he was raised on books as a kid, so it is no surprise that his love of reading has remained so important to him.

Musk has stated that he loves biographies above all other works of literature, and some of his favorites can really give you an insight into the mind of one of the world's most influential CEOs.  

Some of the books he's frequently mentioned are; 'Benjamin Franklin: An American Life,' 'Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants,' 'Einstein: His Life and the Universe,' 'Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness,' and (an interesting pick) 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.'

When you look at the recommendations that Musk has openly provided, they really shouldn't come as a surprise. Leaders in their time skyrocketing to fame and the heights of success. Rockets. What can success do to a person? The meaning of life. No matter how busy Musk is, he's always reading away and usually, it is on the screen of an iPhone.

Mark Zuckerberg

By now, everyone should know who Mark Zuckerberg is. Love him, or likely hate him, Zuckerberg is one of the planet's most successful entrepreneurs. The founder of Facebook has even started his own online book club and reads a book every two weeks.

Interestingly, the books that Zuckerberg reads seem to frequent the ideas of business and human behavior. It's fascinating when comparing that to his career, which is in the space of social connection through social media.

A book he has frequently mentioned is 'The Aeneid' by Virgil. Inspired by the works of Homer, 'The Aeneid' follows Aeneas and tells a story of dispossession, defeat, love, and war. Virgil wrote 'The Aeneid,' focusing on portraying human life in all its brutal honesty of nobility and suffering.

Oprah

Another massive name in the world of stars is Oprah - a woman who loves reading and isn't afraid to show the world what she's currently devouring.

In 1996, when The Oprah Winfrey Show was on the air, she started a segment that became the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. As a result, Oprah has made bestsellers out of obscure books that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.

Oprah has mentioned that the book she considers the most influential is 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou. Oprah wrote a piece for her website in 2020, declaring Maya Angelou's 1969 autobiography her most influential read, and it's understandable why this is the case.

Oprah wrote in her 2020 post that when she first read, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' 'I still remember the shock of recognition I felt...' Oprah has credited this book as the antithesis to who she is as a person. As famous and beloved as Oprah is, she felt underrepresented until reading a book that shared stark similarities to her own story.

In Conclusion...

There are so many different reasons to read books. To learn, form new ideas and opinions, better understand your existing opinion, be inspired, feel seen and heard, be represented, and not feel alone in a big small world.

Words are powerful weapons, but they're just as powerful tools.